Alexander Sims Tops the Speed Chart in the No. 31 Cadillac V-LMDh
By John Oreovicz and Mark Robinson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Friday’s midday practice session for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship offered most of the 61 entries in the Rolex 24 At Daytona their last chance to finalize setups for the annual twice-round-the-clock endurance classic.
Outright speed was not the primary objective, with the majority of teams and drivers instead working to hone the drivability of their cars. Now they’ll be hoping those machines – especially the highly technical new hybrid-powered Grand Touring Prototypes – possess the durability to complete one of the world’s most strenuous races.
The GTP class has an additional 20-minute practice session to itself under the Daytona International Speedway lights on Friday evening.
Cadillac maintained its presence atop the GTP timing screens in the Friday session open to all five classes. Alexander Sims took the honors, clocking a lap of 1 minute, 35.493 seconds (134.209 mph) in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac V-LMDh from Action Express Racing.
Scott Dixon was next up in the No. 01 Cadillac fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing at 1:35.717 (133.894 mph), while Nick Yelloly improved to 1:35.925 on his 28th and final lap of the session in the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 to secure third fastest.
“It’s satisfying to see the hard work that everyone has put into the program – even big moves from the December test here,” said Sims, who is teamed with Pipo Derani for the full WeatherTech Championship season, joined by Jack Aitken at Daytona and the three other rounds of the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.
“It’s gaining speed, so to speak, and building performance with each session,” Sims added. “It’s still early days, of course, and we’re learning about so much all the time. The car feels great, and though I turned the quick lap with little traffic around, it still feels good to top the chart.
“I’m looking forward to the race and driving the car.”
Other class leaders in Practice 4 were: Mikkel Jensen (No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA LMP2 07) in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), 1:38.052; Jarett Andretti (No. 36 Andretti Autosport Ligier JS P320) in Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3), 1:43.191; Mikael Grenier (No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3) in GT Daytona (GTD), 1:46.375; and Jules Gounon (No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3) in GTD PRO, 1:46.651.
The Rolex 24 At Daytona takes the green flag at 1:40 ET Saturday. Watch the start live on NBC at 1:30 p.m. Full 24-hour coverage is available on Peacock.
Le Mans Chicane Symbolizes IMSA, ACO, FIA Collaboration
Executives from IMSA, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), Federation International de l’Automobile (FIA) and Daytona International Speedway gathered on track Friday morning to commemorate the renaming last year of the backstraight chicane as the Le Mans Chicane. It was three years ago at Daytona that IMSA, ACO and FIA officials announced the convergence of worldwide endurance sports car racing, leading to development of the LMDh prototypes that make their racing debut Saturday in the Rolex 24 and can also compete in the FIA’s World Endurance Championship (WEC).
Similar to the Le Mans Chicane being designated at Daytona, a chicane at Le Mans Circuit de la Sarthe’s Mulsanne Straight was named the Daytona Chicane last year. Both are symbols of the close relationship cultivated among the sanctioning groups.
“The relationship between ACO and IMSA is stronger than ever,” ACO President Pierre Fillon said, “and what is better to show this than to bring the Le Mans name in the iconic track in Daytona and to bring the Daytona name in the iconic track in Le Mans.”
Frederic Lequien, CEO of the WEC, commended the efforts made to reach the convergence agreement in January 2020.
“If we want(ed) to position sports car and endurance racing at a different level, we needed that,” Lequien said. “And we did it. … working with IMSA, the ACO and the FIA together on this on a daily basis together to make it happen.
“(It’s) just the beginning, of course, because we have a lot of work to do, but it’s very nice for the sport, very nice.”
IMSA Chairman Jim France said the collaborative effort to create and implement the hybrid-powered LMDh cars that can race globally will earn long-lasting rewards. Plus, with the prototypes still gaining most of their power from internal combustion engines, the traditional and pleasing sound of the cars remains evident.
“It’s very important from the aspect of sustainability and the directions that all of the automotive companies are going,” France said of the electrified hybrid aspect. “The hybrid system I think is going to be an important element of that as we go along. What I like about the hybrid system versus strictly EV (electronic vehicles) is we still have a nice sound in our racing and that’s very important. I think the formula that we have is going to be very important for motorsports as we go forward.
“We’ve got really a great opportunity in sports car racing and endurance racing globally.”
WeatherTech Runs Full-Page Wall Street Journal Ad Promoting Rolex 24
Promotion for the Rolex 24 appeared in Friday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, in the form of a full-page ad from series sponsor WeatherTech. The ad, a prime example of sponsor activation, congratulated the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 team for winning the Motul Pole Award in Rolex 24 qualifying on Sunday.
It also promoted where to watch the entire race broadcast on NBC, USA Network and Peacock.
Morad Replaces Injured Auer in Winward Mercedes
Winward Racing shipped a replacement car to Daytona overnight following the practice crash Thursday that sidelined the GTD pole-winning No. 57 Mercedes and injured driver Lucas Auer. The team confirmed that driver Auer sustained “significant fractured lumbar injuries” and remained at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach.
Daniel Morad, the 2016 Rolex 24 winner in the GTD class and a Winward driver in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, was named as Auer’s replacement. Joining Morad in the No. 57 are Philip Ellis, Russell Ward and Indy Dontje.
Winward missed practice on Friday awaiting arrival of the replacement chassis that was a GTD race winner last season. The crew expected to work into the night prepping the car.
“It will be all hands on deck to get it in racing condition,” team owner and co-driver Ward said, “but we have the best group in the world and we have no doubt that they’ll be able to get it up and running and get it in the same form that our original car was in.”