The smell of petrol is in the air again as the first revs of prototype engines turn at the ROAR before the 24 in Daytona Florida. The first major test session of the year brings together teams who will compete in IMSA for the season as well as teams running LMP2’s from other series. A lot of new machinery on the track enhanced the excitement of the event and many were eager to see how the cars would perform. The visuals and performance of the cars did not disappoint.
Headlining the entry list were the three Dallara DPi chassis run by Cadillac and the Riley/Multimatic Mazda. IMSA’s DPi rules give teams the freedom to run branded aero kits, and headlights among other minor differences from the global LMP2 Multimatic/Riley and Dallara chassis. The ROAR is the first public test where the performance of the two new LMP2 chassis would be compared to the ORECA 07 and Ligier JS P2. Although the DPi bodywork differences make it difficult to forecast who will have the advantage on the track in ELMS and the WEC, the ROAR offers the first opportunity to make such projections.
For much of the weekend, the three Cadillac DPi’s were off the pace ending most sessions around a second slower than the fastest times. Ultimately, the fastest of the Cadillac DPi’s managed fifth in the combined session results posting a 1:38.693 in the #5 car.
The two visually stunning Mazda’s fared better with the #55 car in the hands of Jonathan Bomarito posting the second fastest lap of the weekend at 1:38.363. The #55 car also recorded the fastest speed in the speed trap exceeding 194mph. Clearly, the car has potential, however suspension issues for the Multimatic/Riley’s were prevalent in the early sessions and indicate there is still some development work to be done.
Nissan only recently began testing its new Ligier based DPi run by Tequila Patron ESM. Admittedly, the team is behind on development. However, the Nissan was able to log many laps that will be valuable in the ongoing development of the car. The #22 posted the team’s best time at 1:39.608. The pace of the lap indicates there may be a lot of work ahead for Tequila Patron ESM if they hope to repeat their 2016 Daytona win.
The majority of the sessions were topped by the menacing black #13 ORECA run by Rebellion Racing. Le Mans winner Neal Jani piloted most of the session topping times throughout the event and ended the weekend with the third fastest time at 1:38.408. Competing in IMSA’s Tequila Patron Endurance Cup means the DPi’s will be up against the reigning WEC LMP1 non-hybrid champions in Daytona as well as the other 3 major endurance races of the season. This should offer the WEC and its teams a level plane to measure the DPi’s against its four LMP2 approved chassis if the series wants to allow DPi’s on the Le Mans grid.
On the final day of testing, an ORECA set the fastest time of the weekend at 1:38.343 just two tenths ahead of the #55 Mazda DPi. Former GP2 driver Ben Hanley, in the #81 car run by team DragonSpeed took the honors of fastest man. DragonSpeed is hoping a good performance at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona will translate into a good 2017 season when the WEC kicks off in Silverstone in April.
At the conclusion of the ROAR, the best times produced by the three LMP2 chassis were separated by just over a quarter of a second. With performance equalization playing a factor in IMSA, some teams may have been sand-bagging their times for fear of showing their hands too early. Nonetheless, competition worldwide at the sharp end of LMP2 classes should be exciting to watch. The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona kicks off the year of prototype endurance racing on January 28th. Better stock up on your popcorn now!
Photo Credit: Mazda