The Ligier JS P2 coupe proved that it had the most pace over the course of a single lap of the 3.56 mile long Daytona International Speedway road course one year ago and again on Friday, the Onroak-designed challenger showed the way to the rest of the participants on the opening day of action at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 tests for the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Olivier Pla, who just one day ago joined the driving quartet for Michael Shank Racing’s No. 60 Curb Records Ligier-Honda, posted the fastest lap of the day with an afternoon best of one minute, 39.445 seconds for an average speed of just under 129 MPH. The effort topped the morning session’s best run by new teammate Oswaldo Negri, Jr. by just two tenths of a second and would be nearly nine tenths of a second faster than the next closest competitor for overall honors. That rival is fellow Ligier entrant Extreme Speed Motorsports, who with Pipo Derani at the controls, clicked off a personal best of 1:40.328 in the afternoon practice period. After claiming pole positions at both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring last year, Onroak has sought to make the coupes a little more quicker, yet durable in 2016, in hopes of being able to contend for the overall victory after mechanical woes knocked them out of contention in both races last year. MSR and ESM are also looking to offer more horsepower against the competition as both squads are using Honda Performance Development’s larger 3.5 liter, V-6 turbo engine approved for competition by IMSA during the offseason.
While a Daytona Prototype-based car has claimed the overall win at the Rolex 24 in the first two years under IMSA-sanction, a DP was not among the three fastest overall efforts on Friday. Best of the rest behind the Ligiers went to the unusually designed DeltaWing DWC13 coupe, entered by Dr. Don Panoz’s team. The Elan-powered entry clocked the third fastest lap of the day with Sean Rayhall driving in the afternoon, within a second of Pla’s top time. Wayne Taylor Racing, who were excluded from the results in last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona due to a drive time violation, posted the fastest effort by a DP in both the morning and afternoon windows on Friday, placing their Konica Minolta Chevrolet Corvette DP just over a second behind MSR. Back-to-back IMSA WeatherTech series champions Action Express Racing, with their Mustang Sampling-backed Corvette DP rounded out Friday’s fast five.
In the Prototype Challenge class, CORE autosport topped the charts in both testing sessions, with Canada’s Mark Wilkins posting the best overall lap at one minute, 42.423 seconds during the morning efforts. The quick pass was over a half second up on the remainder of the PC field, with Starworks Motorsport’s Renger van der Zande leading the chase. BAR1 Motorsports’ Johnny Mowlem was third fastest on Friday in PC, but over a second off the pace. Mowlem claimed the Rolex 24 TOTAL Pole Award in PC for last year’s race.
In GT Le Mans, the push of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to convince BMW to provide them with a class-eligible version of the brand’s new twin-turbo V-8 powered M6, appears to have been more than justified as the team’s two new challengers went 1-2 on Friday. German veteran Lucas Luhr posted the fastest overall GTLM lap in the morning session at one minute, 45.088 seconds, while teammate Augusto Farfus posted the best run in the afternoon in the sister car, less than a tenth of a second away from matching Luhr’s pace. While the new marque garnered the majority of attention on Friday, reigning Rolex 24 champions Corvette Racing took care of business to place its pair of C7.Rs third and fourth on the cumulative speed chart at the close of business. Antonio Garcia’s personal best lap of the Daytona layout was also less than one tenth of a second off the pace, while teammate Oliver Gavin was a further two tenths back. For the latter of the two Corvettes however, the amount of track time was cut in half when the right rear exhaust on the No. 4 machine accidentally caught the bodywork on fire. Tommy Milner, who was behind the wheel at the time of the incident, managed to pull the car off the track and quickly exited the vehicle without suffering injury. While Chevrolet had mixed fortunes, American automobile rival Ford made a strong debut with its Chip Ganassi Racing prepared Ford GT. Ryan Briscoe’s effort on Friday afternoon was good enough to place one of the two new challengers in the GTLM’s cumulative top five.
Finally in the equally competitive GT Daytona category, AF Corse’s Spirit of Race squad was best among the 22-car strong entry on Friday, was Raffeale Giammaria touring the 3.56 mile layout at one minute, 48.358 seconds in the No. 51 Ferrari 458 GT3. With the Italian manufacturer putting the finishing touches on its new 488 machine that will be online hopefully by Sebring in March, the GTD’s “Prancing Horses” seem to be coping well with having to rely on the older model for the time being. The host of pursuers in GTD however are many led by defending Rolex 24 GTD champions Riley Motorsports, as Jeroen Bleekemolen placed the team’s primary Dodge Viper GT3-R second in class, just two and a half tenths off the fast time. New GTD manufacturer Lamborghini was also quick on Friday, as the Konrad Motorsport-entered Huracan GT was third best for the day, with Tim Pappas’ Black Swan Racing Porsche and Andy Lally’s Magnus Racing Audi R8 completing the top five.
All 53 cars present in the garage area at Daytona on Friday took to the circuit in at least one of the two practice sessions. Besides the fire that plagued Corvette Racing in the morning efforts, the only major accident of the day occurred when Canadian teenager Lance Stroll lost control of his Chip Ganassi Racing Ford EcoBoost Riley DP at the fast kink in the infield section and made hard contact with the outside barriers. Stroll climbed from the car on his own and suffered no injuries in the shunt. However, the team will have their work cut out for them to fix the entry in time for the continuation of testing action on Saturday.
Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for continued coverage of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Top Ten Fastest Overall Laps (Thru Friday)
- No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier-Honda 1:39.442
- No. 2 ESM Racing Ligier-Honda 1:40.328
- No. 0 Panoz DeltaWing Racing DeltaWing DWC13-Elan 1:40.420
- No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP 1:40.474
- No. 5 Action Express Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP 1:40.788
- No. 37 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan 1:40.808
- No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford EcoBoost-Riley DP 1:40.835
- No. 55 SpeedSource-Mazda Motorsports Lola B12/80-Mazda 1:41.055
- No. 31 Action Express Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP 1:41.217
- No. 90 Visitflorida.com Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP 1:41.224
Prototype Challenge Top Five Fastest Laps
- No. 54 CORE autosport 1:42.423
- No. 8 Starworks Motorsport 1:43.011
- No. 20 BAR1 Motorsport 1:43.781
- No. 88 Starworks Motorsport 1:43.962
- No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports 1:44.432
GT Le Mans Top Five Fastest Laps
- No. 100 BMW Team Rahal BMW M6 GTLM 1:45.088
- No. 25 BMW Team Rahal BMW M6 GTLM 1:45.120
- No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R 1:45.164
- No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R 1:45.367
- No. 67 Ford Performance Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT 1:45.426
GT Daytona Top Five Fastest Laps
- No. 51 Spirit of Race (AF Corse) Ferrari 458 1:48.358
- No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R 1:48.612
- No. 28 Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 1:48.700
- No. 540 Black Swan Racing Porsche GT3-R 1:48.822
- No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS 1:48.841