On September 5th 2012, The American Le Mans Series and the Grand Am Road Racing Association held a press conference to announce a merger of the American Le Mans Series and Grand Am Rolex Series, with the first merged race set for the 2014 Rolex24 At Daytona.
One year ago, the world sat and watched that first race of the IMSA Tudor United Sportscar championship. The months building up hadn’t been great and Daytona 2014 was meant to be a great race to open a new era, and quite honestly, it felt worse than anything the preceding bitter rivalry between the two series had produced by far. From officiating to balance of performance, the coverage provided as well as various other aspects of the organisation, it wasn’t the race the series, teams or fans deserved to be presented with. Additionally the personal emotions from Gidley’s accident distracted and caused enjoyment levels to drop, as no race fan wants to see a driver injured in the violent way, Memo Gidley was during last year’s Rolex 24.
The end of last year’s Daytona 24 made the series ever more difficult to enjoy, a late race caution and a disqualification of the GTD winner that was protested for hours after the race, made for a difficult end to an overall non enjoyable race. I decided to see what Sebring would offer and that was even worse. Daytona and Sebring, two of the world’s most famous endurance races had been effectively been complete disasters, and patience was running rather thin.
As the season progressed, things became somewhat hit and miss. Some venues saw fantastic racing and it began to look like a stronger championship again and with the calendar presented, why shouldn’t it of been in reality what it appeared on paper? Petit Le Mans was the big test at the end of 2014, and though some of the remnants of what had been seen by Daytona where still present, it was clear IMSA had seen progress, however with a long way to go.
So 2015 comes around and with it came a fresh season and a new chance for IMSA TUSCC to prove itself, and change its fortunes and I’m proud to say, it certainly did just that.
What a difference a year can make…
The whole event, from practice, through qualifying into the race, just felt a million times better. The Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge, was as ever also a brilliant race to start the event. The performance balancing was improved substantially with a P2 chassis scoring pole at Daytona, and during the race the lap time battle was fierce between the two styles of prototype. Chip Ganassi Racing won on the basis of pace and overall reliability, despite having to replace a splitter during the race, not on the basis of performance balancing being offset among the competitors. Officiating had improved substantially, we saw penalties when deserved, and much improved race control.
The Prototype battle effectively came down to a battle between Wayne Taylor Racing’s Dallara Corvette DP and Chip Ganassi Ford Ecoboost Riley DP’s. The Ford Ecoboost 02 which saw fantastic stints particularly from Scott Dixon and Kyle Larson took victory. Kyle Larson proving his versatility on track once again, competing in Sprint cars, Midgets, Sportscars and Stock cars, throughout January.
WTR had issues in driver time, so had to make a very late driver swap which put them down for the final restart, with the additional penalty also being an issue for them, by doing that swap when the pits was closed under FCY. Although overall a great race for those guys, and it was cool to have a Ford VS Chevrolet power battle on track in the USA. The sister 01 Ganassi chassis had a clutch failure with two hours to go, after running up front throughout much of the race, a disappointing end for those guys, but impressive drives especially once again by Ganassi protégé Sage Karam. Really hope Sage gets a full season drive somewhere during 2015.
Action Express Racing played a strong part in the battle up front too, as did at times, The P2 Ligier-Honda of MSR, those guys running off track effectively putting them back in the pack, but a strong showing all the same. The ARX Honda’s first race debut with ESM, did result in them running well for some time. For a car that had seen no competition, and very little testing, it was a fairly impressive debut outing with much more to come.
Meanwhile Mazda impressed somewhat, bringing the SkyActive Diesel P2’s back again. 2014 was tough, the car is effectively running a production engine, and though both cars retired from the event, the pace was much improved, and even officially led a lap. The Deltawing meanwhile suffered gearbox failure, something the team struggled with throughout the event. It was sad to see Colin Braun’s PC entry go up in smoke close to the end, although thankfully Colin got out the car first and congratulations to Tom Kimber-Smith and the folks at PR1/Mathaisen Motorsports taking victory in PC.
The GT battle was amazing in GT LM, admittedly the collision of the two factory Porsche GT LM entries did dent that intense battle between manufacturers a little, but down to the flag, we had GT LM battles for the win between BMW RLL and Corvette Racing, eventually Corvette Racing taking honours. I think it’s fair to say the majority of the GT LM class saw its fair share of battle scars throughout the race, but it was certainly enjoyable to watch. As was the GT D competition, which the Riley Motorsports #93 Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R claimed class victory in.
The officials seemed a little more controlled in signalling the full course cautions, after giving time for the driver to return to the circuit before it was called, which resulted in less cases of full course yellows taking place for minor spins resulting in a much improved rhythm to the race. The system of having quick cautions if within a set time frame of the previous yellow was implemented when required. Which I felt was additionally a successful way in improving the rhythm of the race. I wouldn’t mind it if the series brought across a “Code 60” style concept, as other series internationally are adopting, though if not it’s certainly an improved system regardless.
Away from the track, I felt coverage was improved; we didn’t get to see all of the full FOX audio feed in Europe. However on Sunday for the coverage we did receive with FOX audio seemed improved for TUSCC somewhat. We did however get the pictures throughout, with IMSA Radio providing the audio to our TV feed and online.
It was great to have those guys back in the booth. I’m not going to complain too much at MRN for last year. The MRN folks are great at Stock Car broadcasts, in the same way that IMSA Radio are incredible at covering sportscar racing and therefore was a much more enjoyable experience to follow the Rolex24 throughout with sportscar enthusiasts doing the radio coverage.
I think that covers my thoughts. Excuse the long post, overall a much improved event, and I’m genuinely excited for the future of this series. The series has to continue to improve and evolve, but it is on the right path, and I am looking forward to Sebring.
I really enjoyed all 24 Hours and I would like to know your thoughts and opinions also. What did you think to the Rolex24? Was the coverage in your area better?
Full results of the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona are available here