DAYTONA BEACH: It seems like the area rocketed through the holiday season, which means soon there will be race cars on the track at Daytona International Speedway.
It’s time to dump out the leftover champagne and toss out the old egg nog because the object in the mirror is closer than it appears.
There will be more than 50 International Motor Sports Association. (IMSA) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race cars here on Friday through Sunday (Saturday to Monday) for the annual Roar Before The Rolex 24 test session.
The Roar represents the first salvo fired in the 2017 racing season. Most teams treat this like a race weekend as they fine-tune their new sports cars for the January 28-29 Rolex 24 At Daytona marathon.
And it is a great opportunity for race fans to mingle with race teams and drivers because for a nominal fee, a ticket to the Roar includes garage access.
Here are five things you need to know about this week’s Roar test session.
1. Gordon returns
Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, who retired as a stock-car driver following the 2015 season, returns to Daytona with the hopes of snagging a Rolex 24 title to add to his long list of racing accomplishments.
Gordon tried this in 2007 and finished third overall co-driving a Wayne Taylor Racing Prototype. He will be back with Taylor and his sons (Ricky and Jordan) for his second attempt in the twice-around-the-clock endurance event.
2. Prototype awareness
The Daytona Prototypes (DPs) are now part of sports-car racing lore. The DPs have been replaced with Prototypes, which feature carbon fiber tubs rather than a metal tubing-based frame (similar to what is used in NASCAR).
Internationally, these Prototypes are known as the LMP2 ((Le Mans Prototype 2) class and with a few modifications, some of these same cars would be eligible to run at Le Mans. One of those cars is the locally based, No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Multimatic Riley, powered by a Gibson motor.
Asked about a trip to Le Mans, team owner Troy Flis smiled and said, “If the opportunity presents itself, we may do that.”
3. Ganassi wave
Chip Ganassi Racing is bringing a wave of Ford GT equipment to battle for Rolex 24 GT Le Mans class honors. Ganassi Racing introduced the Ford GT at Daytona last year and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ganassi and the boys at the Blue Oval want this Rolex 24 class win very badly, since their top competitor is the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R. Ford hasn’t shown this sort of sports-car enthusiasm since the early 1960s.
“Even with the success we had last season winning six races, I think we have some unfinished business in Daytona,” team owner Chip Ganassi said.
4. GT madness
The GT Daytona class used to be all Porsches, an occasional Ferrari and a few independent Corvettes. Not this year. The Roar will be brimming with all sorts of new, factory-backed equipment, including Acura, Lexus and Mercedes.
Other than the high-dollar Prototypes, this promises to be a battle of the season between these different automakers. This class will feature some outstanding drivers, such as England’s Katherine Legge and Boris Said, who is doing a ‘back from the future’ move by coming out of retirement to race a Mercedes.
“There’s a lot more technology in these cars than stock cars,” Said said. “These cars have traction control and ABS [anti-lock braking system] and all that kind of stuff.”
5. Move around
This is a tip for all spectators, who plan to attend the Roar – move around. Not only is the garage open to all who walk in the Daytona International Speedway gates, but there are several vantage points.
The stadium will be closed for this test, but there are numerous places to watch these high-powered cars streak around the 3.56-mile road course. The Speedway has several small grandstand areas set up around the infield portion of the track. And don’t forget to bring your own wine and cheese.