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2011 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona // The new year kicks off with the Grand-Am Rolex Series

Published by Pat W

At last, winter is almost over! The racing season continues its awakening from slumber, following the Dakar Rally and the Rallye Monte-Carlo it is time for the first major circuit racing event of the 2011 season. Whilst the Dubai 24 Hours a couple of weeks ago was probably the first racing event on a closed course this year it isn't yet considered a major event, Daytona is the venue the motorsport world looks to to officially kick off the racing year.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona falls outside the schedules of every other series so it always attracts a star-studded cast of guest drivers joining the Grand-Am Rolex Series regulars not least at Ganassi which features Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.

The race

Starting Saturday at 3.30pm ET / 8.30pm GMT, the field races for a full 24 hours around the Daytona International Speedway's road course, which is actually a combination of the famed oval and a narrow infield. Daytona's oval banking is the steepest anywhere used in professional racing and the entire circuit, oval and infield, was completely resurfaced in time for this year's event. This has meant laptimes have fallen, the pole time was the fastest both classes had run before!

The race is the first round of the Grand-Am Rolex Series, which is owned by the same people that own NASCAR. Daytona itself is owned by a related company. You can see an onboard view of the track here from 2007, and take a look at the difference today when these road cars ran around it. (not embedding either in case of live feed embedding later)

As always with sportscar racing there are car classes, at Daytona there are only the two: Daytona Prototypes and GT. The laptime differential between the two is about 10 seconds per lap.

DP is the top class and there are 18 entered with some fantastic drivers among them.

GT makes up the bulk of the field and features an array of Porsches, Ferraris, Chevy Camaros, BMWs, Mustangs and Mazda RX-8s. Driver quality varies hugely in GT, from professional drivers who might otherwise be found in the top class, all the way through the range to the humble amateurs. As Martin Brundle said the other day, the problem is the pro's often share with the amateurs so a lapped car acting professionally earlier may suddenly wander over the road and jump in front of you with an amateur on board.

Ones to watch

As always for endurance races the teams bring in drivers to bolster the line-ups, two aren't enough to run a car for an entire day, at least not in the current era when even endurance races are sprints. The choices are often famous names from other series.

Here are some cars and drivers to watch out for, from a Formula 1 or IndyCar perspective. I'm not going to provide a full form guide as I'm not competent enough with this series to do so - you can find one here.

Cars 01 and 02 - Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (BMW/Riley)

Even if you know nothing of Daytona or Grand-Am, you'll be familiar with Ganassi from IndyCar. Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon have been brought in from the IndyCar team, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray from his NASCAR Cup team. This quartet shares car 02.

Car 01 features sportscar stalwarts Scott Pruett, Joey Hand and Memo Rojas and they've brought aboard Ganassi's new IndyCar signing Graham Rahal. Both cars are strong contenders, expect a minimum of a podium if not two. Favourite for the win.

Cars 55 and 95 - Level 5 Motorsports (BMW/Riley)

Up until Thursday I was placing this team as the main challenger to Ganassi (perhaps alongside the SunTrust #10), but then they withdrew from qualifying "for strategic reasons", taking advantage of the DP and GT fields starting a few seconds apart rather than combined as in other series. So they'll start at the back of the DP field. It means extra work, with this line-up it would be hard to bet against them but they've made it unnecessarily harder for themselves in my view. Cars feature Christophe Bouchut, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Raphael Matos and Richard Westbrook.

Car 9 - Action Express Racing (Porsche/Riley)

Won the race last year amd was sort of considered a fluke, but you never know what may happen.

Car 10 - SunTrust Racing (Chevrolet/Dallara)

This should be a strong car, with Ryan Briscoe, Max Angelelli and Ricky and Wayne Taylor.

Car 76 - Krohn Racing (Ford/Lola)

You can't argue with a line-up including Nic Minassian and Ricardo Zonta, even if the others are weaker.

Car 23 - United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing (Ford/Riley)

Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell have come out of retirement to enter this car along with driver/boss Zak Brown (he of Just Marketing International) and Mark Patterson. I am not expecting these guys to set the world alight, after all their 'name' drivers have been out of racing professionally for years, but Brundle impressed by qualifying 9th. Could be the tortoise to others' hares, if it keeps running... if.

Car 45 - Flying Lizard Motorsport (Porsche/Riley)

Nothing to do with F1 or IndyCar, but the front-running stalwarts of the GT/GT2 classes in the ALMS and GrandAm step up to running a prototype for the first time, for this race, and have only gone and stuck it on pole! They may not have the reliability to win as the car is new to them, but they will be a thorn in the side of the others when they are running, as they have Bergmeister, Long and van Overbeek alongside team boss Neiman (the weak link).

In the GT field look for the TRG Porsches as favourites.

A full entry list can be found here.

How to watch

The race is covered live in the US on SPEED TV and intermittently in Europe on Eurosport 2, although cameras are shut down through the night locally so broadcasters are unable to provide coverage for the duration.

Official website: Grand-Am.com

Direct link to live timing: Here (may need a refresh on load, check the drop-down box)

Webcam: GT top dogs TRG have a live feed here (unless SpeedTV shut it down again..).

Key to Live Timing

Pos: Position

Car: Car number

CLS: Class (DP = Daytona Prototype, GT = er, GT)

PIC: Position In Class

The rest should be self-explanatory.

Enjoy the race!

Blogathon

I would be remiss if I did not mention the annual GBS Blogathon running for the duration of the race but isn't limited to racing, lots of other sports will be discussed including the tennis. Featuring Q&As with Alex Tagliani and Tony Cotman, a Mario Kart tourney, and an abundance of guest-blogging from a wide variety of people, including me. I'll still be here in the SPC comments too, do join me!




At last, winter is almost over! The racing season continues its awakening from slumber, following the Dakar Rally and the Rallye Monte-Carlo it is time for the first major circuit racing event of the 2011 season. Whilst the Dubai 24 Hours a couple of weeks ago was probably the first racing event on a closed course this year it isn't yet considered a major event, Daytona is the venue the motorsport world looks to to officially kick off the racing year.

Event start

20:30GMT +00:00

29 January 2011