New IMSA era begins with Rolex 24 at Daytona
January 24, 2014, Staff report, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com
Live coverage overnight on IMSA.com; Sunday at 7 a.m. ET on FOX Sports 1
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A concept at one time dismissed as an improbable cause is now an impressive reality. Professional sports car racing in North America is again under one sanctioning organization, the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), opening the season this weekend with a daunting endurance test at Daytona International Speedway, the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
By no means, however, should this be considered an "everything old is new again" scenario.
The merger of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, achieved after more than a decade of separate operations, has created the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, utilizing a "best of both worlds" mantra that is perhaps most noticeable in the intriguing car class lineups.
A quick primer on the four classes -- featuring a total of 67 cars -- slated to the green flag at 2:10 p.m. (ET) on Saturday:
ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA COVERAGE
- Saturday: 2-4 p.m. ET on FOX; 4-9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 2
- Overnight (Saturday-Sunday): 9 p.m.-7 a.m. ET on IMSA.com (includes live images, in-car cameras and announcers)
- Sunday, Jan. 26: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1
· Prototype (P) is the TUDOR Championship's top (and fastest) class, combining P2 and DeltaWing cars from the ALMS with Daytona Prototypes from the Rolex Series;
· Prototype Challenge (PC) is a former prototype spec class from the ALMS;
· The GT Le Mans (GTLM) production-based class also is a direct carry-over from the ALMS;
· GT Daytona (GT), also production-based, combines the Rolex Series' GTs, teams from the ALMS' GTC class and cars slightly modified from European GT3 competition.
Anticipation surrounding the merged series has been heightened by an offseason featuring extensive development of rules and technical specifications designed to create the best possible balance of performance within each class. Much attention has focused on the headlining P class and the inherent challenges of combining Daytona Prototype and P2, two unique cars.
Now that the rule-writing is complete, speculation has begun regarding which type of machinery will visit Victory Lane come Sunday afternoon. Barring an across-the-board faltering, a P class car will win the overall title. A potential shootout looms that could provide some immediate drama for the inaugural TUDOR Championship: Lucas Luhr vs. Scott Pruett, who ended up as the all-time victory leaders in the ALMS and Rolex Series, respectively. Pruett also co-holds the record for most Rolex 24 overall wins (with Hurley Haywood), with five.
Pruett will co-drive the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley DP -- one of two powerhouse all-star entries from owner Chip Ganassi's organization -- with long-time partner Memo Rojas, reigning Indy Lights champion Sage Karam and from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, former Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray. Luhr and regular co-driver Klaus Graf are joined this week by Alexander Brundle, in the No. 6 ORECA / Nissan P2, owned by Greg Pickett.
"There's something magical about Daytona, and I love coming to race in the Rolex 24," Pruett said. "Especially with the coming together of both series, it will be the best of the best. It's going to be an incredible race."
Luhr and his team are moving into a P2 car after years of dominating the ALMS' P1 class. The P1 class was not retained in the merger, necessitating the switch.
"We had a good test a couple of weeks ago [at Daytona] and the car was reliable," Luhr said. "It's a long race and the key will be to stay out of trouble. It's going to be a challenge. The car is still relatively new to us and while we learned a lot at the test, there are still things to learn and work on, which is a normal part of the process of having a new car.
"And there's no better place to keep learning than during a race."
McMurray is trying to become only the third driver to win both the Rolex 24 and Daytona 500, joining Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt on that exclusive short list. (Note: Andretti won the event in 1972, when it was shortened to six hours.)
"Chip's teams have, hands-down, the best chances to win," said McMurray. "I'm just fortunate to be involved."
Television/on-line coverage for the Rolex 24 follows:
· Saturday: 2-4 p.m. ET on FOX; 4-9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 2
· Overnight (Saturday-Sunday): 9 p.m.-7 a.m. ET on IMSA.com (includes live images, in-car cameras and announcers)
· Sunday, Jan. 26: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1