After a day’s worth of practice and qualifying at Daytona International Speedway, it’s Cadillac that leads the Prototype field of the ISMA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Ford displayed dominance throughout the day in GT Le Mans, but GT Daytona is still up in the air.
Cadillacs ruled the four Prototype sessions with the Barbosa/Fittipaldi duo topping 75% of the on-track action. The final session was led by the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac, but the overall fastest time was still held by Joao Barbosa in the Action Express Racing Cadillac. Barbosa will lead the field to the green come Sunday.
Oreca was the second fastest manufacturer throughout the day, represented by Rebellion Racing. As with the Action Express cars, the Oreca’s fastest time came in qualifying, the third session of the day. Throughout the day the Orecas were not far behind, inching closer to the Cadillacs each session. Night practice seemed to slow the Orecas’ performance compared to other machines as their best time was 2.241s off the lead Cadillac and behind both Nissans. Not all Orecas were present for qualifying or night practice as the DragonSpeed entry made contact with the wall during Practice 2 and forced the team to make heavy repairs.
The two Nissan DPi machines fielded by Tequila Patron ESM developed the most speed throughout the practice/qualifying day. Fastest overall in a Nissan was Brendon Hartley, who was fifth fastest on the time charts behind the Cadillacs and the Oreca. They started the day off 4.837s back from the pace, but by the end of the day was third fastest in session. From the improvement they made throughout the day, ESM looks keen to protect their Rolex 24 title.
The Mazda RT24-P’s seemed to struggle a bit on pace as they ended the day with the 17th fastest lap, an effort led by Jonathan Bomarito, a hair above three seconds off today’s fastest lap. The sister car was right behind with Joel Miller at the wheel. The two cars hovered around the end of the top ten through the various sessions. Bomarito confirmed to Slipstream that the team was focusing on overall reliability for the 24-hour challenge ahead instead of outright pace. He believes that the Mazda has the potential to finish on the lead lap, which would put the Japanese marque in a good spot for a Rolex win.
Ligier and Riley/Multimatic were represented each with one entry by PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and Visit Florida Racing respectively. The Riley ended the day four and a half seconds off the pace, after being forced to use a DragonSpeed backup and test engine. The situation occurred after an air intake issue with the team’s race engine during warm up. PR1’s Tom Kimber-Smith put in the day’s 13th fastest lap 2.246s form the leading Cadillac. The Ligier was sixth fastest in the first session, but experienced some issues in the second session completing only nine laps.
Despite a field full of massive talent, 23 year old James French was the strongest in LMPC all day. His qualifying lap was almost a full second faster than ex-and-future-retired sports car driver, Johnny Mowlem. Throughout the day, French’s Performance Tech machines led sessions, but the best performance was in qualifying. Bar1 Motorsports was also fast with Buddy Rice leading a session while Starworks seemed to struggle with their No. 8 & 88 machines.
The GT Le Mans field was thoroughly covered by the Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT crew. Joey Hand recorded the fastest lap in qualifying with the day’s three overall fastest laps going to the Blue Oval. Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 488 competed with the Porsche 911 RSR’s throughout the day for second fastest time. After three practice sessions, the Ferrari came out on top of the b
attle, but still has 0.648 to make up on the Fords. The fastest Porsche overall was Patrick Pilet’s no. 911 which was 0.778s back. With qualifying being less important at a 24-hour event, there’s still a chance to see what the newly refreshed mid-engined Porsche can do, along with the rest of the field.
The GT Daytona class was mostly controlled by Ferraris and Park Place Motorsports’ Porsche 911 GT3 R. Scuderia Corsa’s Ferrari led the first session, but the Porsche found better time through Practice 2. It was the epic flyer set by Spirit of Race’s Alessandro Pier Guidi that would top the charts for the day, recorded during qualifying. Pier Guidi’s pace in qualifying was almost a half second faster than the first non-Ferrari competitor in the shape of the Aston Martin Vantage.
Fastest of the GTD newcomers, the Lexus RCF GT3 began to show it’s strength in cooler temperatures in the last session of the day. Jack Hawksworth was 1.142 off the pace after night practice, which was good for 12th fastest lap on Wednesday. The first Acura wasn’t far behind with Andy Lally at the wheel. The Acura’s fastest time was set in qualifying, which was good for 13th fastest lap overall. The Mercedes struggled to find speed, but was quick out of the box. A day that started with the top Mercedes in fifth position would slowly see the German manufacture lose time to others, with Audi being the only manufacturer not able to best the Mercedes’ time.
The 55 entries will have another day to one in their final race setups before the big show on Saturday. The Rolex 24 is expected to take the green flag at 2:30 PM on Saturday with the next session starting at 10:00 AM on Friday.