2020 Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona - Friday Notebook
Friday, January 3, 2020

Mazda Tops Roar Practice Charts for Second Straight Year

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Paraphrasing the immortal words of Forrest Gump, when it comes to finding speed at Daytona International Speedway over the last two years, the Mazda RT-24P and the 3.56-mile road course “go together like peas and carrots.”

Just as Oliver Jarvis did on Friday of the 2019 Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Olivier Pla placed the No. 77 Mazda Team Joest Daytona Prototype international (DPi) machine atop the time charts at the end of the first day of official practice for the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Pla posted a best lap of one minute, 35.794 seconds (133.780 mph) to lead a 1-2 sweep of top speeds for the team.

“Well, it was a good session and a nice way to rebound after we missed some time in the first practice,” said Pla, who joins Jarvis and Tristan Nunez as co-drivers of the No. 77 Mazda after sharing the team’s No. 55 entry in 2019. “We still have a long way to go and the team is working very hard to continue to improve the car, but obviously the Mazda RT-24P is working very well.

“This is a good first day of working with my new co-drivers, Olly and Tristan. We worked together a lot last year even though we were in different cars, but I am enjoying being in the No. 77.”

Last year, Jarvis ended the Roar weekend with an unofficial track record in the No. 77 machine, before officially breaking PJ Jones’ 26-year-old track record three weeks later en route to the Motul Pole Award for the 57th Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Jarvis was 0.080 seconds quicker than teammate Jonathan Bomarito in the No. 55 Mazda. Bomarito’s best lap was a 1:35.874 (133.669 mph) in the car he is sharing with Harry Tincknell – who led the day’s first practice session – and former IndyCar champion and Indy 500 winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Simon Trummer led the way in the LMP2 class, posting a best lap of 1:38.315 (130.350 mph) in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA 07. Trummer’s co-drivers are Nick Boulle, Gabriel Aubry and Ben Keating.

Defending Rolex 24 GT Le Mans (GTLM) class winner Colton Herta was quickest in class aboard the No. 25 BMW Team RLL M8 GTE. His best lap in the car he is co-driving with Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng and Bruno Spengler was 1:44.239 (122.942 mph).

Whereas the fastest laps of the day in DPi, LMP2 and GTLM all came in the second session, the quickest lap in GT Daytona (GTD) was achieved in the first session by Jack Hawksworth in the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3. Hawksworth, who is sharing the ride with Parker Chase, Michael De Quesada and two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, posted a best lap of 1:47.031 (119.735 mph).

 

Bryan Herta Autosport mixing it up for 2020

More often than not, a championship-winning team will leave well enough alone and enter the next season prepared to defend with the same lineup.

But not Bryan Herta.

The owner and namesake of Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian is, in his words, “mixing it up” for the 2020 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season. And not only that, he and the team are adding a third car to the entry list for this year’s championship push.

Reigning Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR class champions Mark Wilkins and Michael Lewis are back with the team, as are Harry Gottsacker and Mason Filippi, who drove the sister car in the Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian stable last year.

But this time, Wilkins and Gottsacker will pair together in the No. 21 Hyundai Veloster N TCR while Lewis and Filippi with co-drive the No. 98 car.

“We wanted to mix things up a little bit, I think keeping things fresh is important,” said Herta. “I feel like we could mix any two of these guys together in any car and it’s going to work. I feel like driving with a different co-driver, they’re all going to learn little tips that will help make each other better…they’re going to continue to learn and evolve and that’s part of the goal for what we’re doing.”

And with the addition of a third car, drivers Gabby Chaves and Ryan Norman have been added to the team to race that new entry. Chaves, the 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year while driving for Bryan Herta Autosport, embarks on his first full-time season in IMSA, while Norman joins the team after finishing fourth in the Indy Lights championship the last two seasons, then driving for Andretti Autosport.

“I’m really excited, it’s fantastic to be back with BHA,” said Chaves. “I’m very happy [to be in the IMSA paddock full-time], to have the full commitment this year really will take it to the next level. And to be able to fight for a championship and to be part of such a great team, I’m really, really excited for it.”

Norman is also thankful for the opportunity to make the jump to sports cars.

“Really excited to work with Gabby and everyone else on the team to bring a championship,” Norman added. “I definitely have a lot to learn, this is my first venture into sports car racing and IMSA racing, but I definitely think with everyone that is involved with this program that I’m going to be able to get up to speed pretty quickly.”

The good fortune that leads to allowing the team to expand, and their partnership with Hyundai in the process, is a source of pride for Herta.

“Extremely fortunate,” he said. “Hyundai’s commitment to motorsport is fairly new, but their appetite is to grow and to continue to do new things. We’re excited to be a motorsport partner for Hyundai and as they’re growing and getting more involved in motorsports, we look to do those things, too.”

 

Riley Dickinson wins prestigious IMSA Hurley Haywood GT3 Cup Scholarship

Newly minted IMSA President John Doonan probably said it best today when he pointed out that he often encourages young, developing drivers to be “students of the game” because it’s essential they understand those who came before them on the track.

“To be a recipient of a scholarship with Hurley Haywood’s name attached to it is no small thing,” Doonan said.

That wasn’t lost on the 2020 recipient of the IMSA Hurley Haywood GT3 Cup Scholarship, 17-year-old Riley Dickinson from New Braunfels, Texas. The young driver came out on top after a two-day North American Porsche Young Driver Academy program that included one day of classroom activity and another of on-track sessions that helped determine the scholarship recipient.

“Having the opportunity this year, being able to represent someone like Hurley is something unbelievable,” Dickinson said when asked about the meaning of the scholarship. “It’s truly a great honor for me to be able to do.”

Winning the scholarship isn’t just about the ride for 2020, but about the process of getting there as well.

“I would like to give a huge thanks to everyone who made the Porsche Young Driver Academy possible,” stated Dickinson. “It was truly a professional, great experience for myself. I learned so much from it that I’ll be able to take with me for the rest of my life, whether that’s on-track or off-track.”

And Haywood had high praise for Dickinson’s performance at the Academy, especially with the growing depth of excellent drivers competing for the scholarship.

“When we combined with IMSA and the Hurley Haywood Scholarship with Porsche Cars North America, it expanded our pool of drivers that we were looking at,” said the five-time Rolex 24 At Daytona overall winner. “Every year, I think this is the 33rd driver lineup that we’ve had, we’ve been doing it for 11 years – every year the group of people that we get are just amazing. This last go-through, I was so impressed with the level of understanding that the drivers have, how they look at data.

“Riley immediately, after the first run, immediately knew what he wanted to look at. He came to the guys that were doing the data and pinpointed exactly where he felt he was weak. And sure enough, he looked at it, went out and solved the problem and went faster.”

Long the face of Brumos Porsche and oft-affiliated with it’s iconic red, white and blue scheme, Haywood’s mark in sports cars is legendary, with five Rolex 24 watches and three 24 Hours of Le Mans trophies to his credit.

Doonan added his thoughts to the enormity of the impact that Haywood has on the sport and the league he now oversees.

“Growing up as a fan of endurance racing, you pick your legends, you pick your heroes of the sport,” said the new IMSA president. “To be sitting up here in my new role, to be sitting here next to a gentleman who is truly a legend in our sport is quite special for me personally.”

The legend himself had some final light-hearted words regarding his expectations for the winner of the scholarship that bears his name.  

“I told him all he needs to do is win every single race and that would make me happy.”

 

New IMSA President John Doonan living out a second boyhood dream

The former director of motorsports for Mazda North America Operations, John Doonan “finally” saw cars on track as he started his third day as the new president of IMSA.

And he admitted that watching while in his new role is a bit of an adjustment.

“Little different not having a specific horse in the race,” Doonan said while speaking with media at Daytona International Speedway on the opening day of the Road Before the Rolex 24. “I sat back in my office for the first time all weekend and watched the first session quietly because I didn’t want to show any emotion on pit road for anybody in particular.

“I explained to some people who don’t necessarily understand sports car racing that I used to be responsible for the elephants in the circus, now I’m responsible for the whole circus.”

And being responsible for the whole circus means he gets a chance to expand on what has already been a dream career in motorsports as he takes over the reigns from the now-retired Scott Atherton.

“It was an awesome journey, a boyhood dream to work for Mazda,” said Doonan, who began working alongside Atherton and transitioning to his new role with the sanctioning body in October. “Several people in the garage area said I can’t believe you’re wearing a different shirt.

“But rarely do you get to live out two boyhood dreams. In February of ‘79, I was sitting in my living room with my family, at that time there were just regular, I don’t even think it was hourly, I think it was every six or eight hours they gave some updates from Daytona and the Rolex 24. To imagine being a young person like that, I spoke about being that next generation of wanting to be somehow in the game or be part of the action. And now to have had the opportunities I’ve had at Mazda and now to come here, it’s really hard to explain.”

For a leader who started in the sport as a fan, it’s especially important to him that he helps lead IMSA on a path that grows the audience of the sport he has a great passion for. And he knows he can’t do it alone.

“We – as a collective, and I continue to use the word ‘we’ and that’s not just ‘we’ IMSA, it’s ‘we’ the team owners, ‘we’ the drivers, ‘we’ the media community – need to do our ever best to continue to grow our platforms and to grow our value,” Doonan asserted. “For me, it starts with our audience.”

“I think growing the audience, growing the outreach of how people can take in the IMSA content is critical. We also need to look at our audience, especially the younger generation.”

That will include developing initiatives to encourage fans to follow along with IMSA in new ways, such as through eSports or platforms like the newly launched TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

Another key tenet of Doonan’s leadership will be preserving and elevating the values that the France and Bishop families founded IMSA on.

“I’m honored to work for the France family,” he said. “I had a chance to talk with both Jim France and then called Mitch Bishop. I said to both of them, IMSA was founded on a set of values that would allow racers, drivers, manufacturers to go racing on a variety of levels. It would be my personal goal to make that those original value statements of what IMSA was founded on are carried through to today.

“I think without a doubt the staff at IMSA has done that with a lot of passion. A lot of professionalism. And I’m here and fortunate enough to be the next caretaker of it.”

 

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch takes to the track

Usually race fans have to wait until February to see the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion take to high banks of Daytona International Speedway, but Kyle Busch is providing a sweet treat to race fans this year as he joins Lexus for the 2020 Rolex 24 in the GTD class.

He’s in Daytona this weekend to turn laps in the No. 14 AIM VASSER SULLIVAN Lexus RC F GT3 alongside his co-drivers Jack Hawksworth, Parker Chase and Michael De Quesada.

It took a little persuading to get him behind the wheel of the sports car, but he didn’t want to lose the opportunity to try out the road course for the marquee event of the WeatherTech Championship season.

“I’ve been asked the last couple years by the folks at Toyota/Lexus to come out here and run their car, and I politely declined them the first couple times,” Busch told media today. “I felt like if I didn’t say yes eventually, then I would probably never be asked again.”

Busch has turned laps on the Daytona road course before – over a decade ago in a Daytona Prototype with Scott Speed in the summer sprint race in 2008. And he hopes this time he fares better.

“It was a thousand degrees inside the car, we had the NASCAR race that night, I remember just being flushed after that race was over, it was so hot,” he said. “We didn’t fare too well. I was slow. The car was slow. We were slow. So, I’m looking forward to being a bit faster this time around.”

He’s relying heavily on his teammate Hawksworth for advice as he gets used to the lighter weight and overall different feel of the Lexus compared to the Toyota Camry he pilots in NASCAR. Hawksworth traveled to the Charlotte area to spend a day on the simulator with Busch at TRD. Without Hawksworth’s guidance at the session, “I probably would have been completely lost,” said Busch.

After this first practice session, Busch admitted that he still has his “NASCAR driving techniques just embedded in (his) brain” and he has to shed them as he learns the differences in the car.

He also acquiesces that his biggest adjustment is to the braking.

“I’m used to our big heavy stock cars where you have to start the slowdown process early, the braking zone is forever, and then by the time you turn in you have to be off the brakes otherwise the inside wheels will lock up,” he said. “You also have to take care of our brakes on the Cup cars because they’re so heavy…you can really overheat them.

“Completely different techniques. On these cars, you can drive the snot out of them.”

The car Busch is driving was fast in the opening practice session. In fact, his co-driver Hawksworth put up the fastest time of the day for the GTD class. Busch’s speed was middle of the pack as he learned the car, with his fastest lap clocking in at 1:48.544 (118.066 mph).

But for all the differences, one thing remains the same. Busch wants to make his way to Victory Lane at the end of the race.

“I didn’t come here to completely have fun, of course I want to have fun,” he said. “But more importantly I want to be able to go out there and win for Lexus and for AIM VASSER SULLIVAN racing.”

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