At 7am, the sun peeks over the top of the final turn, starting to case light over the track and illuminate the cars that had been driving for seventeen straight hours. Last year, the sun had been hidden behind clouds for hours and rain had been playing havoc with the race. We stood on the top of the stadium seats, looking out over a racetrack that had been pummeled by rain. It was one for the record books. The 2019 24 Hours of Rolex at Daytona was red-flagged twice (a new record) and was cut short because of rain (which had never happened). There were seventeen yellow flags. It started raining at 4am and did not stop until well after the podium ceremonies. It was partially the rain reminder of last year, and the reminder that we have a lot of races to attend in 2020 that kept us home during the Roar before the Rolex 24. It’s bittersweet, it’s a bit like a mid-break relief to see cars on the track. However, the Roar Before the Rolex 24 is a lot more than just cars on track.
Those at least somewhat familiar with sports car racing know that the last weekend of January belongs to IMSA and the Rolex 24 Hours. The first major race event to kick of the 2020 schedule.That weekend features mini races, day and night practices, and of course the full twenty-four hour race. IMSA has a great resource that lays out the types of cars within the series, and I would highly recommend you go here and check it out . To kick off the month of January is the Roar Before the Rolex 24. It’s a three-day sports car extravaganza of practices, qualifying, and a prototype race. Held at the Daytona International Speedway, yes Florida in early January, it truly is the kick-off to the next year of racing in North America. Besides day and night practices to allow the drivers and crew to get familiar their cars, the weekend features qualifying which decides garage position for the cars. Garage position is very important during a twenty-four hour race. If you have to get the car behind the wall during the race, the shorter the distance: the quicker the transport. It also gives the prototypes a warm-up race, and it’s just an opportunity to for everyone to flex.
In 2019 Kyle Kirkwood and the Fort 7 Motorsports car won the Prototype challenge just under 3 hours with their fastest lap time of 1:45.786. Second place Matthew Bell in the K2R Motorsports car had a lap time of 1:46.334. This year in 2020 the race belonged to Neil Alberico, Leo Lamelas and the Ansa Motor Sports LLC, besting the lap time last year with a lap time of 1:44.903. The 2020 race featured over ten cars with a faster lap time then the 2020 winner. Qualifying for garage spaces also showed fast times. With the following cars and drivers securing prime sports for each class. Contrast with last year’s race times, the winner (the Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R) had the fastest lap time of 1:34.598. This year the DPi qualifying set yet another track record of 1:33.324 from the No. 77 Mazda RT-24P DPi. The other qualifying sessions weren’t as exciting, except for the GTD class where, due to some technical issues, a lot of the Lamborghinis were disqualified. The disqualifications do not affect anything but garage placement and carry no bearing at the Rolex 24 Hours. (here’s where I’m honest and say I don’t fully comprehend the different gear set ups but sportscar365 has a good article on it here) With qualifying speeds similar to last year’s race speeds, I think we’re going to be in for some fun racing in a few weeks.
The Roar before the Rolex 24 also allows a moment to get excited and see which drivers from other series are going to be involved in some of the IMSA Challenges. In 2020 the field is full of current, former, and hopefully current again INDYCAR drivers. The DPi category includes: Sebastian Bourdais, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Brisco, Scott Dixon, Mike Conway, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Matheus Leist. The LMP2 category includes Ben Hanley and James Davison. Colton Herta is the INDYCAR representative in the GTLM category.The GTD category includes: Townsend Bell, Jack Hawksworth, Katherine Legge, AJ Allmendinger. Also, NASCAR has Kyle Bush in the GTD category and up-and-coming NASCAR star Halie Deegan will participate in the Michelin Pilot Challenge for Ford during the Rolex 24 Hour weekend. (this is current as of the list before the Roar concluded, I’m sure they’ll be changes prior to the Rolex so it will change)
It’s hard to express the excitement that the Roar starts. There is a feeling in the stomach, an anticipation that finally the racing season is getting closer. Jenna Fryer had a great tweet that encapsulates the excitement:
Here’s hoping the rain stays away later this month!
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