Just Electric

Rolex 24 at Daytona: Formula E runners and riders

The 56th running of the Daytona 24 hours takes place this weekend and this year, several past and present Formula E drivers take on some of the best drivers from F1, IndyCar, and Sportscars. In this preview, Just Electric assesses their chances as well as highlighting a couple of other entries which are worth keeping an eye on.

Former Venturi and Dragon Racing driver Mike Conway has been confirmed as the third driver for the endurance rounds in the Whelan Engineering backed Cadillac DPi.VR. He is joined by the full season pairing of Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran. Nasr is a veteran of 2 seasons in F1 for Sauber and Curran was part of the line-up which won the 2016 IMSA title alongside Dane Cameron. Joining them for Daytona is Stuart Middleton, the young Brit having won the Whelan Sunoco Challenge as well as the GT4 class in British GT. The Cadillacs were the quickest in every session at the “Roar Before the Rolex 24” test, although they have since been slowed by a 0.6mm reduction of their air restrictor in a bid to cut power. However, the durability of the DPi.VR could prove to be a decisive factor in the race if others run into trouble.

Former Mahindra driver Bruno Senna will drive the second Ligier JS P217 from United Autosports, and will team up with Paul Di Resta, who tested for Jaguar in the rookie test, as well as two of the team’s full-season drivers in the European Le Mans Series last season in Switzerland’s Hugo de Sadeleer and young American driver Will Owen. Senna’s opening stints in the World Endurance Championship helped Rebellion win the LMP2 category in 2017. Di Resta is a former DTM champion and F1 driver and thus is used to high downforce cars. The design of the Ligier is draggier than that the Oreca so the team will not be as quick on the banking but if there is a team who can get the most out of this car, then it is United Autosport.

Both of the Jackie Chan DCR Jota cars have multiple Formula E drivers in their respective line-ups. The #37 has the current championship leader, Mahindra’s Felix Rosenqvist, alongside former Andretti driver Robin Frijns and one of Mahindra’s entries in the rookie test, Daniel Juncadella. The fourth driver is Lance Stroll who when he last competed in the race two years ago, put his Chip Ganassi Racing Ford Daytona Prototype into the wall and is going to be wanting to make amends for that.

Andretti’s Antonio Felix da Costa will be in the #78 sees joining team regulars Alex Brundle and former China Racing/NEXTEV TCR driver Ho-Pin Tung. The fourth driver for the race is Ferdinand Habsburg, or, His Imperial and Royal Highness Ferdinand Zvonimir Maria Balthus Keith Michael Otto Antal Banham Leonhard von Habsburg to give him his full title.

Both entries are stacked with top drivers and should be at the sharp end of the global specification LMP2 cars, although the DPi entries should have a slight advantage. Having said this, a podium is not out of the question for either entry.

CORE Autosport are a team which has had phenomenal success over the years in the old Prototype Challenge class and this year sees them return to prototypes after a less than successful season in GTD. Former Dragon Racing driver Loic Duval and Romain Dumas who, between them, have won just about everything there is to win in sportscar racing, apart from the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Colin Braun is rather quick indeed in a prototype and Jonathan Bennett is up there with the fastest of the amateur drivers. If they keep out of trouble during the race, then they could well be in with a shot at a podium.

Mazda are back with a pair of Riley/Multimatic based RT24-Ps. Since Joest took over the running of the programme, several changes have been made to the car to improve the cooling among other areas. The #55 car will have long-time factory driver Jonathan Bomarito who is joined by Harry Tincknell, who tested for NIO Formula E at the Rookie Test in Marrakesh. Joining them for the endurance races is Spencer Pigot as the endurance races don’t clash with his IndyCar programme for this year. The #77 car sees another long-time Mazda factory driver in Tristan Nunez being joined by Oliver Jarvis for the full season. Also in the #77 is former Team Aguri driver and reigning DTM champion Rene Rast. Both cars have plenty of speed and experience but it will depend on how reliable the cars are over the duration of the race as to whether they can contend for a podium.

One of the entries in the top class which could well be a dark horse for a podium is the #99 JDC Miller Motorsport entry for Chris Miller, Stephan Simpson, Misha Goikhberg and Gustavo Menezes. Menezes is joining the team for Daytona only and has proven himself in the LMP2 class in the World Endurance Championship and has now moved to LMP1 for this season. Simpson and Goikhberg were unlucky last year and could well have had a pair of race wins despite Goikhberg being an amateur driver. Miller is also an experienced sportscar driver and this will bode well for the race.

Other entries of note include the pair of ESM Nissan DPis with the #2 being driven by Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and Olivier Pla and the #22 featuring Johannes van Overbeek, Pipo Derani, and Nicolas Lapierre. Both of the Acura Team Penske entries are also loaded with talent. The #6 is being driven by Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud and the #7 being driven by Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, and Graham Rahal. Finally, the #23 United Autosports Ligier is going to have a large crowd around it due to its driver line-up of Phil Hanson, Lando Norris, and Fernando Alonso.

The GTLM class will have just two drivers with Formula E experience. The first of these is the #3 Corvette Racing entry of the former China Racing/NEXTEV TCR driver Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, and Mike Rockenfeller. The full season drivers in the car, Garcia, and Magnussen won the title last season and will undoubtedly be in contention again this season. The other car is the #911 of the Porsche GT Team featuring a full season line-up of Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy with one of Techeetah’s drivers from the rookie test, Frederic Makowiecki joining them for the endurance rounds. All of the entries in the GTLM class are strong and the racing is rather close as well so anyone, even BMW Team RLL with their new M8 GTEs could potentially win.

The first of the four GTD entries with Formula E links is the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini of Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, one of Dragon Racing’s drivers from the rookie test, Andrea Caldarelli, and Bryce Miller. They’re all quick drivers, even though Snow is still lacking in experience compared to his teammates. Caldarelli is also going to be worth watching as he is a factory driver for Lamborghini. If they have a solid race then they could be one of the contenders for the class win.

Next up is the #64 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Frankie Montecalvo and DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird. Bird and Bell are going to be providing most of the speed in the car as the two professional drivers. Having said this, Montecalvo is a quick amateur driver and Bill Sweedler is up amongst the quickest Bronze graded drivers in the world. After all, he is a former class winner at Le Mans. They could well be making a stealthy bit for a podium if they stay out of trouble.

The third entry in the class with Formula E links is the #75 SunEnergy1 Mercedes of Kenny Habul, Thomas Jaeger, Venturi‘s Maro Engel and Mikael Grenier. Grenier is the reigning Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe Pro Class champion and should be turning some good lap times. Jaeger and Engel are both Mercedes factory drivers and are phenomenally quick, Engel in particular. Habul is the slowest of the four drivers but can put in a solid performance when required. All things considered, the chances of a podium are going to rely on maximising the drive time of Jaeger, Engel, and Grenier but the pace is there to make it a possibility.

Finally, there is the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura which features former Team Aguri driver, Katherine Legge, alongside Alvaro Parente, Trent Hindman and AJ Allmendinger. Allmendinger is a long-time driver for the team at Daytona and has tasted success here in 2012 alongside the late Justin Wilson, Ozz Negri Jr, and John Pew. Legge and Hindman are very quick and Parente is a former Bathurst 12 hours winner in 2016 and British F3 champion in 2005. The Acura was quick last season and given the strength of the driver line-up, they should be right up at the pointy end of the field fighting for the win.

Two other cars to keep an eye out for in the GTD class are the #11 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Franck Perera and Rik Breukers and the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche of Patrick Long, Christina Nielsen, Robert Renauer and Mathieu Jaminet. Both lineups have no weak links and Nielsen is also the defending champion in the class and has been for the last two seasons. Both entries will be heading into the race among the class favourites for the win.

Header image courtesy of Cadillac/Richard Prince.

Rob Lomas

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