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TUSC: Rolex 24 P class preview

Jan 21, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

Lime Rock Park Getty Images

The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship premieres this weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona. We’ll have sporadic posts and updates for the season opener of the unified series, which brings together the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series.

First up in our list of class previews, the P class.

P CLASS

WHAT IT IS: The headlining class. No driver ranking limitations. Open chassis and engine combinations, spec Continental Tires. This combines the P2 cars from ALMS, the Daytona Prototypes from GRAND-AM and the DeltaWing, which ran in ALMS but isn’t homologated to any set of technical regulations as a developmental prototype.

WHO THEY ARE: 18 cars strong. It includes 11 DPs, 6 P2s, and the DeltaWing. The field includes a number of sports car veterans and some IndyCar and NASCAR interlopers.

A QUICK BREAKDOWN: The 11 DPs include two cars apiece from Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (No. 01/02 Ford EcoBoost Rileys), Action Express Racing (No. 5/9 Corvette DPs), and one car apiece from Wayne Taylor Racing (No. 10 Corvette DP), Marsh Racing (No. 31 Corvette DP), Highway to Help (No. 50 Dinan Riley), Michael Shank Racing (No. 60 Ford EcoBoost Riley), Starworks Motorsport (No. 78 Dinan Riley), Spirit of Daytona (No. 90 Corvette DP) and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing (No. 99 Corvette DP).

Ganassi has won five of the last eight overall Rolex 24s, and a win for Scott Pruett in the No. 01 would be a record sixth overall title. But the team had engine problems at the Roar Before the Rolex 24, and left a day early. Shank (2012), Action Express (2010) and Taylor (2005) also have prior overall wins in the above batch. It feels like a year where a first-timer could break through, and all of the above bar the Marsh (P class debut) and Highway to Help (four gentlemen drivers) could pull it off.

The P2s are two two-car operations, Extreme Speed Motorsports (No. 1/2 HPD ARX-03b) and SpeedSource (No. 70/07 Mazda SKYACTIV-D Coupe) with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing (No. 6 ORECA 03 Nissan) and OAK Racing (No. 42 Morgan Nissan) completing the six open-top P class cars in the field. Reliability may be an issue; pace certainly will for the Mazdas, which are brand new and simply hoping to finish; and the other three teams don’t have the same level of Daytona experience as the DPs. I think a P2 car could score an overall podium – perhaps Muscle Milk – but I doubt one will win overall.

The DeltaWing is a beast unto itself, and in a decently good position compared to its at-times fragmented 2013. There’s a solid driver lineup that includes Caterham F1 reserve Alexander Rossi, Indy Lights runner-up Gabby Chaves and 2013 drivers Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge. Reliability will be the issue, as the team’s Élan powerplant hasn’t lasted anywhere close to a 24-hour race distance. But the pace was very good from testing. Finishing is goal one, and if it’s still running, it could sneak a surprise result with the DWC13 coupe.

WHO TO WATCH: As outlined above, it’s hard to go against a DP, which have the edge on P2 cars in terms of overall lap time and outright speed on the ovals. And of the DPs, the Corvettes have the reliability compared to the premiering Fords and privateer Dinans. But realistically there’s about 10-12 of the 18 cars entered in class that should be battling for the podium at the end of 24 hours.

The drivers of note? Sports car veterans such as Pruett, Ryan Dalziel, Joao Barbosa, the Klaus Graf/Lucas Luhr pairing, the Taylor brothers, and the trio in the Spirit of Daytona Corvette. IndyCar’s Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson, and James Hinchcliffe. NASCAR’s Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger.

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