JANUARY 12, 2015
Showcasing close teamwork, performance tuning and precision driving, the Roar Before the Rolex 24 provided a three-day sneak preview of what’s to come later this month at one of most important international endurance races: the Rolex 24 At Daytona. For many of the 53 teams here, this compulsory event was the only opportunity to test new equipment and rehearse new team members at Daytona International Speedway, the 3.56 mile road course that is as notoriously demanding as the 24 hour race-to-come is grueling. For the fortunate few who managed to test prior to the Roar, the focus was on tweaking what they’d already learned in an effort to eliminate any small issues that could plague future efforts, and they relished the opportunity gained when the weekend’s conditions turned from unseasonably cold to warm to wet, reflecting the many moods of Daytona weather that can be a determinant in outcomes.
Last year’s overall winner at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, No. 5 Action Express Racing team, shows a clear advantage as it heads out of the Roar experience and into the Rolex 24 contest. All three of the 2014 drivers for No. 5 – France’s Sebastian Bourdais, Brazil’s Christian Fittipaldi, and Portugal’s Joao Barbosa – have returned for another shot at winning, eliminating the need for any indoctrination to team protocol or familiarization with the car itself. Additionally, when these three won the race last year, each took home a specially engraved Rolex Cosmograph Daytona timepiece, which all agree gives them inspiration to repeat in 2015.
“The good thing is that Christian, Joao and I have done three races together here at Daytona, so if one or the other of us sets up the car, we are all happy,” said Bourdais. “There is no sacrifice or compromise made, because if the car is set up right for one of us, it is right for all of us. The car is very similar to last year, so there is no big problem for us this year.”
Chevrolet has updated all the Prototype Corvettes with new bodywork that more closely resembles that of the Corvette C7 production street car. “The new bodywork has not really had much of an effect on the aerodynamics; it’s really more of a cosmetic upgrade,” said Bourdais. “Of course, we checked it out in the wind tunnel and found no negative effects. The chassis is the same as last year, but a significant change is that we now have paddle shifting and throttle by wire, which means no more cable. At the Roar, we are primarily here to evaluate all the systems and the electronic upgrades. All new systems are great when they work, but those are the kind of things that can take you out of the race if they break.”
The Action Express Racing trio is clearly the team to beat this year. That point is obvious to Bourdais, Fittipaldi and Barbosa, but they choose to focus on the car and their driving and not let outside thoughts impact their psyche.
“Everybody here wants to win the Rolex 24 At Daytona, and since we were the last team to win that race, we have a bigger target on our chest, and everyone wants to beat us,” said Barbosa. “There is always pressure, but you cannot let it get to you. We just want to concentrate on performing well, so sometimes pressure is a healthy thing.”
Barbosa added that the main objective for his Action Express Racing team here was to complete as many laps and stress the car as much as possible in order to identify its weak points. “You can never anticipate what might go wrong,” he said. “Tuning the car for this test is somewhat important but not excessively so, because there are a lot of atmospheric changes that effect track conditions between early January and late January. We need to prepare the car to last for 24 hours, and as a result of this test at the Roar, we are feeling very confident.”
Barbosa not only won the Rolex 24 at Daytona but also with teammate Christian Fittipaldi claimed the 2014 series championship. “If you ask any driver here what they want to go home with at the end of the month, they will all say the same thing; they want to go home with a watch.”