With the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am Series seasons barely over—marking the end of the existence of Grand-Am and the ALMS, since they have merged into the Tudor United SportsCar Championship—formal testing is already beginning for the combined field that will take the green flag at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in January, followed by the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in March.
The first formal public tests are at Sebring, Saturday and Sunday, then at Daytona, Tuesday and Wednesday. While the combined field dropped the LMP1 prototype cars from the ALMS, and the GX class from Grand-Am, all the other classes that raced in the two series in 2013 will be on the grid in 2014, though some will be racing in different categories, against different cars. The tests not only give teams a chance to shake down the cars—some modified by new rules packages the USCC mandates—but also to spend some track time with drivers that may be unfamiliar with each other, since there was only moderate crossover between the Grand-Am and ALMS drivers in the past few years.
At the moment, there are 19 cars signed up to test at Sebring, 25 at Daytona. More last-minute entries are expected. For Sebring, there are five prototypes, two GTLM cars, and 12 GTD cars. The Prototypes are a combination of the Grand-Am Daytona Prototype cars, and the ALMS LMP2 prototype cars, with specifications adjusted to make the two very different cars run at, hopefully, the same approximate speed.
The GTLM cars are the GT-class cars (Chevrolet Corvettes, SRT Vipers, BMW Z4s, for example) that ran in the ALMS series last year, while the GTD entries and cars that ran in the Grand-Am GT class last year, including Audi R8s, Ferrari 458s and the new Porsche GT Americas, a variant of the 911.
For the Daytona test, the 25 entries include seven Prototypes, two PC-class cars, three GTLM cars, and 13 GTD cars. The LMP Challenge class is made up of spec cars from the ALMS series that use Oreca chassis and a Chevrolet V8 engine.
The tests also give most of the ALMS teams a chance to try of the Continental tires that have been mandated for Grand-Am, and are now mandated for every class but GTLM, where Michelin seems to be the preferred brand.
Quite a few front-running teams will not be at the tests, either because they don't have their cars ready—the Prototype rules remain a work in progress— or because they don't want to tip their hand to the competition. The Grand-Am DP champion Wayne Taylor Racing team won't be testing, nor will the all-new Chevrolet Corvette C7.R GTLM cars. Last year's 24 Hours champions, the Ganassi Racing team, won't be there, having just recently announced a change from BMW power to the Ford EcoBoost twin-turbo V6, which Michael Shank Racing will also use. Shank won't be testing, either.
With Ganassi dropping BMW power for Ford, and the two-car Team Sahlen Daytona Prototype effort announcing that it won't be back this year, this leaves only the lightly regarded Highway to Help team's Riley with BMW power at present, and that team isn't expected to run a full season. Bob Stalling's Gainsco team has so far announced only that it will compete in the four longest endurance races, including Daytona and Sebring, and may not run the whole season. It isn't testing, either.
Practically all the expected entries for the Rolex 24 should be at the annual "Roar Before the 24" test at Daytona Jan. 3-5.
Given the combined series, a beyond-full field is expected for the 24 Hours and Sebring races. Tentatively, this is how the TUSCC plans to limit entries:
--Rolex 24 at Daytona can handle a field of 60 cars, including a maximum of 19 Prototypes, 10 LMPC cars, 12 GTLM cars and 19 GTD cars.
--At the 12 Hours of Sebring, a field of 63 cars, including a maximum of 20 Prototypes, 10 LMPC cars, 14 GTLM cars and 19 GTD cars.
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