Having gotten through the first of our five class previews for this year's Daytona 24 Hours, let's move on to the next class in my hierarchy of "least interesting (to me)" to "most interesting (to me)". The fourth most interesting class (to me) (aka "the second least interesting class") this year? GTD-Pro. Why is this, you (my theoretical and not entirely fictional reader) ask? Well, put simply, GTD-Pro has two strikes against is. 1) A GTD car of any kind won't win overall this year (too many GTP and LMP2 cars for that), and 2) GTD has WAY more cars in it than GTD-Pro (a margin of 23 to ten, as of a couple days ago, with the #53 MDK Motorsports Porsche switching to GTD-Pro). Game, set. And match, I guess. Anyway, our GTD-Pro class preview:
The Extreme Long Shots
#53 MDK Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3-R (992) - The aforementioned MDK Porsche switched from GTD to GTD-Pro this week, for....reasons, I guess? According to their statement, it's because they're planning on running the rest of the season in Pro, so they want to get a head start on that, but....it seems like maybe they want to try to run platinum driver Jan Magnussen more and run their bronze and silver drivers less (all drivers are required to run four hours in GTD, but that requirement is only two hours per driver in GTD-Pro). Anyway, it'd be a true shock for two silvers and a bronze (plus Magnussen) to beat all of the factory backed, gold- and platinum-laden lineups on most of the rest of the teams. Odds - 40 to 1.
The Extremely Unlikelys
#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 - This placement comes down to literally three words: "new car blues". Risi is an extremely capable team, and the driver lineup is four Ferrari factory platinums, but the car is 100% new (and superduper gorgeous, I'll add). Against a field of tried and true machinery.....I just can't see it winning. Odds - 20 to 1.
#64 TGM/TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GT3 - Like the #53 Porsche, a driver lineup filled with bronzes and silvers (two of each). Although all four guys are quite capable, factory driver speed they're not. Could they keep their heads down and find themselves on the podium after 24 hours? Yeah.....but the top step? Only if all the other nine cars falter. Not likely. Odds - 20 to 1.
The Solid Mid-Pack
#63 Iron Lynx Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2 - The only GTD-Pro Lambo only qualified 6th and has seemed to struggle a bit for pace, although they were only 0.038 seconds off the pace of the top time in class in the Thursday practice session yesterday. Will it be quick enough to hang with the leaders and be able to chase down or hold off one of the other cars in class if it comes down to a late race shootout on Sunday afternoon? Odds - 12 to 1.
#95 Turner Motorsports BMW M4 GT3 - Another team that swapped over from the GTD class, likely in order to lean harder on gold/platinum BMW factory drivers Bill Auberlen, Bruno Spengler and John Edwards. Not a bad strategy, that one. The drivers are all more than capable of bringing home the expensive watches, but is the M4 fast enough to run with the quickest cars in class? Odds - 10 to 1.
#9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3-R (992) - It feels utterly absurd to put the defending Daytona 24 Hours and series champ GTD-Pro this far down the list of teams and their capability to win, but the Porsches are reportedly at a 10+ MPH disadvantage in a straight line to the next slowest car in class. With this being the case, unless all of the other teams hit problems, it's hard to imagine a Porsche being able to win either GTD class. Odds - 10 to 1.
#3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R GTD - Still running the C8.R that was converted from GTLM spec to GTD (until next year, when they'll get to use the version that was designed specifically for GTD/GT3), the Corvette guys are liable to execute a near-perfect race, but will the car have the outright pace for the end of race duel that the GTD classes always seem to come down to? Odds - 8 to 1.
The Front Runners
#14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC-F GT3 - The perpetually enduro-snakebitten Lexuses finally got their first endurance race win at Petit Le Mans in the fall. They seem to have pretty solid pace again this year at Daytona, qualifying 3rd in class, just a couple tenths of a second off of the pole. They'll be in the mix all day/night/day, for sure. Odds - 6 to 1.
#23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 - The Vantage has been knocking on the door of winning its first Daytona 24 for what feels like forever, and now seems to have the speed (qualifying 2nd in class) and the driving talent (a lineup filled with Aston factory rated golds) to get the job done. I fully expect these guys to be on the podium on Sunday afternoon, but will it be the top step? Odds - 5 to 1.
#79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 -The GTD-Pro class polesitting car (if only by 0.041 second over the #23 Aston), they have to be considered a slight favorite to win GTD-Pro. Team owner Cooper MacNeil will likely get his couple of hours of driving out of the way fairly early, so that he can hand off to his three Mercedes factory driver teammates, who are all #1 pace drivers. It's not a lock that the #79 Merc will win, but the AMG GT3s have looked awfully strong in the lead up to the race. Odds - 4 to 1.
Another class in the books! Tune in shortly for more previews, and, in a little under 24 hours, the actual race!