Teams have logged a lot of miles in preparation for the debut of GTP at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Porsche likely on the higher end of the scale. Porsche was the first to get its LMDh car, the 963, on track and has completed a lot of testing, including a 36-hour test at Sebring. While much of the early track time was spent making sure the spec hybrid system works as it’s supposed to, Porsche Penske Motorsports likely will have the knowledge edge when the green flag drops for the Rolex 24 at Daytona at 1:40pm Eastern on Jan. 28.
Between now and then, however, the teams will have five practice sessions at the Roar Before the 24 this weekend prior to qualifying on Sunday. When the 24-hour weekend officially begins next Thursday, there will be another five practice sessions before the race. All in all, it’s more than 13 hours of non-competitive track time at Daytona International Speedway leading up to the first race of the season. After all the testing that’s been done already, including the official sanctioned test at DIS last month, can there still be anything to learn? Absolutely, says Porsche Penske Motorsport’s Managing Director Jonathan Diuguid.
“I think a lot of us are going to go through similar procedures that our teams have done in preparation for the Daytona 24 hours before,” he says. “But if I had to pinpoint one thing (about which we need more information), I would pinpoint the tires. A lot of the testing that all of us have done is on different styles of tires, whether it’s previous construction or compound, to where we haven’t really had a ton of exposure to the tire that we’re all planning on racing on. And the test that we all participated in in December was on the warmer side. If [the race] is going to be a lot colder than any of us have experienced….”
Wear on the tires could be quite different than what the teams have encountered during testing. With not only different compound and construction, but also the LMDh cars using them very differently than the DPi racers did, being heavier, more powerful and incorporating the hybrid system, there may be surprises in store. Plus, the tire allocation is less than it has been in previous years. GTP teams will be taking 21 sets of tires into the race itself, compared to around 30 in years past.
“The tire quantities that we have available to us for the race are significantly reduced. So double stinting, or even triple stinting in some cases, is going to be a lot more prevalent than it has been previously,” Diuguid explains. “I think in previous Daytona 24 hours, we had 38 sets for the weekend and teams have typically taken low 30s into the race. Now I believe it’s 25 or 26 sets for the total race weekend, and we’re only allowed to take 20 sets in for the race itself. So it’s a significant reduction in tire allocation and it’s going to generate a slightly different approach to the race than we’ve had in the past. So really trying to understand tires and tire usage is going to be critical in those practice sessions.”
Often the sessions leading up to the 24-hour race are going through the motions — scrubbing tires, double checking fuel consumption and tire wear, drivers certifying to themselves that they can bang out consistent fast laps in the middle of the night without error. This year, though, for those in the GTP category as well as others campaigning new cars, every session counts.