The Rolex 24 at Daytona begins this weekend, the United SportsCar Championship centrepiece kick-starting the 2015 motorsport season with its annual round-the-clock extravaganza. We will be in Florida to bring you all the latest from the track and the paddock, as well as this blog detailing our stay in the Sunshine State for this truly unique event.
This blog will be updated... as often as I can manage! (US Time)
So that's that for another year... well, for me anyway. The drivers and teams head off to Sebring next for another gruelling endurance race, this time over 12 hours.
As for me, I need to make a choice between filing my work for the week, going to the bar or going to bed. Maybe all three!
I hope you've enjoyed my blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it. If you're feeling intrepid come January 2016, there are certainly worse places than Daytona to wish away the winter blues...
The grimaces belong to Action Express and Wayne Taylor Racing. Though happy with second place, Action Express is less enamoured with its raw pace, claiming it didn't have the strongest car today.
Wayne Taylor Racing faced several questions regarding that late driver change, confirmed to be because of a miscalculation over the length of time permitted behind the wheel. In fairness, both Taylor brothers and Max Angelelli put on a brave face and levelled no discernible blame, but they cannot hide that disappointment.
The victors and podium winners have been facing the press - a mix of smiles and grimaces, it must be said.
Smiles don't get much bigger than Tony Kanaan's, who adds Daytona 24 glory to his Indy 500 success, while Jamie McMurray is now just one of three people to have won this race and the Daytona 500.
Similarly, CORE Autosport will be cursing its luck after crashing out of what looked to be a guaranteed PC class win with just 20mins to go.
To add insult to injury, the car - which won this race last year - is pretty much toast after going up in flames...
Hard luck to Wayne Taylor Racing. A miscalculation meant Jordan Taylor was set to go over the time permitted to drive the car had he finished those final ten minutes.
Rather than risk a DQ, the team opted to play safe and protect its guaranteed podium instead. Cruel fortune though for a car that led much of the race.
Champagne and watches all round for Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurry - a truly inspired and almost fault-free drive.
Meanwhile, Antonio Garcia soaked up intense pressure from Marco Werner to clinch GTLM honours by mere tenths of a second for team-mates Jan Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe, while Englishman Tom Kimber-Smith had the honour of guiding the PR1 car over the line for PC victory in the wake of CORE's dramatic late exit.
In the GTD class, the ever-popular Dodge Viper sealed victory in the hands of Dominik Farnbacher, Ben Keating, Al Carter, Kuno Wittmer and Cameron Lawrence.
Congratulations to Chip Ganassi Racing and drivers Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurry... the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona winners!
Dixon seems to be resisting the pressure comfortably and is actually stretching from Bourdais with just three minutes of this remaining.
Meanwhile, Werner in the BMW is right on the tail of Garcia's Corvette.
Not to be forgotten, the GTLM class has bunched up again with Corvette leading BMW. Everyone is pushing and this is building into an extraordinary crescendo.
24 hours but it has come down to just five minutes.
Dixon scolds away at the green flag - he is just six mins from glory, but Bourdais is going to be hunting him down hard.
It seems a miscalculation of the driver changes and the length of time on track is the reason for it. Either way, Wayne Taylor Racing's victory challenge seems over in a cruel way.
However, the Action Express car is now back in the hunt in the hands of Sebastien Bourdais. We are about to go green with around 7mins remaining and it is still a two-horse race - can Action Express claim a shock win?
The Wayne Taylor car is in the pits - much to everyone's surprise -
for a driver change to Ricky Taylor. It's hard to understand exactly why because the pit-lane is closed, which means it will need to serve a penalty, and we have less than 10mins of the race remaining.
There is a lot of confusion here.
I stannd corrected, the race WILL be restarted with around 10 minutes (approximately 7 laps) remaining and Jordan Taylor is stacked up right behind Scott Dixon!
It seems Colin Braun made contact with another car earlier in the lap and in the rush to get back on track, a tyre sent him into a spin when he was back up to speed.
Their exit means the #52 PR1 Oreca is now set to score class victory
Meanwhile, the pole sitting MSR Ligier has also stopped on track and looks out at this late stage.
With 20mins of the race to go it looks like this could be the end of the Rolex 24 since it is unlikely they will recover and clean the track before the clock ticks over, but I'm sure they will be working hard to clear up to set up a grandstand finish.
Looks like Chip Ganassi can celebrate early, but it is a cruel end for CORE, which had been on course for victory in the PC class.
And guess what? Caution time! But this could be one to end the race...
The PC leading CORE car has crashed heavily and is on fire in the middle of the circuit.
With just 30mins of the race remaining, Dixon leads and has edged out a five second lead over Taylor, who can't seem to get on terms with the Kiwi. Third place is still in the hands of Action Express but it will not feature here unless a caution comes its way.
Corvette leads the GTLM class from BMW, the latter paying the price for a slow penultimate pit stop when it couldn't the rear wheel on properly. CORE is on course to defend its PC class crown and the TI Automotive Viper is heading up GTD.
Scott Dixon responds to Jordan Taylor and dives into the pit lane... Can he get backk out in front? Yes he can. It's a sprint to the finish line now!
Jordan Taylor is into the pit lane for his final stop and is no doubt also praying for another caution period to catch the race leading Chip Ganassi car unawares...
The Action Express Corvette, which is running a fairly distant third, is throwing the dice by pitting for a final time now and hoping for a yellow flag period to work its way back into contention...
We're rattling though ad breaks as the networks attempts to clear space for what promises to be a sprinting finish.
Caution periods notwithstanding, there will be just one more pit-stop for each car and then it is a dash to the finish line.
Meanwhile, the #3 Corvette is now leading the GTLM class, but the #25 BMW remains well in contention.
In answer to the question below... no. Dixon has a rear-view mirror full of Taylor's menacing looking machine, but he manages his chilly tyres to hold his rival off and is now eking out his advantage.
A crucial moment? Taylor and Dixon pit, but it is Dixon - who came in after Taylor - that has emerged in front. Can Taylor use his warmer tyres to claw back the ground and regain the position on track?
The #01 Ganassi Ford is back into the pit lane and behind the wall as it struggles with clutch problems.
With two hourd remaining, the car is out of the victory battle. Down to three...
Are we down to a three-way fight? The #01 Chip Ganassi Ford is in the pit lane and mechanics are poring over the rear of the car as rivals circulate under full green conditions. It comes back out having lost two laps to the leaders.
This is a particular shame for Scott Pruett as it could well put paid to his bid for a record-breaking Rolex 24 victory.
Less than three hours remaining in the Rolex 24 and Wayne Taylor Racing continue to lead after another caution period, with seven seconds covering the same top four. We can almost be certain now that the winner will come from these four cars.
The GTLM battle, however, has been whittled down to just the #3 Corvette of Magnussen, Garcia and Briscoe, and the #25 BMW of Auberlen, Werner, Farfus and Spengler after the leading #4 Corvette being driven by Tommy Milner made contact with the RG Prototype and damaged its front-end. It is now four laps off the GTLM lead.
For the benefit of SEO, it is probably worth mentioning gossip column favourite Patrick Dempsey, who is still in this race driving the GTD class Wright Motorsports Porsche.
He and team-mates Jan Heylen, Philipp Eng and Madison Snow are going pretty well at the moment too, running fourth in class, albeit four laps off the lead.
Peering into the garages reveals a few weary faces and bodies propped up, but nothing like that in the Action Express, Wayne Taylor and Ganassi garages... they are very much primed for action as the race steadily moves into a critical phase.
Incidentally, 589 laps have been completed so far... the longest distance covered over 24 hours in the race was achieved in 1982 when the JLP Porsche of John Paul Sr, John Paul Jr and Rolf Stommelen covered 2,760.960 miles over 24 hours. A brisk Sunday drive...
A lengthy full course caution to clear the fluid laid down by the Ragginger's Magnus Porsche - who inexplicably managed to drive an entire lap with smoke billowing behind him finally pulling off track -, has closed things up yet again.
The Action Express car leads but the Taylor Corvette and the two Chip Ganassi Fords remain well on its tail. At this stage, order is somewhat irrelevant, but being on that lead lap is crucial.
Meanwhile, the VisitFlorida.com Corvette has regained ground in that caution and is now just a lap away. Another caution may well bring it back into contention.
In GTLM, the lead battle is down to three - the two Corvettes and the #25 BMW - after the Falken Porsche hit problems. The trio is 20 laps ahead of fourth position.
Props to the Action Express Corvette team, which has not only managed to work itself onto the lead lap but a bit of strategical manouvering has seen it move into the lead.
With 5 and a half hours remaining, we have the top four split by just eight seconds.
This race is shaping up nicely. Another caution bunches the top three of WTR and both Chip Ganassi Fords and they are now circulating together. Remember though, this isn't a sprint...
Apologies for the lack of updates, the race settled down to a point that I - *blush* - took myself off for a quick disco nap to ensure I can form sentences come 2.10pm on Sunday.
For sure, it's tough out there for drivers and teams, but media put in the hours too... we'll still be here long after most people have gone home!
Quick race update, it seems the race is settling into a three-way (possibly four-way) tussle between both Ganassi Fords and the Wayne Taylor Corvette.
They are lapping well amongst each other and keeping their noses out of trouble in the hope they will be in a good position when the inevitable final caution occurs just a short distance from the chequered flag.
There are a lot of foolhardy people out there - the temperature has dropped markedly but they are still sticking it out, wrapped up around the campfire clutching a beer and enjoying the unending sound of the cars as they skirt the banking.
We're only halfway through the race but Chip Ganassi and Wayne Taylor Racing can celebrate a little bit after picking up points towards the North American Endurance Cup for leading at this stage.
The sub-championship sees the four blue riband endurance rounds pooled together, including the Sebring 12 Hours, the Six Hours of the Glen and the Petite Le Mans, and is this year's 'bragging rights' beyond the main series.
Points are awarded at various intervals, in this case every six hours, with the #02 Chip Ganassi out front at hour six and the WTR Corvette leading at hour twelve.
The lead has changed hands on numerous occasions over the last few hours as cautions keep bringing those out of sequence back into contention. Wayne Taylor remains in a good position though, but both Ganassis are threatening.
The fireworks have rung out across the circuit, eliciting the obligatory 'oohs and aahs' across the dedicated spectators who have decided to hold their position in the main grandstands opposite.
As with most endurance events, the trick is to stay out of trouble as best you can, but the good thing about this race is the way the (frequent) caution periods tend to shake out, you can often get back into contention.
Wayne Taylor Racing currently leads despite having electronic issues at the start of the race, while the #02 Ganassi is also well up there despite losing a lap with front-end problems.
The moral? It isn't over until it is over... (unless you're DeltaWing)
Francois Perrodo may want to pop a blanket over his head to avoid the TRG Aston Martin team after he commits the cardinal sin of racing by spinning and then recovering to the track straight into the path of another car.
Both are out and Perrodo is a marked man...
Caution periods are a trial here as officials meticulously get everyone into position to ensure there aren't different class cars tripping over each other when the race goes green.
It means some cautions can run for up to 20mins and also explains how cars which were almost a lap down can resume just a couple of seconds off the lead.
Another caution period has bunched things up again and in the dash for the pit-lane, Chip Ganassi is 1-2 again now, closely followed by the Action Express Chevrolet and, perhaps most interestingly, the MSR Ligier.
Having been almost a lap behind, the caution and the pace of AJ Allmendinger has brought the team right back into play and, if he can maintain that pre-caution speed, he could get back in the mix.
Well into the evening and the race has settled into a rhythm, with the #01 Chip Ganassi still leading the #5 Wayne Taylor car by around nine seconds.
Sebastien Bourdais is now in the Action Express car and latching onto third place #2 Chip Ganassi car.
Interestingly, the MSR Ligier Honda is getting quicker and quicker in the hands of AJ Allmendinger so much so that he has just become the first driver to crack 1min 40secs...
The race leading #01 Ganassi Ford has been in with Sage Karam handing over to Joey Hand. Great stint by Sage, despite nearly lopping off the front of a Ferrari as he chopped into the pit-road.
All eyes on Angelleli in the Taylor Corvette though - he is just four seconds behind now and has stretched well clear of the battle for third.
The photographers are out in force as they catch the last spectacular shots of the cars against the sunset and switch to night mode.
The temperature is dropping though and is remains pretty windy out there... a ride on the ferris wheel probably isn't for the faint-hearted this evening.
The Florida sunshine is casting a gorgeous sunset across the flat plains from my lofty standpoint on top of the grandstands... Not so great for the drivers as they squint in the low sun.
It also all the drivers have switched on their headlights... apart from Serra in the Ferrari, who would be stealthy but for the fact his 458 Italia is decked in vivid red, yellow and green and can be seen from a distance anyway.
More than three hours in and another caution period has served to tighten things up again. A mere seven seconds covers the top six of Karam (Ganassi), Taylor (Taylor), McMurry (Ganassi), Fittipaldi (Action Express), Pew (MSR Ligier) and Rockenfeller (VisitFlorida.com). The top nine remain on the lead lap.
The P2 cars may have attracted attention in qualifying but it is proving a more difficult race for them. The cars are quick when up to speed but they are struggling to generate heat into the tyres after the pit-stops.
The pole-sitting MSR Ligier is the top P2 in seventh and has barely made an impression, while the new ESM HPD ARX is eighth and the Krohn Ligier is ninth. All other P2 and DP cars - including the DeltaWing, the Whelan Corvette, both Mazdas and the second HPD ARX - are several laps down after suffering various problems.
At this still early stage, the DPs are certainly asserting their advantage.
Kudos to the Wayne Taylor Racing team. It has been struggling with electronic problems all week and started the race with no traction control.
First pit-stop someone pops something into the ECU and hey presto, it is working perfectly now and is up to second place overall.
Coming up to the end of hour two and - once the pit stops shake out - Scott Dixon should still be leading from Scott Pruett and Joao Barbosa.
The GTLM class, meanwhile, is arguably throwing up the most entertainment even before the #4 Corvette tangled with the Park Place Porsche, which in turn clipped the #25 BMW and shredded its tyre. The #98 Aston Martin is also slow after a high-speed turnaround at turn one.
The AF Corse Ferrari leads that class at the moment having just about managed to stay out of trouble.
We joked before about officials throwing a caution for an errant piece of signage, but a Porsche has actually managed to spin and comprehensively take out said signage at turn one, leave bits of polystyrene and grass across the track. Caution time again.
In the meantime, the DeltaWing has sadly stopped having been running so well.
We've had a caution period to bunch things up again out front after Hoshino in the Audi spins and then fries his transmission trying to get going again - Dixon still leading Preutt, Barbosa, Negri and Pla.
Driving the Rolex 24 is undoubtedly an arduous experience... but so is watching it on TV!
Regular ad breaks will not be a new thing to anyone who has spent time in the United States, but imagine it over the course of a 24 hour race!
Does it make want some Tequila Patron? Well... yes it does. Damn.
The first hour is almost up and Rubens Barrichello is currently leading in the Starworks car (complete with flapping door) but he hasn't pitted yet.
As such, the 'real' leader is Dixon's Chip Ganassi car, with team-mate Scott Pruett moving up to second, while Olivier Pla is up to a fine third in the Krohn Ligier. The pole sitting MSR Ligier has had a difficult first pit stop and is running fifth now behind the Action Express Corvette. DeltaWing is running sixth after an earlier stop.
Johnny Mowlem leads PC for BAR1 Motorsports and Nick Tandy has put in a stunning first stint, climbing to the lead of the GTLM class in the Porsche having started eighth in class.
Elsewhere, the Taylor car is slipping back after losing traction control and the other factory GTLM Porsche is six laps down.
Race is starting to settle down with the Chip Ganassi car pulling out front and Negri struggling with traffic.
Keep an eye on the DeltaWing of Andy Meyrick though - it is up to fourth and right behind Pruett and Negri ahead of it.
First few laps completed and Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon car leads MSR's Oswaldo Negri and Scott Pruett is third in the other Chip Ganassi car.
Spoke too soon, the PR1 PC car has been turned around, in turn creating a big gulf in the field as it successfully delays everyone behind it
Everyone gets through the first turns without any drama, but it is the #2 Chip Ganassi of Scott Dixon that took the long way around at the opening bend to snatch the lead from the MSR Ligier
Quick pole winners updates:
P - MSR Ligier Honda
PC - BAR1 Motorsport
GTLM - Corvette Racing
GTD - TRG Aston Martin
The grandstanding, sponsors notes and grid presentations have been wrapped up and the 53 cars are heading out on their pace laps before Allan McNish waves the green flag for the start of the race under blue (but very windy) skies...
How do I know it is 2015? I have just been bonked on the head with a selfie stick whilst walking the grid...
Incidentally, it's worth pointing out that the Rolex 24 isn't much like other 24 hour races.
Whereas that 'other' round the clock race in some town in France is fairly flat-out all the way, this one is all about when the final yellow flag is thrown.
Caution periods are always going to be likely at a venue that has 53 cars competing over a fairly slender 1min 40secs lap, though there is an accepted habit of officials releasing the pace car for minor reasons, coincidentally as the end of the race looms.
Artificially engineered or not, this method of bunching up the field is generally accepted by teams and drivers as being for the show and it has certainly thrown up exciting last lap battles over the years.
As a man who has raced in F1, Le Mans and IndyCar, Sebastien Bourdais admits he isn't a big fan of the format but understands why it happens.
As for me, I am undecided. Last year's Le Mans 24 Hours showed you can make a race of it over an extraordinary distance... but from a totally selfish point of view this way means I can grab some sleep in the wee hours knowing full well it will all come together around 12pm local time tomorrow!
The sun is out! Sorry for the weather focus, but I am English after all. Great news for the fans filing in - enjoying an ice cool Bud on a deck chair just isn't as fun when it's piddling it down.
Race day has arrived and... it is raining! Yup, after nice weather throughout the week, things have turned ugly out there with grey skies, persistent rain and wind. It was enough for me to take refuge in the media centre with a Krispy Kreme rather than take part in the pre-event run (see below).
Fortunately, forecasters are suggesting it will stop this morning so there is every prospect of dry conditions by the time the race starts.
That's potentially bad news for DeltaWing - they want some bad weather as its concept simply works better in the wet, though its pace in the dry suggests either way would be fine.
They say live in the moment, but there have certainly been words of the future in the rhetoric being used this weekend.
The amalgamation of Grand-Am and ALMS may have pooled the two 'similar but not the same' series' together in 2014, but all matters point towards the DP cars being phased out by the end of 2016 in favour of an entirely P2 top class. Reactions are mixed.
On the one hand, the modern P2 cars would bring USCC into line with other series' around the world - including ELMS and WEC -, creating a stronger global footprint and consistency for the sportscars discipline.
On the other hand, the DP cars seem to resonate more with an American audience and their disappearance from the national scene is likely to be mourned.
Will an all P2 series turn away audiences? Time will tell, but sat here in NASCAR country ahead of the Rolex 24, it's difficult to imagine a field without a DP car in it.
The sun doesn't always shine in the sunshine state and though it isn't raining (yet), it is certainly cooler and windier than you would expect for Florida.
It raises an interesting point. Though the temperatures are a balmy 20-25 degrees during the day when the cars are qualifying, the temperature does drop quite significantly here at night thanks to its proximity to the chilly South Atlantic Ocean.
It is creating a headache for the teams too. According to Nic Jonsson, the P2 cars take around five laps to heat their tyres up at night, compared to the DP cars which take just two laps.
With temperatures tipped to drop to as low as two degrees overnight come race day, the approximate 12secs lost getting those tyres up to speed on a P2 could potentially make a difference...
The drivers have been performing their 'favourite' duty of the weekend and talking to the media. We've had words with Katherine Legge, Alex Brundle, Brendon Hartley and Sebastien Bourdais amongst others.
Keep an eye on www.crash.net/sportscars for more in the coming days.
A stroll through the paddock explains why motorsport is all about the show in the United States. Fist-fights, pomp and bold words aside, this venue has been designed to please spectators first, teams second… how many new circuits in F1 can say that?
Indeed, whereas F1 can keep fans at such an arm's length they are teetering on a fingertip, Daytona practically pulls them in for a big hug. Sure, access won't get you 'everywhere', but you can get on the roof of the garages, you can see most of the circuit from the top of an RV and there is practically a theme park in the centre. Better still, those who can roam the paddock can keep their Twitter followers happy by documenting from the other side of a window on the pit garages… There aren't many places to hide here.
Joining IMSA for a 'Welcome Breakfast', I took the opportunity to take a walk around the circuit for a closer look at the substantial building work that is going on around here.
Completion is still more than a year away but there are extra tiers being built atop the already lofty stands down the home stretch. They are also wider seats to cater for the, erm, portlier person.
Interestingly, the stands down the back stretch are being torn down entirely and turned into a campsite to cater for the increasing demand from more self-sufficient spectators.
In short, Daytona Speedway is growing one side and flattening on the other.
It may have been two days until the green flag drops and the clock starts on race day, but Thursday saw plenty of crowd activity in the centre of the circuit.
The RVs have pulled in, the campfires have been set up (even though it was easily 25 degrees out there) and iPhone wielding spectators are hanging over the relatively low fences to catch the cars skirting the banking walls.
In fact, one of the things that struck me is how close you can get to the action here. There is hardly anything akin to a run off here, just barriers and stands beyond them. It means there is always an atmosphere even at the most mundane of times.
Bright and early Friday morning, a cloudier day preventing that famous Florida sunshine from bathing the beach. Flying Lizards and Aston Martin have already passed through for their morning coffee, but today is mostly about preparation... and talking to me (well, the media!). Lucky them!
One interesting point of note that came out of today was the declaration that Wayne Taylor Racing plans to go to Le Mans this year.
The American team was granted an automatic invite to the race after being singled out by the USCC. However, since its Daytona Prototype is ineligible to race it was an invite most expected would just be turned down.
However, Wayne Taylor says today that plans are actually in place to honour the invite. He was sketchy on the details but it seems he has sourced a car and a team to run it in June this year, with an entry set to be submitted as early as Monday.
Night has fallen and as the cars heads back out for another practice session to get acclimatised to the floodlights, I'm tucking into steak and crab courtesy of Rolex... got to take the perks where you can!
So what conclusions can we draw heading into Saturday's race. The Ligier P2 is certainly quick over a single lap, but there is a slight question mark over whether this relatively new car has the metronomic reliability of a DP Corvette or Ford required to win.
Either way, the Ligiers have made their mark this weekend and this arguably bodes well for the series as it looks too. Furthermore, the DeltaWing was a revelation in fifth place with a car that had barely turned a wheel all day being driven by a man who didn't even take part in the pre-season test!
If HPD can get their new LMP2 car up to speed as well, then the established DP guard faces a mighty challenge this weekend...
So a P2 car will start the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona from pole position after Oswaldo Negri continued MSR Ligier's dominance through to qualifying.
Chip Ganassi leads the challenge in second and third, but a bit shout out to DeltaWing, who qualified fifth - less than half a second off the ultimate pace - despite failing to complete a single lap prior to qualifying.
That will surely bode well for the coming season...
Commercial enterprise goes far in the United States and motorsport is no exception. Even with this in mind though, you can't help but smile when you see the livery of the BAR1 Motorsport PC car as it is splashed - literally - with a promotion for the SpongeBob SquarePants movie.
Now, if you haven't seen the posters, SpongeBob is (inexplicably to me) looking 'hench' for whatever reason and subsequently takes pride of place all over the Oreca's nose.
A livery doesn't make a car faster, but Johnny Mowlem just popped SpongeBob on pole position, so krabby patties all round!
Corvette has the chance to top two classes this weekend - as an engine supplier in the P class and as a full-blown constructor in the GTLM class - and it has started its endeavour well by topping the latter thanks to Oliver Gavin.
Four different manufacturers fill the top four - Corvette, Ferrari, Aston Martin and BMW -, but Gavin's time gives him an impressive four tenth gap over Gimmi Bruni.
Qualifying is underway for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. To help ease congestion the four classes get their own 15 minute sessions.
The 'slowest' GTD class has completed its session with TRG Aston Martin of James Davison grabbing pole position, ahead of the favourite TI Automotive Dodge Viper of Jeroen Bleekemolen.
Then again, despite missing out on pole, the Bleekemolen Viper fared better than the sister car of Kuno Wittmer, which ended its session on three wheels, the escaping loose part coming to rest around 100m further down the road...
Practice is over and the big news is it is a P2 car that is currently dominating proceedings. Equalising measures or not, the DP cars generally had the advantage in 2014, but the introduction of newer generation P2 cars is threatening to tip the balance here.
The Ligier JS P2 has already done well on the world stage following an eye-catching debut at Le Mans, but its up against a different foe at USCC level.
Nonetheless, two Ligiers filled the top three in FP2 - the Honda-powered Michael Shank Racing machine and the Judd-powered Krohn car. Given the JS P2 was developed around a Nissan engine, it shows just how versatile the closed-roof chassis is.
Ryan Dalziel reckons the DP cars are sandbagging a bit, but the four tenth advantage for MSR heading into qualifying will certainly be curling a few lips in its rivals' garages.
Is the USCC on the cusp of a shift in power?
If there is a buzz around any team this weekend, it is DeltaWing - and not just because it is 'a bit different'. A bold addition to the grid in 2014, DeltaWing certainly captured the imagination but most conceded it was perhaps nothing more than interesting 'grid filler' as it struggled for consistent pace and reliability
However, a marvellous run to fourth at the season-ending Petit Le Mans caught the eye, enough for the team to secure impressive backing from Claro (Carlos Slim's brand) and, more significantly, the signature of Memo Rojas, a three-time Rolex 24 winner and relative living legend of the American sportscar scene.
In his esteemed opinion, Memo seems to think the car is quick enough to win and quick times during the Roar Before 24 test suggested it could be an interesting punt for the ambitious this weekend.
Unfortunately, bad luck is starting to dog the project. It's Roar test was ended early and today's FP1 saw the new gearbox fail before it had set a time - apparently because the oil shifts in this gearbox and the banking is causing it to move...
Indeed, you could sense the frustration in Katherine Legge's voice. She knows the car is quick now, but a lack of track time and last minute changes mean she believes the car is unlikely to have a trouble-free run this weekend.
That said, she thinks more mileage and shorter races put it in good stead for the odd victory challenge in 2015. Since she describes DeltaWing as Dr Panoz's baby, she says it is now surely on the cusp of adulthood...
After a year mostly dominated by the 'DP' cars of the Prototype class, it is encouraging to see a P2 car up there in the form of the new Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS Honda during FP1.
Arguably the prettiest car in the field, despite a change from metallic orange paint job to a metallic burgundy, it set the pace in the hands of Oswaldo Negri Jr.
The Action Express Corvette and the Chip Ganassi Ford followed in second and third, but it was a disappointing session for the DeltaWing after stopping on track without setting a time.
If NASCAR is a predominantly American affair, then the United SportsCar Championship definitely has a greater international feel, particularly this event, with guest drivers from across the world ensuring a bit of colour from the flags fluttering aloft the pit complex.
What struck me, however, was the emphasis on widening the series' audience and reach beyond North America. In fact, today's local newspaper ran an article about the fact the race has sold tickets to 21 different countries, including Sweden, Costa Rica and Australia… not only that, it was top banner, front page news!
Whilst the grab of that headline may wrinkle the nose of the more dismissive – even before you consider it was 'splashed' this is indicative of a desire to attract from within.
Americans are proud of Daytona and the idea of sharing it with those from afar is seemingly getting the locals excited. It's no coincidence that there is a team simply named 'VisitFlorida.com' competing in this race – one for the partisan fans to really get behind…
Incidentally, my English drawl has attracted some interest (well, not that quite that interest… yet), but since I arrived yesterday I have been asked twice if I am a driver because apparently that seemed the most obvious reason for me to be in Daytona. If I was a driver, the fact I had just ordered a bacon sandwich and cheesy fries from one curious waitress would suggest my heart wasn't strictly in it, but I didn't correct her… 'Media' just doesn't sound quite as exhilarating as a proper racer.
I have been awake less than 20 minutes, I have taken the short trip down the road to grab a quick coffee and I am already surrounded by motorsport. We're nowhere near the circuit but I am sharing my good morning pick-me-up with most of the Alex Job Racing team... and I have been asked once again if I am driving at Daytona this weekend.
I think I can get to like this town...
Having blagged my way into the circuit via a secret tunnel (shout out to former racer Barry Widdell, who clearly smelt my confusion when he spotted me staring cluelessly at the Daytona entrance on the outside of the venue), I exited the 'proper way' and got the chance to get a bit closer to this track.
You don't quite realise how steep that banking is until you are literally staring up at it, and as the sun set and the floodlights sparked, it's quite a spectacle even without cars blurring past.
With the sun down, it's time for me to go sample one of those aforementioned neon-emblazoned establishments on 'International Speedway Drive' (apparently I 'have' to try the coconut shrimp), so we shall reconvene right here tomorrow when Daytona sings to the tune of motorsport once again with Rolex 24 free practice.
So who is racing this week? For those with a fleeting interest in motorsport, the likes of Rubens Barrichello, Sebastien Bourdais and Jan Magnussen will no doubt catch the eye, while the more enthusiast will recognise Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Brendon Hartley, James Hinchcliffe, Darren Turner, Andy Priaulx, Katherine Legge, Alex Brundle, Richard Westbrook, Mike Rockenfeller and Nick Tandy, amongst others.
If you don't recognise any of those but you do happen to watch Grey's Anatomy, Dr McDreamy himself – Patrick Dempsey – is also racing, though one would wonder why you ended up on this page if that's as far as your motorsport interest stretches… #justsaying
A little information about me. I answer to Ollie Barstow (and other less PG monikers) and I am an editor at Crash.net. I enjoy my job, I take it seriously and never take for granted the benefits it has afforded me over time.
From F1 to MotoGP to World Superbikes to Le Mans, I've am honoured to have graced some remarkable venues (in the presence of some remarkable people) before I have reached 30.
I must say though, Daytona is unlike anywhere else I have visited before. This isn't a circuit - it is an arena, a huge bowl, an exceptionally large stadium...
At Le Mans, Silverstone or Spa you see the field cross your path and flash into the distance to be seen again a few minutes later. Here you can watch a car complete an entire lap without taking your eyes off it. You can watch a single car for 24 hours if you really wanted to... just don't forget to blink.
And around this contained environment are stands stretching into the Florida sunshine, almost impossibly steeply from this perspective. There isn't much happening in those stands at the moment, but even from the relatively slow Camaros and Mustangs going around in a support series practice session, the noise really reverberates off the track walls.
Wait until we have a full field of sportscars and thousands of raucous spectators come Saturday and Sunday...? I have a feeling this will rank fairly high on my all-time favourites.
Incidentally, last year's Rolex 24 at Daytona (which doubled as the first-ever USCC race) was won by Action Express using the driver power of Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais, the latter proving his endurance credentials again as the 'guest' driver in this successful threesome. Barbosa and Fittipaldi would go on to win the inaugural USCC title.
CORE Autosport clinched the PC win with Jon Bennett, Colin Braun, James Gue and Mark Wilkins, the GTLM victory went to Porsche's Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet, while GTD was won by Level 5 Ferrari's Scott Tucker, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell and Jason Segal.
Before I get ahead of myself, for those who don't know, let me bring you up to speed with the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona and the United SportsCar Championship.
Founded just last year, the USCC was borne out of the amalgamation of the Grand-Am Rolex Series and the American Le Mans Series. Similar but not the same, the combination Grand-Am and ALMS made USCC appear a curious-looking beast when it debuted right here twelve months ago.
A year of equalisation later and USCC returns to Daytona in 2015 with the benefit of experience on its side. The DP and P2 cars still look visually different (and in the case DeltaWing, like nothing else on this planet), but they are now equally as strong as one another... and a 24 hour race is the true test of speed and endurance.
Incidentally, there are 4 classes. DP/P2 will challenge for the overall win in the 'P' Prototype class, there is the 'PC' Prototype Challenge class (one-make Oreca machines), the GTLM class for sportscars (think Corvette, Aston Martin and Porsche) and the GTD class for more gentleman racers (think BMW Z4, Audi R8 and Porsche 911).
The historic Rolex 24 at Daytona was the Grand-Am centrepiece, but the arrival of P2 cars and expansion of the field means this year's contest is arguably the strongest it has been for a very long time...
When it comes to motorsport, I have always vowed to myself one thing.
If any of the following three rules failed to apply, something was wrong; If the sound a racing car didn't send a shiver down my spine on approach, or I can't get excited during the pre-season, or laying eyes on some of racing's most iconic venues didn't prick the hairs on the back of my neck, then I would know my time in motorsport was up.
Easily pleased? Maybe, but the giddy excitement I felt as I passed beneath the iconic 'Welcome to Daytona' bridge was satisfying for the joy that it brought and the reassurance that motorsport continues to evoke emotions in me like nothing else in the world (sorry, Mum)
You can't help but marvel at the Daytona International Speedway, conspicuously placed remarkably close to the main boulevard and at the edge of an airport… so much so that my low speed, neck craning drive-by received a hurry up honk from a disgruntled motorist behind.
This is my first time in Daytona – and in Florida for that matter -, but while the highway drive through the (at the time not so) Sunshine State was unremarkable, it took just moments within the Daytona city limits to feel the buzz of a motorsport atmosphere.
This city breathes motorsport, whether it this centrally located behemoth, the themed bars or the merchandise that springs out every neon-emblazoned establishment.
This may be the spiritual home of NASCAR, but if it smells of 'gasoline', Daytona comes alive with spectators, so this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona – opening round and centrepiece of the United Sports Car Championship – will see more people pass through those gates than any F1 round.
Gruelling for drivers, teams (and media) alike, I am here for Crash.net to bring you a rookie insider's view of a famed event, a championship on the rise and a historic venue being brought very much up to date…