IndyCar invasion of Daytona Beach opens eyes, part 1

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on January 28, 2014 9:54 am
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A lot of talk this past week leading up to the Rolex 24 at Daytona centered on the influx of IndyCar drivers into the sports racing classic. Twenty drivers that have turned a wheel in either IndyCar, Indy Lights, or Pro Mazda took to the track, with Sebastien Bourdais most notably scoring the overall win for the Action Express Corvette Prototype along with teammates João Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi.

Series regulars and one-off drivers alike acquitted themselves quite well this past weekend. With four classes of cars on track, all with varying balance of performance (BoP) equations in hand, it’s hard to compare driver performances outright. Thanks to IMSA and driver Mike Hedlund*, a deeper look inside the numbers allows us to compare the drivers versus other drivers in equal equipment — that, of course, being their Rolex 24 teammates.

With so much data to sort through, we’ve opted to split this analysis into two parts. Today’s column looks at the performances by IndyCar drivers who competed in the Prototype class. Tomorrow, we’ll take a closer look at those who competed in the PC and GT categories.

(Finishing positions indicated are in class.)

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Prototype (P) Class:

Sebastien Bourdais, Action Express Racing, Riley Corvette Daytona Prototype #5 (1st place):

SeaBass has borne the weight of stern criticism from his contemporaries in the IndyCar Series over the past few years, with some openly questioning his talents. But Bourdais showed this weekend that his foot is just as heavy as it ever was with a fast lap of  1:39.2 compared to João Barbosa’s 1:39.8.

Barbosa had an average lap time that was one tenth quicker than Sebastien but he also has tons of experience in a Daytona Prototype, which would theoretically give him an advantage in negotiating traffic. Traffic did seem to bother Bourdais in the race, with him even describing the slower drivers as terrorists in one very hyperbolic interview that brought back fond memories of his days in Champ Car.

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Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing, Riley Ford Daytona Prototype #02 (8th place):

Dixie and TK shared the 02 car for Chip Ganassi Racing along with sports car regular Marino Franchitti and dirt track ace Kyle Larson. TK was a tenth ahead of his non-IndyCar counterparts in average lap time, but Dixie’s talents showed through in this aspect with him posting the fastest average on the team by over two tenths on TK, all while also logging the most laps for his team with 218. Kanaan and Dixon shared fast lap honors with a 1:40.2, which was over .8 clear of Marino Franchitti.

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Simon Pagenaud, Extreme Speed Motorsports, HPD ARX-03b #2 (7th place):

No stranger to sports cars, Simon showed once again that he is just plain fast in anything he drives. Pagenaud was .7 quicker on average than his teammates Johannes van Overbeek, Anthony Lazzaro, and Ed Brown, with a quick lap a full half-second quicker than their best laps, all while turning 175 circuits.

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Sage Karam, Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford Riley Daytona Prototype #01 (11th place):

The Firestone Indy Lights champion got a somewhat surprising turn in the flagship Chip Ganassi car this year, replacing Juan Pablo Montoya alongside defending champions Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, and Jamie McMurray.

Karam showed some true talent in a tough situation, remaining within about a half second of Pruett, who led the team in average lap time and posted the fastest lap for the squad as well. Staying within reach of Pruett in sports cars is no small feat, and Scott has been racing them since before Karam was born!

Karam actually turned a faster lap than either McMurray or Rojas, and his pace was rewarded with 107 laps in the car, which is no small feat considering the short leash Chip has afforded his outside drivers in the past.

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Justin Wilson and AJ Allmendinger, Michael Shank Racing, Ford Riley Daytona Prototype #60 (12th place):

As teammates in Champ Car with RuSport, Wilson and Allmendinger were bestowed the nicknames “Badass” and “Big Shot.” They proved to be such yet again at the Rolex, at least in regards to their Michael Shank Racing team. The 2012 Rolex 24 winning team of AJ, Justin, Ozz Negri, and John Pew returned in tact yet again, and Dinger and JWil unsurprisingly anchored the team.

Allmendinger led the race for the 9th consecutive year during his 84 laps, but gearbox issues put the team many laps down and just fighting to finish by the end of the day. Dinger had the fastest lap in the 60 (1:40.6) by .3 over Wilson but was only .1 quicker on average, while Wilson completed many more laps (135) than his teammate.

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James Hinchcliffe, Speedsource, SkyActiv Mazda Diesel Prototype #70 (14th place):

Hinch got a bum steer to wrestle around Daytona this year, as the brand new Mazda Diesel Prototype started having problems only 30 minutes into the race. The Speedsource team tried to nurse the car home, but overheating issues finally sidelined the car shortly after daybreak on Sunday. Hinch had slower times than teammate and Speedsource owner Sylvain Tremblay, but Tremblay had testing experience in the car and Hinchcliffe was handed a car that was already on life support, so it’s best to just throw his numbers out this year.

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Tristan Vautier, Speedsource, SkyActiv Mazda Diesel #07 (13th place):

Last year’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year was saddled with the sister car to Hinch’s #70, and the results weren’t much better. Vautier was a couple of tenths quicker than teammates Joel Miller and Tristan Nunez, but again, the problems for these two debutants makes number crunching next to impossible.

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Gabby Chaves and Katherine Legge, DeltaWing #0 (16th place):

The DeltaWing continues its snail-like teething process with yet another early retirement. All doubt has been removed at this point that this car would have been anything but a disaster had it been chosen by the ICONIC Committee. Legge turned the fastest lap in the car but also had the slowest average speed of the four drivers, while Chaves was middle of the road both in overall and average speed. But again, this is the DeltaWing, so who knows what this data even means.

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Sebastian Saavedra and EJ Viso, Starworks Motorsports,  Dinan Riley DP #78 (17th place):

Saavedra and Viso co-drove the lone BMW prototype entry in this year’s Rolex along with fellow Colombian Alex Popow, Formula One hopeful and GRAND-AM race winner Brendon Hartley, and Scott Mayer. An engine failure doomed them early on, but Viso opened my eyes by posting the fastest overall and average lap times for the team. I would have laid money that Hartley would have taken both those honors given past performances, but Viso may be well-served to veer his career path towards sports cars going forward.

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For fans and drivers alike, the Rolex 24 was a welcome return to action for the stars of the IndyCar Series. The number of drivers competing in the race each year continues to grow, and an IndyCar driver has wheeled the winning car each year since 2011. With the burgeoning popularity of sports car racing in the United States, one can only hope that the performance of the open-wheel stars can bring more attention to the IndyCar Series once the series finally gets going again in St. Petersburg at the end of March.

Coming up: tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the IndyCar drivers’ performances in the Prototype Challenge (PC), GT Le Mans (GTLM), and GT Daytona (GTD) classes. Stay tuned.

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*A special shout out goes to driver Mike Hedlund, who compiles data on all drivers for every race in the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship. His data metrics made this article much easier to prepare, and diehard racing fans will love the level of detail that he presents over at his site. You can pore over more data from Mike at: http://boom.net/~mike/lapfu.php. This link may not be accessible in all regions.

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