@IMSA •DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 11, 2016)– The first race Sylvain Tremblay saw in person was the Daytona 500. He was seven.
“I was so little that I could actually stick out my head through the fence,” he recalls – that’s how he got the closest to the action. But it wasn’t close enough. For the past 25 years, Tremblay has driven through the tunnel that emerges onto the Daytona infield as a driver for the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.
Twice, he won his class in his own SpeedSource Mazdas, first in 2008. “I got to do doughnuts on the infield grass after the checkered flag,” he says. “Life doesn’t get a lot better than that.”
But this year, Tremblay is a spectator. A well-placed spectator – he still owns SpeedSource, and his team is fielding two Mazda Prototypes that will be contending for the overall win, something well within reach after the cars topped the speed charts on more than one during the three-day Roar Before the Rolex 24 test this past weekend, thanks to a new engine package for 2016.
So Tremblay will be calling the shots from atop the pit box, which will be fine… but it’s only the second-best seat in the house.
Will it be as rewarding to win as a team owner as it was as a driver?
“I have no idea,” he shrugs. “Ask me when it happens!”
ACTION EXPRESS ON TRACK FOR REPEAT: With new drivers joining the two-time and defending IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship-winning Action Express Racing, the focus for the 2016 Roar Before the Rolex 24 was ensuring that the newcomers had the time to turn in quality laps in the team’s two-Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototypes.
IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud spent time behind the wheel of the No. 31 Whelen Corvette DP, as did Scottish driver Jonny Adam, winner of the 2016 Sunoco Whelen Challenge. In the team’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP, Filipe Albuquerque showed comfort in his new surroundings as he logged laps in the black, white and yellow liveried C7 inspired machine. Scott Pruett also turned laps to prepare for his pursuit of a record sixth-overall win in the twice-around-the-clock classic. Pruett moves over from the Ganassi No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley Prototype.
“The Roar is about getting seat time for our new drivers,” said team manager Gary Nelson, former NASCAR crew chief, on Friday afternoon. “We want to make sure that our engineers, full-time and endurance drivers are all on the same page. From what we saw today, I think we’re certainly on the right track. We’re extremely confident in the lineup we’ve assembled this year, and feel that the communication has been very positive.””
The team did suffer a setback in the championship-winning Mustang Sampling Corvette Prototype on Friday, as it suffered minor damage after contact with the wall. The team made the necessary repairs and quickly brought the car back up to speed, finishing the weekend eighth fastest in class, only 0.746 seconds behind the leader.
FERRARI 488 GTE LAYS DOWN FIRST AMERICAN LAPS: Two brand-new Ferrari 488 GTE took its first test laps on American soil at Daytona International Speedway this past weekend. Scuderia Corsa and Russia’s SMP Racing put the 488 through its paces, gathering crucial performance data over the three days of the Roar Before the Rolex 24.
The new highly-anticipated twin-turbo car is set to replace the Ferrari 458 Italia in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, and will have its race debut in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Risi Competizione, which has announced a full season GTLM entry with the 488 GTE, did not participate in the test, but did confirm their driver line up for the year, as well as the upcoming twice-around-the-clock American endurance classic.
Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander are set to contend for the full WeatherTech Championship in the new car, joined by Davide Rigon and Olivier Beretta for the Rolex 24.
LOTS OF LAMBORGHINIS: The WeatherTech Championship field could go from zero Lambos in 2015 to as many as five in 2016, thanks to the new GTD rules that specify GT3 global specs for the class. At the head of that class is O’Gara Motorsport, owned by Tom O’Gara, the country’s largest Lamborghini dealership owner.
Reigning GTD class champions and full-season teammates Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell will co-drive the No. 11 O’Gara Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3, with Richard Antinucci and Edoardo Piscopo participating in the season-opening Rolex 24.
The Antinucci and Piscopo announcement was made by O’Gara, who was joined by all four drivers, during a press conference at the Roar. They are stepping up to IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD competition this season after establishing itself as a premier team in the IMSA Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series in 2015.