But it isn’t. The IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge runs this Friday, before the Saturday-through-Sunday Rolex 24. Some years, fans have suggested the Continental Tire Challenge provided the best racing of the weekend. Either way, it’s a don’t-miss event, invariably packed with tight racing and fender-to-fender contact.
Here’s the prognosis: The BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona is, by name and on paper, a four-hour endurance race, but the competitors will treat it like a 20-minute trophy dash. As with the Rolex 24, teams used to make long-range plans that included conserving the car and its drivers for late in the race.
That’s changed. If one team goes for it from the drop of the green flag, they all have to. And that’s how we expect the BMW Endurance Challenge to play out.
There are 40 cars on the entry list – perhaps more than expected, given that the top class, Grand Sport, is operating under some new rules for the 2017 season: IMSA now allows cars in GS class that match global GT4 specifications, much like the GT Daytona class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship match GT3 specifications.
By using GT3 and GT4 specifications, manufacturers are able to build cars, or makes parts for private teams to build them, for a much larger potential buyer group, serving multiple race series all over the world.
The GT4-specification Porsche Cayman was already running in the series under IMSA rules, and now that Cayman is joined by a trio of Aston Martin Vantages, six McLaren GT4s, and a Ford Mustang fielded by defending series champion Multimatic Motorsports, with drivers Jade Buford and Scott Maxwell. Expect more cars, and more manufacturers, to join the series as the 10-race season goes on.
Porsche has 10 of the 20 cars in the GS field, and there are some genuine contenders there: Cameron Cassels and Trent Hindman in the No. 12 Bodymotion entry should be strong, as will the No. 33 and 35 entries from CJ Wilson Racing, owned by the Los Angeles Angels baseball player.
Really, it’s so tough to handicap this Continental Tire Challenge race – the competition is so physical that it’s critical to stay out of trouble, but invariably, some front-running teams suffer from contact.
The other class, and the other 20 cars in the 40-car field, are in the ST, or Street Tuner class, which are closer to their street-going counterparts. There are nine Porsche Caymans in this class too, but they aren’t prepared to the more powerful GT4 specs of the Caymans in the GS class. But they still will be strongly in contention – keep an eye on the No. 17 and 18 RS1 entries.
The Porsches’ main competition is likely to be the three Mazda MX-5 Miatas fielded by Freedom Autosport, which are the Nos. 25, 26 and 27. The No. 25 team of drivers Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer are back, and complement each other well.
But don’t forget the three Mini Coopers from the JCW team – at times a Mini was the fastest car in the class last season. There are also three BMWs – a 228i and two 328is, all operated by very competent teams. Neat footnote: Joining BimmerWorld owner James Clay and Tyler Cooke in the No. 84 BMW 328i is rookie driver Tyler Clary, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist in swimming.
The lone Nissan Altima driven by Sarah Cattaneo and Owen Trinkler (No. 44) should be fast, and if you are looking for a dark horse to root for, that might be the only Audi S3 in the race, the No. 75 fielded by the C360R team and driven by Roy Block and the always fast Pierre Kleinubing.
The BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona takes the green flag at 12:15 p.m. ET Friday. Live video streaming and live timing and scoring will be available on IMSA.com and IMSA.tv. The television broadcast will be on FS1 on a tape-delayed basis on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 11:30 a.m.