The 24 Hours of Daytona is turning 50 this year, and the famed endurance race promises some exciting wheel-to-wheel action for its Golden Anniversary. Grand-Am’s premier event sees some significant changes for 2012, including new rules and new cars. Here’s a quick rundown of what you have to look forward to this weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which kicks off this year’s motorsports season January 26.
Audi R8 Grand-Am
Audi is throwing its hat into the Grand-Am ring, with two of its R8 customer race cars fielded in the GT class. Audi is no stranger to endurance racing, having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 10 times. Though Audi is best known for its sports car prototypes, the brand also contests the FIA European GT3 Championship with the R8 LMS. As we previously reported, the R8 Grand-Am differs from its European counterpart in many ways. Grand-Am regulations restrict a car’s allowed aerodynamic components, which means the R8 loses 80 percent of its downforce. The suspension also rides 0.4 inches higher, to comply with class rules. Still, the R8 could prove to be a dark horse in the GT class with its 5.2-liter V-10 engine. Two teams will run the R8 Grand-Am in the 24 Hours, including APR Motorsport and Oryx Racing. Check out the video of Audi testing its Grand-Am racer below.
Ferrari 458 Italia Grand-Am
The Ferrari 458 will also make its Daytona debut at this year’s event. The car developed for use in Grand-Am racing is based on the 458 Challenge, with a restrictor plate limiting power output to 500 hp to comply with class rules. Also limited is engine rpm, with the 458 Grand-Am’s redline set at 8000 rpm versus 9000 rpm in the road-going car. As with the R8, aerodynamic modifications are also restricted for the Ferrari. Despite being detuned slightly from the standard model, the car manages to look amazing in race trim (in almost any livery too), and should give the Porsches and Mazdas of the class some competition. Five cars are entered in this year’s race, with teams AF-Waltrip, AIM Autosport Team FXDD, and Extreme Speed Msports each fielding one, and former ALMS front-runners Risi Competizione fielding two.
Corvette Daytona Prototype
The Corvette DP is a breath of fresh air in the Daytona Prototype class. After years of monotonous — albeit functional — body forms, the DP class finally sees a car that’s easy on the eyes. The car also happens to be pretty competitive as well, sweeping the top five spots in the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test sessions earlier this month. Whether that means the platform will be a contender in the actual race remains to be seen though. The car was jointly developed by a number of big names in sports car racing. Pratt & Miller, the same folks that brought you the C6.R, GTO.R, and CTS-V SCCA World Challenge cars, helped get the car on track, along with chassis makers Riley and Coyote. The car was styled by designers of the road-going Corvette, who added trademark styling cues like the C6-esque headlights and split rear window. Five cars will compete in this year’s race, with former winners Action Express Racing fielding two, and front-runners SunTrust Racing, Gainsco/Bob Stallings, and Spirit of Daytona each fielding one.
Aston Martin Vantage GT4
Aston Martin will make its North American sports car racing return when it enters a pair of Vantage GT4s in the support race for the 24 Hours, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. Though it’s not competing in the main event, Aston Martin will still face heavy competition in the Continental Challenge series’ Grand Sport class. To bring the Vantage GT4 to Grand-Am, Aston Martin paired with Multimatic Motorsports, and employed former race-winners Scott Maxwell and Joe Foster to drive its lead car. The second car will be piloted by Hollywood movie star Patrick Dempsey, who also happens to be a talented race car driver. The cars will be the first of many Aston race cars expected to join the Continental Challenge series this year, with Multimatic representing the official factory effort.
As you can see, there’s plenty of eye candy to look forward to this weekend, and the racing promises to be just as exciting as past years. The action starts Thursday, January 26. Stay tuned for more coverage of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.