Photo: Vickie Miller
Sportscar journalist Vickie Miller (@viclovesracing) was track-side at Daytona International Speedway for the 2018 Roar Before the Rolex 24. Vickie shared her thoughts with EnduranceandGT.co.uk editor Andy Lloyd on a fascinating weekend of testing, qualifying and racing ahead of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
With the evolutions and development that the IMSA WeatherTech Championship has undergone over the last three years, my guess is that the organisers were feeling very happy about the state of the championship for 2018. Was that the impression that you got at the Roar this year?
“Yes, it was. When I attended this event years ago it seemed like it was me and ten people and that was it. Now it has grown into this thing that is called the Roar. Right now, if you buy a ticket to the Rolex 24 you get in to the Roar for free and a lot of Scouts use this weekend for camping. In fact, the Prototype Challenge race was called the ‘Scouts of America Race For The IMSA Prototype Challenge’. A group of us were talking when we saw the crowd this past weekend. It’ll probably be the last weekend it will be for free because IMSA is going to find a way to make money on it but that’s just my opinion.”
“The Roar this year was fantastic. Over the years the field has become not only more international but more diverse with DTM drivers and rally drivers and this year we had Fernando Alonso. The Rolex 24 at Daytona has grown in popularity therefore the test and the Roar has grown in popularity. Needless to say I’m sure IMSA considered it a huge success!”
There was a lot of comment about the cold temperatures this year. Is it unusual for Florida to get that cold at this time of year?
“It is unusual to get that cold. It’s cold for us – for someone from NYC or Chicago – no it’s not cold. But it was cold for us! In Florida rarely we will get a frost so it was unusual to be that cold and it was also very windy. That has to do with the fact that Daytona is right there on the ocean. You’re going to have wind and that also makes it a little colder.”
With the temperature as cold as that, did the teams still feel that they were getting the same value out of the test?
“They did. It was cold last year for the Rolex 24 and it gets cold at night regardless so I think they will see those temperatures again for the Rolex. I think we’re going to have a cold Rolex again this year. Filipe Albuquerque unfortunately lost his luggage so he had to go and buy coats when he first got here. You really need coats and gloves and hats and I think a lot of the drivers felt the cold. Once you’re in the car you can’t feel it but they did feel it going from their hauler across to the garages and, as a result, they didn’t circulate as much. They didn’t go into the media centre and walk outside as it made it uncomfortable for them. They tended to stay in their haulers more than what they probably would have.”
Did you feel that the media had a different approach to this race with Alonso present this year?
“Yes I did. Normally when you go to any race you get media opportunities for teams just as at the Roar they did. Team Penske was in the media centre. However, you had Alonso doing a lot of press conferences on his own and you don’t normally have that at the Roar or the Rolex. So firstly there was a lot of media attention and times when he was in the media centre alone, sitting up at the desk answering questions and that was different.
The other thing that was interesting was that so many fans were gathered around his garage. I’m sure you’re familiar with Patrick Dempsey who used to race in IMSA and when Patrick Dempsey showed up you knew to stay away from his garage so it can make it difficult when you have a celebrity show up. It also makes it a little difficult for teams in the neighbouring garages to work when you have that many people around but as far as media attention goes, yes, he had the most microphones in front of him and he had the most reporters wanting to take time with him by far ahead of anyone else. It was called ‘Fernando Mania!’
That name came about at the Indy 500 and at the Roar press conference they asked him; “Do you think you will see the same Fernando Mania here at Daytona as you did at Indy?” and he said yes. He enjoyed it so he said he was hoping for the same at Daytona.”
The Prototype Challenge has undergone a real evolution this year and staging the first race on the Saturday certainly, I felt, gave the whole test an additional level of interest. That was a really good race, wasn’t it?
“I’m very glad to hear you say that because I am one of only a few people I know who enjoyed the PC class. I liked it as I felt it gave a different opportunity to an upcoming new driver that wasn’t available anywhere else. But it has been kind of like the step-child, if you will, of the series in the past. But not only having the MPCs but the LMP3s in there helped elevate it and the winner Roman De Angelis could not have been more enthusiastic and that helped it as well. He was just so happy. The driving was very good and I think it is going to bring attention to that class which it needs. “
It was great to see Roman De Angelis so excited after his win. That is going to be a name to watch in years to come.
“Yes, definitely. This was the first time that I know of where they used the Roar test weekend to have an actual sanctioned race to kick off the series for the PC class. That was impressive and they also had a Sunday qualifying for the garages and the pit allocation and not for the actual race. There will still be qualifying for the actual race positions.“
But looking at those qualifications sessions, even though they weren’t qualifying for grid positions, there was still some interesting results there. In the GTD class we had GRT Grasser Racing coming out on top ahead of Andy Lally and Magnus Racing and Patrick Long in the Wright Motorsports car. That GTD class looks very competitive, doesn’t it?
“Yes, I totally agree. It will be interesting to see their times between their qualifying for pits and qualifying for the race to see if they are as close. If it were me, I wouldn’t want to go all out for the pit and the garage. You do want to go fast to get the good location but they’re still going to have to mix the classes down the pit road so they don’t all pit at the same time next to each other. But they still went out there and pushed – they’re still competitors!”
Looking at the prototypes and the Cadillac domination, it looks as if this could be Cadillac clean-sweep of the top three places at the moment, doesn’t it?
“Yes it does. I don’t know if that’s going to stick or not but yes. It will be very interesting to say the least.”
Some of the teams might have come away a little bit disappointed after that test. Mazda Team Joest, after all the preparation and testing and months of effort, to come away with 8th and 20th in that session, they must have been a little bit disappointed, weren’t they? Was that the impression you got?
“Yes but you know what? If you watched that Mazda team, they just seem to have struggled over the last three to four years. I’m not sure what their issue is. John Doonan is a wonderful person and I was hoping that by now, by the Roar, they would have had more figured out. I was very disappointed for them. I would like to see them jump to the top and be challenging on the track but I’m not really sure what the problem is there.”
An entry that interested me was the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing JOTA team, the “Young Guns” car but yet they didn’t quite stand out. What was your impression of that entry?
“If you’re not used to drafting and the high banks, Daytona is a different beast. Lance Stroll is young, they’re all young guns in there. But it’s a little different. I think the Roar is exactly what it is. It should be approached as a test, a practice. Drivers in teams like Action Express have been driving on that track for ten years. They know every bump, every groove and there is a difference between walking the track and driving that track.
So I agree. It’s one of those entries you look at on paper and on paper you think they should be faster than this but the reality is that if you’re not used to Daytona I could see that you would be a little more cautious. An approach of “Let’s just learn right now and then we’ll go fast when we come back”.
A lot of the teams are testing at other places, They’re going to Sebring and other places to test and I think that will give them a feel for that car. Testing at Sebring doesn’t match the high banks of Daytona but it might get you more comfortable with that car. It can only help.”
Were there any driver’s performances that stood out for you over the course of the weekend?
“One of my favourites, and I’m glad to see him back, is Felipe Nasr who was in the Whelen car. I remember him from years ago when he was the Sunoco UK winner and he was in the Michael Shank DP car. I remember, when he was there that year, I said; “This gentleman’s got it.” I didn’t know who he was and the first time I met him was in the pits in his Sunoco UK firesuit and he tore off in that car. He was the one I thought would take off and do very well and he did. So he was the one I was watching for the weekend.”
Thank you to Vickie for taking the time to share her reflections on 2018 Roar Before the Rolex 24.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona is held on the weekend of January 25 – 28.