After the South American-based Dakar Rally and Europe’s Monte Carlo Rally have launched the 2014 year in motorsports, the month of January will be ending with a popular motoring beach party in Florida.
The 2014 sports car racing season kicks off with a 24-hour event on the road course of Daytona International Speedway. While winning a long-distance sports car race is a crowning achievement by drivers as well as teams, the 2014 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona holds the additional significance for being the first race under the Tudor United SportsCar Championship. The Tudor United SportsCar Championship brought North American competitors of the American Le Mans Series and the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series under a single sanctioning body. Aside from the 2014 Tudor United SportsCar Championship, many global fans are awaiting the start of the next FIA World Endurance Championship set to commence on April 20th.
With the start of each major sports car series, several faces will be making their first-ever appearances in the sport. Recognizing a fair share of rookie drivers, much of the focus towards new competitors is placed on the race vehicles. 2014 sports car competition has an assortment of new purpose-built and production-based race machines wanting to quickly jump a learning curve for a debut victory.
The following vehicles are among some of the more ambitious new entrants we will find in 2014 sports car racing.
Ford EcoBoost Prototype
Ford is undergoing an all-out effort to elevate their EcoBoost engine technology to a superior position in the automobile world. In the past two months, even the new Ford Mustang will offer a version of the EcoBoost engine family. In 2014, Ford’s EcoBoost power is being put to the test in the highest profile manner yet. The Ford EcoBoost prototype race car joins the 2014 Tudor United SportsCar Championship. Powered by a race version of the 3.5 liter twin-turbocharged, direct injection engine that launched the EcoBoost name, Ford’s new prototype will see the auto company depart from V-8 propulsion.
For the car’s competitive debut for the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Ford has entrusted three EcoBoost Prototypes with proven race teams. The reigning Rolex 24 at Daytona overall winning organization Chip Ganassi Racing will be running two of those cars. Winning the event five times in the past eight years, Chip Ganassi enters with an experienced line-up of drivers and a professional pit crew destined to give the Ford EcoBoost Prototype machine the best run possible over 24 hours. Entering the third Ford EcoBoost Prototype machine in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona is Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian. Pulling out a memorable 2012 victory during the Daytona International Speedway’s sports car classic, the #60 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian machine should be an interesting vehicle to watch.
Audi R18 e-tron quattro
If you are an avid follower of sports car racing, you are familiar with the exploits of the Audi Sport Team Joest bunch. If you are only a casual viewer of the FIA World Endurance Championship or the 24 Hour of Le Mans, you are also familiar with Audi’s ability to build a winning prototype class sports car. Due to several rule changes and as competition from Toyota and newcomer Porsche is ready to challenge, almost every aspect of the Audi R18 e-tron quattro is changed for the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship season. In a design perspective, the most notable difference for the 2014 car compared to last year’s Audi R18 e-tron quattro is an employment of a front wing.
Two breakthrough technologies will morph the 2014 Audi R18 e-tron quattro into a competitive lab. The six-cylinder TDi powerplant features the forced-air induction of an electric turbocharger. Electrical power generated through the prototype sports car’s hybrid drivetrain will be divided between operating the turbocharger and moving the front wheels. The second piece of innovative technology Audi will debut on the R18 e-tron quattro is laserlight headlamps.
Porsche 919 Hybrid
The long-awaited return of Porsche to top-tier prototype sports car racing has almost draws closer to being official. Nearly 45 years since the introduction of the famous Porsche 917 that eventually derailed the Ford GT-40 at Le Mans, their newest hybrid gasoline/electric sports car is slated to mark the German brand’s first race back in the prototype class at Le Mans after a 16-year absence. Developed under the Porsche LMP1 name, the race car incorporates a two-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine with an energy recovery system (similar to what is available on the Porsche 918 Spyder street car). In late 2013, Porsche officially designated the LMP1 project vehicle the 919 Hybrid. Spending much of the past year developing the 919 Hybrid in testing, Porsche also assembled an accomplished team of drivers for the 2014 season. Former Formula 1 star with Red Bull Racing Mark Webber may be the most recognized pilot of the Porsche 919 Hybrid in its debut season in the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship. Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Timo Bernhard, Marc Lieb and Brendon Hartley are other members of the 2014 Porsche 919 Hybrid team’s driving line-up.
What proves amusing for the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship is the Porsche 919 Hybrid will be attempting to unseat Audi in the prototype class. Both Porsche and Audi operate under the Volkswagen Group umbrella.
Mazda SkyActiv Prototype
Debuting in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car series’ much-hyped but underdeveloped GX class in 2013, Mazda introduced the North America market to their clean diesel engine technology. Created under their SkyActiv philosophy, the racing version of the Mazda6 sedan premiere at in the 24-hour event was extremely brief with all competing Mazda6 SkyActiv-D cars retiring. Improving over the 2013 season, the SkyActiv-D powerplant gained reliability but was now facing uncertainty of a realigned racing series under the United SportsCar Championship. For 2014, Mazda with the expertise of SpeedSource Racing Engineering and Multimatic Engineering is pressing into the top-tier prototype class.
The 2014 Mazda SkyActiv Prototype was developed swiftly on the lessons learned from GX class competition. Though the shape of the vehicle is new, the SkyActiv-D Clean Diesel engine is nearly identical. Generating nearly 600 pounds feet of torque, the Mazda SkyActiv Prototype features drivetrain improvements addressing an issue the automaker had with the 2013 Mazda6 race car.
The Mazda SkyActiv Prototype will make its debut in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona with a two-car effort consisting of the #07 and #70. Joel Miller, Tristan Nunez, and Tristan Vautier will drive the #07 car while the driving talents of the #70 will consist of Sylvain Tremblay, Tom Long and James Hinchcliffe.
Chevrolet Corvette C7R
When General Motors launched the modern Corvette Racing program in 1999, the racing pedigree of the brand has since been greatly enhanced by success at Le Mans, Sebring and the Rolex 24 at Daytona. In 2001, the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R was the overall winner of the daylong Daytona sports car event. After continuing success with the Corvette C6.R, the new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray spawns the newest GT class contender, the C7.R.
Even before the 2014 Tudor United SportsCar Series season starts, the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R may have set a record. Introduced to the public at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in conjunction with the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z06, the Corvette C7.R race car is making its debut less than two weeks since the unveiling. Heavily borrowing traits of the Z06 supercar model, the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R has also been created as an enhancement over the C6.R. Constructed on a laser-welded aluminum frame, the Corvette C7.R‘s chassis is built in the street Corvette‘s Bowling Green, Kentucky manufacturing facility. The 5.5 liter V-8 powerplant of the Corvette C7.R is required by GT class rules to forgo the Z06’s supercharger but does retain gasoline direct injection.
Information and photo source: Audi AG, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, IMSA, Mazda North America, Porsche Cars North America