With the holiday season already in the rear-view mirror, Level 5 Motorsports heads to Daytona International Speedway to kick off its 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship program. This week’s “Roar Before the Rolex 24” test at the famed 3.56-mile oval/road course will mark the launch of Level 5’s new customer program and the first official testing opportunity for the new Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 cars.
The four-time American Le Mans Series championship-winning organization announced in November an expansion into the GT Daytona (GTD) class for 2014. Successful ALMS pairing Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell will drive Level 5’s No. 555 Ferrari for the entire TUDOR Championship season, with Level 5 team owner Scott Tucker and Ferrari standout Jeff Segal joining them for the Roar and season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona on Jan. 23-26.
Tucker, a 10-time national driving champion, and Segal will handle driving duties of the team’s No. 556 Ferrari with 2013 Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge ST champions Mike LaMarra and Terry Borcheller in the three-day test, which begins on Friday.
“We’re excited to get the cars on the track,” Tucker said. “The team spent most of the month at Michelotto building the cars. We did complete shakedowns on the cars in Italy and prepped them to be ready for the test. The goal this weekend is to get all of our drivers comfortable, establish a baseline setup and let the engineers do what they do from there.”
Two-time GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series champion Segal, who boasts an impressive and extensive resume of Ferrari experience, had the honor of shaking down both of the brand-new Level 5 cars last month at Adria International Raceway in Italy. Remarkably, the Level 5 team helped complete the build of the two GTD-specification 458s in less than three weeks.
“Quite a few guys from the team had been over at the Michelotto facility assisting with the build of the cars since the beginning of December, and it was really impressive to see how quickly they were able to get everything built up,” Segal said. “Even more encouraging was how well the cars ran right out of the box, and how comfortable the Level 5 team has become with a totally new type of car in an incredibly short time.”
While newcomers to Level 5, both full-season drivers Sweedler and Bell are no strangers to the Italian brand, having driven a GT-class Ferrari 458 in the ALMS last year. The pairing also contested the 2012 season in a Lotus Evora GTE and are both former GTC class winners at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
“I’m really excited to be back in a Ferrari for the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship,” Sweedler said. “It’s even sweeter considering I’m with Level 5 Motorsports. Their performance in every class over the past four years speaks volumes about their knowledge and capabilities. So far, my experience with every person on the team has been amazing. They clearly only know one way to operate: at ten-tenths! I’m looking forward to reuniting with Townsend for another season, as well as getting to better know Scott and Jeff.”
With no prior testing having been completed with the new Ferraris, this weekend’s Roar event will be crucial to help get the Level 5 drivers, engineers and crew up to speed in their new environment after four successful seasons of prototype racing.
“The main objective is to get to Daytona and get the cars sorted out,” Level 5 team manager David Stone said. “There’s a lot to do with so many things coming together at the last minute and so many things still unknown in GTD with the rules. We’ll have a lot to do and have a big checklist. It was very helpful going to Michelotto to assemble the cars and do a modest shakedown. But we have some different specifications to sort out.”
Testing begins on Friday with sessions running from 10:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 2:45 – 5:15 p.m. Four sessions are scheduled for Saturday from 9:00 – 10:45 a.m., 1:00 – 2:30 p.m., 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. and 6:30 – 8:00 p.m., with two additional testing opportunities set for Sunday from 10:15 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 2:30 – 3:30 p.m.
(Level 5 Motorsports)