With a switch to the GT Daytona class and to brand-new Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 cars, there was plenty of anticipation for Level 5 Motorsports heading into this weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24. However, the Scott Tucker-owned organization passed the crucial three-day test with flying colors, showing encouraging pace in preparation for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The Madison, Wis.-based organization’s newly formed customer division got off to an impressive start, with the two GTD-spec Ferraris completing nearly 2,000 miles of trouble-free running over the three days of testing the historic 3.56-mile oval/road course. Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell were joined by Jeff Segal in the No. 555 Ferrari, with Segal also handling driving duties of the No. 556 car with Mike LaMarra and Terry Borcheller.
Sports car racing veteran Borcheller, a former overall winner of Rolex 24, ended the test as the quickest Level 5 driver with a 1:48.475 lap. It put the No. 556 Ferrari 7th on the time sheets. The No. 555 car was 11th quickest, thanks to Bell’s 1:48.646. Owing to the competitiveness of the class, the top-20 GTD cars were separated by less than 1 second.
“It was a very productive test for us,” said Level 5 chief strategist Jeff Braun. “The guys did a great job building the cars in Italy, on short notice, and we had zero mechanical problems the whole time. We went right out of the box and went full tilt. That gave us the opportunity to be on track for every lap of every session and make some really good progress.”
Assisting Level 5’s transition from prototype to GT racing was Segal. The two-time GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT champion, and youngest-ever winner in Ferrari Challenge, completed shakedowns of both cars in Italy last month and helped get all five drivers up to speed in the GT3-based Ferrari.
“We’d been working on the cars and obviously that’s an important part but the cars are pretty well proven,” Segal said. “We have that data pool to pull from. I’m very pleased that everything else went well. We’ve checked everything off and have made some new lists. You’re never really ready for a 24-hour race but I think we’re in good shape, particularly considering how new and fresh everything is.”
Bell, who will pair with Connecticut-native Sweedler for the entire 11-round TUDOR Championship, was also pleased with the progress made over the weekend as he got his first laps in the car and also at the Speedway. The open-wheel veteran will be making his first 24-hour race start later this month.
“This was my first time ever on the Daytona track, so I was still learning a few of the subtitles, but overall I was very pleased,” Bell said. “There was a tremendous amount of progress made. We worked a lot on the braking system and we’re pretty much there on the feel on what I was looking for. It’s a Ferrari and it’s ready to go for the race. Having never done this race before, I don’t really know what to expect. But I think we’re in decent shape. We have a strong group of guys behind us.”
With a successful test now in the books, the Level 5 team returns to its base for final preparations for the TUDOR Championship season-opener and first round of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Championship. Practice gets underway on Thurs. Jan. 23, with qualifying scheduled for later that day. The 52nd Rolex 24 at Daytona takes the green flag on Sat. Jan 25 at 2:30 p.m. ET, with live TV coverage on FOX Sports 1 and 2. The race will also be carried on MRN Radio, with live timing and scoring available at http://www.imsa.com (http://www.imsa.com/).
(Level 5 Motorsports)