New GT3 Cars Look Ahead to Sebring after Surviving Rolex 24 Test

By John Oreovicz

IMSA Wire Service

Every one of the 59 cars that started the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway looked shiny and new prior to the grueling opening round of the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. But some were “newer” than others.

In the Grand Touring classes that utilize machinery built to international GT3 regulations – Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) and GTD PRO – the Ford Mustang GT3 is a totally new design, and the Rolex 24 also marked the worldwide debut of the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 GT3.R – the production version of the Corvette C8.R race car that competed in the WeatherTech Championship pro classes since 2020. Finally, Aston Martin quietly debuted an Evo update kit for the Vantage GT3 at Daytona several weeks before the production version of the new Vantage was unveiled.

In terms of top result, Aston Martin fared best among the ’24 newcomers at Daytona. The Heart of Racing Team’s No. 23 Vantage GT3 Evo shared by Ross Gunn, Alex Riberas and Mario Farnbacher qualified 11th and finished fourth in the GTD PRO class. In GTD, the Heart of Racing’s No. 27 entry showed promise by leading 29 laps early in the race before finishing 22nd, with Magnus Racing’s No. 44 one spot behind in 23rd.

“Definitely a tough race for the No. 23 crew, and overall, an extraordinary effort by everyone,” said Riberas. “We didn’t have the pace to be top 10 today, but we somehow finished fourth. It shows the fighting spirit of this team and the whole organization, and hopefully we can make a step forward in Sebring with a more competitive race.”

Of the newcomers, the Mustang GT3 received the most prerace publicity as part of Ford Performance’s yearlong campaign to introduce the Dark Horse version of the iconic pony car to multiple forms of racing around the world. Multimatic Motorsports, which handled the engineering and development of the Mustang GT3, is fielding the Nos. 64 and 65 Fords with factory support in the GTD PRO class in 2024. In addition, Proton Competition’s No. 55 Mustang GT3 is set for the full season in GTD.

Christopher Mies, Harry Tincknell and Mike Rockenfeller drove from 13th to sixth in Ford Multimatic Motorsports’ No. 64 GTD PRO car, leading 46 laps in the process. The team’s No. 65 with drivers Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Frederic Vervisch qualified and finished ninth in class.

“We were leading the race on a couple of occasions in the early stages, which makes it disappointing to not fight for the win and the podium here,” Mies said. “In the end we just didn’t have the speed. That gives us hope and some homework to do for Sebring. I think we will be much better in terms of speed and consistent lap times. The car has been good and there were no technical issues, which is remarkable when you come with a new car to a race as tough as this.”

Hand, a longtime Ford factory driver who handled the majority of the development work on the Mustang GT3, praised the effort in getting two of the three Mustang GT3s in the race to the finish. Proton’s No. 55 entry in GTD was eliminated when hit from behind by a competitor while running fourth in class.

“This was a really good test for the Mustang GT3, though obviously it didn’t end how we hoped,” Hand said. “It’s the first time we have run the car 24 hours; things happen and you learn from it. The crew put in a lot of hard work here. Everybody did their job and it was an amazing couple of weeks to start this program out.

“This is just the beginning of a long program,” he added. “To start at Daytona with the record-breaking attendance, tons of Mustang fans here, Bill Ford and his family here, Edsel Ford and many other Ford executives, it was really cool and inspiring.”

Introduced in 2020, the mid-engine C8 platform of the iconic Chevrolet Corvette has proven its success in IMSA competition, earning consecutive GT Le Mans (GTLM) championships in 2020 and ’21, and winning races and finishing third in the manufacturer’s championship in GTD PRO the last two years.

The Corvette Z06 GT3.R takes the lessons learned by the factory-supported Corvette Racing team to create a more user-friendly product for customer teams in GTD and GTD PRO. At Daytona, the GTD PRO effort run by longtime Corvette partner Pratt Miller Motorsports finished fifth and eighth in class, with the No. 3 and No. 4 cars combining to lead 156 laps.

The Rolex 24 also featured a pair of GTD class Corvettes, with AWA preparing the No. 13 and No. 17 entries. Neither of those cars was able to make the finish, retiring with power steering and electrical difficulties.

The No. 3 led 118 laps in the hands of Antonio Garcia, Alexander Sims and Daniel Juncadella but was delayed in the final quarter of the race by a cracked oil tank.

“We learned a lot that we can use to push the Z06 GT3.R forward,” stated Garcia, whose links to the Corvette racing program date to 2009. “We will use all those lessons to improve for the next race at Sebring. It’s a classic event for us and we’ll definitely try to go for the win there.”

Activity for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac begins at Sebring International Raceway on Thursday, with the 72nd edition of the classic endurance race set to take the green flag at 9:40 a.m. ET Saturday, March 16. The race will be broadcast across NBC Sports platforms, with wire-to-wire streaming coverage on Peacock and USA Network joining at 4 p.m.