Daytona Beach, Fla. — Level 5 Motorsports is ready for a history making run this weekend, as the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship stages its first-ever race with the 52nd running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The new chapter in North American sportscar racing, which sees the merger between GRAND-AM Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series, also marks an exciting next step for the Madison, Wis.-based organization as it launches its new customer program.
After winning championships in both the Prototype Challenge (PC) and P2 classes, Level 5 turns its attention to the new GT Daytona (GTD) category in 2014, fielding two brand-new Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 cars for the TUDOR Championship season-opener. It comes after nearly two months of preparations, which included a successful three-day test at Daytona earlier this month.
“We’re very excited for the launch of our customer program,” said Level 5 team owner Scott Tucker. “GTD is an excellent class and the competition will be fierce. The Ferrari is an great car as it has proven to be very competitive all over the globe. It’s the perfect package. We feel that bringing the Level 5 infrastructure and experience, along with the support of Michelotto, we will be a formidable competitor this weekend and throughout the season in this new championship.”
Tucker will be among the drivers in Level 5’s two Ferraris for the endurance classic. The Kansas City native will be joined by Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the No. 555 car, with the ten-time national driving champion set to also race the No. 556 entry with Mike LaMarra, Terry Borcheller, Guy Cosmo and Milo Valverde. Level 5’s lineup features a mix of youth and experience, a recipe that’s crucial to achieve success in one of the world’s toughest races.
Of the nine strong drivers in Level 5’s driving squad, Borcheller has achieved the most success at Daytona with three previous Rolex 24 class victories, including two overall wins and four additional podium finishes. The three-time Rolex Series champion heads into the race on the heels of winning the 2013 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Street Turner (ST) championship with co-driver LaMarra, who will also share the No. 556 Ferrari for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races.
“After winning the 2013 ST Championship, and the creation of the GTD class, we felt it was the right time to step up to compete for the North American Endurance Cup,” said LaMarra. “Level 5 provided us a great opportunity to accomplish our goals. Like all competitors we want to win our class in the Rolex 24 and we’re preparing ourselves for that opportunity. But moreover, we want to ensure I get the experience necessary to continue growing our competitiveness into the future.”
Borcheller, who posted the car’s quickest time of the weekend at the Roar Before the Rolex 24, has been working closely with LaMarra over the last few years to help him work his way up the professional road racing ladder.
“We knew this was going to be the move for us when he wanted to take the next step,” said Borcheller. “With all of the coaching and work that I’ve done with Mike over the last two years, the fact that he did so well at the test was not a surprise to me. It was what I had hoped for. Aside from it being a very difficult race and having lots of different elements and issues thrown at you, I think we’re in good position.”
Set to make his third Rolex 24 start to kick start his full-season program in the No. 555 car, Sweedler walked away from the recent test with plenty of confidence. The former 12 Hours of Sebring class winner will team with longtime co-driver, and open-wheel veteran, Bell, as they make a run for the GTD championship.
“The Level 5 team exceeded my expectations at the Roar,” said Sweedler. “Not only did they help assemble two brand-new Ferraris 20 days earlier in Italy, the entire team prepped and engineered a car that ran perfectly. Townsend, Jeff and myself had several trouble-free days. We only need minor tweaks for the 24. I can’t wait to get to Daytona. I’m super excited Scott Tucker and Level 5 decided to enter the GT ranks.”
After two successful seasons in the Rolex Series, which included claiming the GT championship in 2012 in a Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, Segal has played an instrumental role in helping get Level 5 up to speed with their new cars. The three-time GRAND-AM champion expects a tough race ahead but one that he’s hopeful will go the way of Level 5.
“In the past few years, you had to be totally perfect and very fast to win in GT at the Rolex 24, and I don’t expect that to change a bit,” said Segal. “The biggest challenge is going to be to adapt to all of the changes that have been thrown at our team better than the other teams can, and to that end, the uncertainty of the rules package from the newly merged series almost helps level the playing field for us.”
While returning to Daytona for the first time in three years, Level 5 is no stranger to success at the 3.56-mile circuit. The team scored a third place overall finish in the 2010 race and will be aiming to make it two steps higher on the podium this time around in the historic debut of the TUDOR Championship.
“With all of the big races it’s always the same goal,” Level 5 team manager David Stone said. “It’s about staying out of the pits, staying out of trouble and just keep going around. That’s really what it boils down to in a 24-hour race. You want to run as hard as you can while taking care of the car. You want your drivers to be patient and not make aggressive moves and mistakes early on in the race. The race really won’t start until Sunday morning. So you hope that when the sun comes up you’re in a good position and can move forward with there.”
Practice gets underway on Thurs. Jan. 23 at 9:30 a.m. ET, with qualifying scheduled for 3:45 p.m. ET later that day. Final practice is set for Friday Jan. 24 at 11:30 a.m., with the 52nd annual Rolex 24 at Daytona taking the green flag on Sat. Jan 25 at 2:10 p.m. ET. Live TV coverage will be available on the FOX family of networks, with the race also being carried on MRN Radio. Live timing and scoring will be available at http://www.imsa.com.