Whenever a new sports car is released, it seldom even moves the needle for me until it goes on track. Fortunately, this weekend’s 24 Hours of Daytona features the Ford GT, Ferrari 488 and the BMW M6 finally proving their worth alongside other rad GT machinery and purpose-built racing prototypes, and it’s great.

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The race, also known as the “Rolex 24 at Daytona,” runs on the iconic Daytona road course, going from the high banking to the squiggly bits inside the oval for an entire day.

Qualifying was Thursday, and interestingly, like Petit Le Mans, a GTLM-class Porsche 911 RSR was the fastest in the soggy conditions. Almost as surprising was the fact that SMP Racing’s Nissan BR01 was the fastest Prototype-class racer. The BR01 is the only car of its type at the event, so it’s been a bit of an unknown as to how it will do. Full qualifying results can be found here.

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While qualifying well is no small feat, these cars still have to last an entire day. Here’s the run-down of which ones you should pay attention to, and why.

Prototype

For one more year, the WTSC’s Prototype class features both the older style Daytona Prototypes and LMP2-style race cars. Three LMP2-style racers were faster in qualifying than the DPs in the class, however, it’s the Corvette DP of Wayne Taylor Racing that qualified fourth in the class.

Wayne Taylor Racing isn’t just the team of formerly mulleted funny-man Jordan Taylor. They’re the team that narrowly missed out on the overall win after a dumb mistake at last year’s Rolex 24, and you know they’re thirsty to win this year.

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Which other team is downright thirsty for success? Mazda. After suffering with a diesel engine that didn’t produce the kind of speed they needed to be competitive, a change in the IMSA regulations meant that they had to switch over to a gas engine this year. That gas engine is looking much faster than the diesel already, and that’s a team that’s tired of puttering around the back of their class.

We still get to see Scott Pruett in the top class for now as well. Pruett currently holds the record for the most number of wins in North American sportscar racing and is set to drive the Lexus RC F GT3 at some point later this year. However, he’s behind the wheel of the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP for Daytona after having been with Chip Ganassi Racing for 12 years.

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Speaking of Chip Ganassi Racing, World Endurance Championship Porsche 919 driver (and defending series champion) Brendon Hartley is crashing the Daytona party in Ganassi’s No. 01 Daytona Prototype. Retired Toyota WEC driver and two-time Le Mans winner Alex Wurz is in that same car.

Panoz DeltaWing Racing is also bringing their iconic DWC13 to the series’ top class again this year. Fans of strange cars, rejoice! It did not set a qualifying time, but has been surprisingly quick this year in other sessions at Daytona.

Prototype Challenge

Prototype Challenge often gets overlooked as a class because of its very spec nature. All the cars are the same! It’s Oreca FLM09 vs. Oreca FLM09! Rabble rabble rabble.

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Look, Johnny Mowlem in a car with freaking Zoolander 2 on the side nabbed pole for the class. Let that soak in for a moment. More interestingly is that one of the number 20 BAR1 Motorsports Zoolander/Southwest Realty Advisors/Top 1 Oil car drivers—Tomy Drissi—is currently banned from Trans Am from one of the sketchiest moments of on-track road rage where he targeted the leading competitor in the race. Here’s hoping he’s learned from that moment and won’t pull anything similar in a situation where the rest of his PC team would chase him into the Atlantic Ocean with pitchforks and torches for ruining their shot at a Daytona win.

Speaking of BAR1, fan favorite and dinner enthusiast Ryan Eversley is in the sister No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Case-It/Southwest Funding/advisors.com (phew!) car.

GT Le Mans

Once again, the GTLM-class factory Porsche 911 RSR effort proved that they (and their trick Michelin tires) are magic in the wet. Number 911 and 912 grabbed first and second overall in qualifying, respectively.

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Not far behind them were a string of new for 2016 cars: the No. 100 BMW Team RLL M6 GTLM, and two Ferrari 488 GTEs.

BMW is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a company this year, so the commemorative liveries on its No. 100 and 25 BMW Team RLL cars are worth mentioning.

Yo dawg, I heard you like racecars... so No. 25's livery features some of BMW’s iconic race cars of the past right there on today’s M6 race car. Its very number is a reference to the BMW 3.0 CSL.

No. 100 fittingly looks forward to “the next 100 years” and is going to look absolutely amazing under the lights with its glowing, angular livery. I mean, just look at this thing. I’m calling out a livery in a preview post because I guarantee that I’m going to have a hard time not looking at this thing as it circulates around Daytona at night.

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Despite the pretty M6s and the brand new 488s, the new car everyone’s most looking forward to is the Ford GT. The highest qualifying Ford GT qualified ninth in GTLM, however, Ford isn’t really the type to jump in with a new car that’s only half-baked, and they’ve got a full day to make up those eight spots ahead of them in one of the most stunning GT cars made in recent history.

GT Daytona

2016 sees the introduction of GT3-spec machinery in GTD, and so far, it’s done a decent job of boosting car count and variety in the class.

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Stevenson Motorsports moved up from the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge this year into two Audi R8 LMS GT3s. Lamborghini Super Trofeo standouts O’Gara Motorsport, Konrad Motorsport and Change Racing moved into IMSA’s top series with Lamborghini Huracán GT3s. Flying Lizard Motorsports is back as a partner with Krohn Racing in a snot green Audi R8. Last, but not least, Black Swan Racing made the hop over from Pirelli World Challenge to run a Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Most interesting of all is the appearance of Frikadelli Racing, as the long-time Nürburgring veterans are, in fact, bringing Sabine Schmitz. She wasn’t at the Roar Before the 24 due to filming commitments for Top Gear, but we’ll finally get to see the Queen of the ‘Ring tackle Daytona. Awesome.

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V8 Supercars standout Shane van Gisbergen is back with Alex Job Racing this year, too, so the Magnus Racing live stream folks can hopefully get him to appear on the show this year. (Please?)

GTD is also the home of the most Texan team ever, Riley Motorsports. Their flag-draped Dodge Viper GT3-R in particular is a work of art, and their other car features Dallas-area reality television dudes Gas Monkey Garage.

The No. 73 Park Place Motorsports/Jet Edge Porsche 911 GT3 R sits on pole for the class.

Let’s Watch A Day Of Racing

Of course, the 24 Hours of Daytona television schedule is as jumpy as usual, and part of it is on unobtanium network Fox Sports 2. The race starts on Saturday, January 30, and you’ll have to go back and forth on several different channels to follow it on TV. All times Eastern:

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  • 2:00 p.m. - Fox Sports 1
  • 4:00 p.m. - Fox Sports 2
  • 10:00 p.m. - IMSA.com live stream
  • 7:00 a.m. - Fox Sports 1
  • 10:30 a.m. - Fox Sports 2
  • 1:00 p.m. - Fox Sports 1

Fortunately, even when there’s coverage on television, IMSA.com’s live stream usually is up and running.

Who needs sleep, anyway? Sleep is for the weak. While qualifying was described as treacherous and sketchy by numerous racers who braved the soaking wet conditions, weather for the race itself is looking much better.

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Photo credits: Ford (top), BMW (100th anniversary cars)


Contact the author at stef.schrader@jalopnik.com.