Following months of preparation, ECR Engines and Cadillac return to Daytona International Speedway this weekend to try and clinch their third-consecutive win in the Rolex 24 Hour at Daytona. Scott Meesters, Sports Car Program Manager at ECR Engines, recently sat down to talk through the team’s recent experience at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test session and what they’re focusing on now to be ready when this year’s Rolex 24 kicks off at 2:35 p.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 26.
How did the Roar Before the Rolex 24 go this year and how does it help ECR prepare for the Rolex 24?
"ECR has an increase in our customer base this year. We went from three full-time teams to six fulltime teams, so it’s been a very busy offseason for us, and the Roar provided us a chance to check in with all our teams.
"Overall, it went very well for us. The Roar is vital for our teams in helping them get used to what the conditions and cars will be like during the Rolex 24. Each team will have four drivers for the 24 hours, with two of them being their primary drivers for the year. The two non-primary drivers spend a lot of time in the car, getting a lot of practice and doing a lot of driver changes to be ready for the Rolex. They have to change the driver, take on fuel and change the tires in 30 seconds during the actual event.
"For ECR, it’s important to get down there for the Roar and test our engines. We have different engine content and different engine specifications this year as opposed to last year. We did as much testing at ECR as we could before getting out on the track. For example, we completed a 33-hour durability on our AVL dyno last month, testing the engine for that amount of time/distance to make sure everything went as planned. When we went to the Roar a couple of weeks ago, it was just the second time this engine specification saw the race track. The track time during the Roar is huge for us to test out this engine and make sure everything is operating well, especially with our increased team number this year."
When you say you have different engines on track this year, was that a series-mandated change? Or one ECR came up with on their own?
"The change to the engines was something done internally within ECR and Cadillac Racing. It wasn’t a series-based change like the changes made last year. This year, we wanted to do it ourselves. We had some minor durability concerns that we wanted to work through and stay on top of for this season. In March of last year, in collaboration with Cadillac Racing, we started the design of a new cylinder head. We got that through with GM and the first parts arrived in the second week of November. We’ve been busy building up brand new engines with new blocks and new heads. Our race engine fleet size right now is 18 engines, so that’s a lot of changes to go through and make."
When do changes have to be made by in order to be implemented in the next season? Or is it a fluid change throughout the year?
"We’re constantly thinking about ways to improve our engines, but in order to actually get it implemented into next year’s design, the latest we can do it is in the beginning of November. That pushes everything really late into December though, much later than we’d prefer. Our dream right now is to get back to where we were in the Daytona Prototype days, where we kept one engine specification for multiple years. When that happens, we can come out of our last race and have multiple engines still to use the following year, eliminating the need to change over the entire fleet of engines. Instead, we would have approximately six engines to rebuild. In a perfect world where we have changes, we’d like to start if we’re switching everything over in September. However, with the new customers and long lead times we have, we’re normally pushed down to the wire."
How do the tools and technical alliances you have available to you at ECR help competitors gain that ‘competitive edge?’
"The tools and alliances we have available at ECR are everything to us. The technical partners we have are very important to us. For example, Lucas Oil and their technology help us out a ton. The resources we get from them, the open collaborations to develop new oils is huge. We run right now on oil that was developed for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but if we wanted our own or to try something else, they’d be open to looking at possibilities with us. They also test oil for us after 24 hours to make sure everything is going OK. They’re a great partner to work with. Additionally, the facilities we have here are second to none. Having those resources in our back pocket is amazing. It makes it fun to work here. I’ve worked at ECR for a long time but working in this department and overseeing it with all the tools we have is really fun. We got down to the wire in several areas of the engine in November and December this year, and without having the resources we have available to us, there is no way we would have been able to pull it all off."
What will it take to win the Rolex 24 for the fourth consecutive time?
"To win the Rolex, it boils down to durability. At the end of the day, we’re a naturally-aspirated engine racing against turbo-charged engines. We like to think our durability is better than our competitors. We’re ECR Engines and we take pride in what we do, especially our ability to provide a durable product. We combine that with being paired up with great teams that have great durability in their cars and great drivers, pit stops and preparation. We worked hard during the off season so it’s really exciting to be heading down to Daytona in just a few days."