An introduction to VISIT FLORIDA Racing

With the Rolex 24 At Daytona just around the corner, the excitement is starting to build. Our partners in the 55th Rolex 24 At Daytona, VISIT FLORIDA, are getting ready for their biggest race of the year. But who exactly are VISIT FLORIDA Racing?

Here we give you an insightful look at the team pushing for their first Rolex 24 At Daytona victory.


From Left to Right:  Marc Goossens, Rene Rast and Renger Van Der Zande.

Team owner Troy Flis established VISIT FLORIDA Racing in 1987 and has been with the team ever since, helping to evolve the club-racing team into one of the fiercest competitors in endurance racing. The team’s home is just down the road from the World Centre of Racing in Daytona Beach, basing them right at the heart of American motorsport. VISIT FLORIDA is a familiar face in the IMSA paddock, with the team having competed in every season of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship beginning with the former GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series in 2000.

The team runs in the highly competitive and highest class of endurance racing available in IMSA: the Prototype class, as of 2017 split between the Daytona Prototype International cars and the WEC spec LMP2 cars. Under the new format, VISIT FLORIDA made the switch from running a Corvette based Daytona Prototype to the new Gibson-Riley LMP2 car which they will run for the course of the 2017 season.

The team has had a successful history, with six victories and 18 podiums to date since 2004. Notable performances include 3rd place finishes overall in the Rolex 24 At Daytona for the past two years, 2015 and 2016. Even though the rules and regulations for the Prototype class have been heavily altered this year, VISIT FLORIDA still expect to be achieving overall race wins and will be hoping to start the year strongly with the Rolex 24 At Daytona. With VISIT FLORIDA Racing now running the internationally eligible LMP2 car, the team are also hoping to compete at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Racing History

2012 marked the year of change for VISIT FLORIDA and started them on their path to the great successes they have achieved since. Chevrolet, VISIT FLORIDA’s then car provider, introduced its new Corvette Daytona Prototype bodywork that VISIT FLORIDA took in their stride. The car was fast, competitive, and reliable. It took the team to three pole positions, three race victories, four podiums, and seven top-five finishes to claim third in the Rolex Series Championship. VISIT FLORIDA knew this car was impressive and exactly what they had been searching for to make their mark on the endurance scene.

They stuck with the Corvette Daytona Prototype in 2013, putting Ricky Taylor and Richard Westbrook in the cockpit for the full season. The team could not repeat the success of the previous year, but they did demonstrate a consistent and reliable car, completing 97% of all the laps raced during 2013. Their best performance of that year was a 3rd place finish at Barber Motorsport Park, whilst their Rolex 24 At Daytona campaign saw them finishing 5th overall.

In 2014, GRAND-AM and ALMS combined to create a new IMSA series: the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. It was another successful year for the team, with Westbrook staying on in the team to partner Michael Valiante. Coming third in the championship, the year saw VISIT FLORIDA add another race victory to their name – victory at the 6 Hours of the Glen – and three more podiums: 2nd place at Chevrolet’s home base in Detroit and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and 3rd place and the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As successful as those years were, 2015 has been VISIT FLORIDA’s most successful year to date. The pairing of Valiante and Westbrook stayed together and proved to be an extremely strong pairing. Throughout the full season, the team was never placed outside of the top five. 2015 saw VISIT FLORIDA add two more race victories, claim, six podiums and achieve their best ever result at Rolex 24 At Daytona (3rd place overall), and finished second in the championship. Their victories came at Mazda Raceway, Laguna Seca and 6 Hours of the Glen. All the years racing with Chevrolet were paying off, as the team got ever closer to achieving the elusive championship title.

The love story with Chevrolet was due to end, however, as 2016 marked the final year of Daytona Prototypes. The Daytona Prototypes had been around for 13 years and it was due to the desire to make the Daytona Prototypes available to race on an international scale that saw the rules and regulations for the class change for 2017. Two new drivers came into the team for 2016: Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens. They were joined by Ryan Hunter-Reay for the Rolex 24 At Daytona and repeated their best ever finish of third overall. VISIT FLORIDA had another winless season last year, but once again proved the consistency of the car and team by completing 95% of all laps raced. Their best finish was second place at Laguna Seca.

Drivers

In the theme of international availability for the Daytona Prototype Internationals, VISIT FLORIDA have an international driver line-up for the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Marc Goossens (Belgium) stays on with the team for this year and is partnered by Renger van der Zande (Holland) for the full season. Rene Rast (Germany) completes the Rolex 24 At Daytona line-up making it a fully European affair.

Marc Goossens was born in 1969 in Geel, Belgium. He started his race career when he was three years old, taking up karting. He won three Belgium Kart Championship and the European Title before he switched to cars in 1990. He raced in several open-cockpit single-seater series for a few years, eventually making the move over to sports car racing in 1996. In this same year, Goossens made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut. Goossens has 12 24 Hours of Le Mans starts to his name, with his best finish being 2nd in 1997. He has also competed in NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity events since making the move to sports cars. He, like VISIT FLORIDA, started out in IMSA racing series in 2000. Before joining VISIT FLORIDA in 2016 he had mainly raced in the GT class for Riley Motorsport.

Ahead of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Goossens said: "We’ve had several good tests and I think that the things we tried showed us where we need to be setup wise. Now it is just about making the car more reliable. I think that the key to doing well in this race is being the team that spends the least amount of time in the pits. Whoever does that, is going to be the one challenging for the win in the end. It was great to be on the podium in this race last year and hopefully, we can be there at the end to fight for a big result again this year."

Partnering Goossens for the full season is Renger van der Zande, a dutch driver with a wealth of experience behind him in both single seaters and sports cars, this will be his first time out in the Prototype class and his first time in an LMP2. Along with his racing commitments, Zande is also a driver coach for upcoming kart drivers. He also works at Nijmegan Radbound University as a coach for the sports physics department. Working closely with Mercedes SportMedizin program, he additionally spends time as a fitness professional.

Ahead of his Prototype class debut, Zande said: "I am very happy with my new teammates this year and the team environment at VISIT FLORIDA Racing. The Rolex 24 is one of the biggest racing events in the world. You see all of the hot shot drivers in Prototype racing are here. Several competitors are ex-Formula 1 drivers and are World Champions, so we’re competing among the best of the best. One of VISIT FLORIDA’s strengths is the team's experience and calling the right strategy when the race changes with caution periods or with the weather here in their home race. I think there are a lot of cars that have a lot of reliability question marks, so we will try to minimize that and try to win."

Rene Rast joins the team just for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The Minden-born German driver has had a lot of experience in prototypes having recently finished a successful season in the FIA WEC with G-Drive racing. He has three Le Mans appearances to his name, racing for G-Drive in 2014 and 2016 and one appearance for Audi Sport Team Joest in 2015. He already has several 24 hour race wins to his name, the 24 Hours of Nuburgring, raced around the infamous Nordschleife circuit. Rast has competed in the Rolex 24 At Daytona for the past five years, but only in the GT Class. He took the class win in 2012 and 2016 with Magus Racing.

Rene said: "I think that we can fight for victory. Where all the teams are right now (in outright pace) is up in the air because we do not know much about the other competitors and their new equipment. Obviously, it would mean a lot to me to win the Rolex 24 At Daytona. This is one of the few prestigious races that I haven't won overall yet. I have a lot of faith in the VISIT FLORIDA Racing guys that they can prepare the car to be a contender in the final stages of the race"

Images Brian Cleary/VISIT FLORIDA Racing