The Daytona 24 Hours is the first big circuit race of the year and always attracts a star-studded cast list of both drivers and cars in addition to the regular competitiors in the IMSA SportsCar Championship.
At this year's race, a lot of eyes will be on Ford's new GT car as it makes its competition debut but there's also plenty of intrigue across the GT divisions and for the likely battle between the Daytona Prototypes and P2 class cars for overall glory. A qualifying session that was held in worsening conditions has also added another dimension.
FORD'S FIRST STEP ON THE ROAD TO LE MANS
A factory Ford racing in the Daytona 24 Hours is hardly headline news.
The factory Ford that will take the marque back to the Le Mans 24 Hours making its race debut at Daytona, now that is a story. Even more so if the car clearly celebrates the marque's rich history of the 1960s at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
There have been all manner of Ford factory programmes in US sportscar racing over the past 30 or so years. Think Mustang and Probe GTP prototypes, multiple GT projects and even the bizarre creation that carried the Ford Focus name in the first year of the Daytona Prototype era in 2003. But we haven't had an overt Ford programme at Le Mans since 1982 and the C100 Group C car.
Anyone with petrol in their veins should be getting excited about the new Ford GT taking the Blue Oval back to Le Mans and Daytona this weekend is where it all begins.
FIRST SIGHT OF THE NEW GTE CARS
The Daytona IMSA SportsCar Championship opener is going to give as our first insight into the new GTE rules that come into force in the World Endurance Championship this year. All the major players, with the exception of Aston Martin, are represented in the GT Le Mans class, so it should give us a taster of what is to come.
The big question is whether rules with greater freedoms and tighter controls on the way the cars perform (and new tools to police and enforce that) deliver on the promise to create closer competition free from the Balance of Performance controversies that have dogged GTE for years.
A rainy first day of the Daytona event hasn't given us any answers, but sportscar fans tired of all the politicking must be hoping for a positive outcome.
A CLOSER BATTLE BETWEEN THE DPS AND P2S
The LMP2 cars in IMSA's Prototype class haven't lacked one-lap pace at Daytona since the North American sportscar merger ahead of the 2014 season, but they've never looked quite so 'raceable' as the upgraded Daytona Prototypes against which they compete. That appears to have changed for 2016.
Further finetuning of the BoP has helped. So too has an arrival of a couple of new P2 powerplants in a 3.5-litre version of the HPD-built Honda and the Mazda turbo that will give the European-style prototypes the torque to match the DPs at the all-important restarts and aid their ability to get through the traffic.
The smart money has still got to be on the DPs, though. They have the better driver line-ups across the top cars in the Prototype class.
THE GT TRAFFIC MELEE
GTLM machinery should be faster this year thanks to the new GTE rules (though they weren't for reasons probably best known to the manufacturers at the pre-race 'Roar' test), but so too are the GT Daytona cars now that they are running to more or less pure GT3 spec.
That means they are now have the benefit of anti-lock brakes, something that could change the dynamic in traffic.
GTLM drivers have traditionally done a lot of overtaking of cars in the second GT class in the braking zone. Now they are suggesting that the advantage they previously had in this area has been removed.
GTLM cars are still much quicker mid-corner thanks to the Michelin 'confidential' tyres they run, whereas the GTDs are on spec Continentals. That's clearly not the safest or cleanest place to pass, which is why some drivers are predicting mayhem in the traffic come the race.
ALEX WURZ'S CURTAIN CALL
This is the final time Alex Wurz will don his helmet in anger, though he's said that before. The Austrian has put his retirement, announced last November, on hold to fulfil a long-held ambition of competing in the Daytona 24 Hours and he's doing it with a top team.
When the call came from Chip Ganassi Racing to drive one of its Riley-Ford EcoBoost DPs, he couldn't resist the temptation.
He'll be lining up alongside WEC champion Brendon Hartley, Andy Priaulx and Lance Stroll, with whom he has a mentoring role. So he's part of a pretty strong line-up at a team with multiple Daytona victories to its name.
That gives Wurz a real chance to join the elite band of drivers who have won sportscar racing's unofficial triple of crown comprising the 24-hour events at Le Mans and Daytona and the Sebring 12 Hours. He would become only the 10th driver to do so, but a victory would also give him what we think would be a unique place in history as the only driver to win Le Mans and Daytona on debut.
THE GTLM BATTLE IN THE PITS
One element of the new GTE rulebook could play a role in the outcome of the GTLM class - while the cars aren't even moving. The regs mandate a new seat with a helmet halo and some manufacturers are suggesting that it affects them more than others.
Chevrolet has been suggesting that the time it takes to swap over drivers has gone up from somewhere in the region of 18 to 20 seconds to over 25s. And under IMSA rules, as distinct from European convention, the driver change, the fuel going in and new tyres going on all takes place at the same time.
Should GTLM cars start losing time in the pits as they struggle to change drivers, it's going to be awfully hard for them to gain back the time during green-flag running.
SOME MORE HEADLINES FOR THE DELTAWING
This might be the last chance for the DeltaWing to recreate the headlines that it accrued by the bucketload at Le Mans back in 2012 and during its early days racing in North America. The storyline has gone cold for the radical machine, but Daytona 2016 might be chance for the Elan/Mazda-powered DWC13 coupe to shine.
The car will be at its most competitive on the Daytona International Speedway, it has a strong driver line-up and there seems to be a new confidence within the team that its long-standing reliability issues - particularly with its EMCO gearbox - have been resolved. A good result could be on the cards.
A CAR FROM A DEFUNCT CONSTRUCTOR WINNING DAYTONA
Lola closed its door nearly four years ago, but two of the final versions of its P2 design are still going strong - and stronger than in previous years - in the IMSA series.
The Mazda factory SpeedSource team is running a pair of B12/80 coupes and has gone from a bit player - a frankly kind description - to potential frontrunner now that the production-based turbodiesel powerplants of the past two years have been replaced by a proper racing engine developed out of the manufacturer's AER-built Indy Lights engine.
The Lola-Mazdas are quick - and the quickest in the speedtraps - and have three pro drivers in each the two cars. The team feels confident about the reliability, so why shouldn't it be in the mix and even have a chance of a victory?
Ex-Lola personnel will tell you that the British constructor has already won Daytona. You might remember that the Group C Nissan R91CP that took honours back in 1991 was designed and built by Lola. So they'd be half right.
THE NINTH FASTEST QUALIFIER STARTING FROM POLE
The worsening conditions through the four 15-minute qualifying sessions meant that the Prototypes failed to eclipse the fastest GTLM cars and also the best of the one-make Prototype Challenge cars. Yet IMSA rules mean the fastest P car, SMP Racing's Nissan-powered BR01, gets to start at the front on Saturday afternoon
The grid lines up in two groups - prototypes and then the GT cars - for IMSA races, but a PC can still outqualify a P car. That is unless a rule governing mixed conditions is invoked by the race director ahead of qualifying.
That was the case on Thursday, which means that PC pole winner Johnny Mowlem won't have the honour of leading the field away when the green flag drops. It probably wouldn't have been sensible for all the prototypes to be mixed up on the grid, but it rankles with the purists among us that the fastest car isn't starting from pole.
A STRONG PERFORMANCE FROM BR01
The 'Russian' car - designed and developed out by SMP sister organisation BR Engineering at premises in France - looks a potential frontrunner on its IMSA debut. It was on the pace at the official pre-Daytona test at the start of January and again in free practice ahead of qualifying when Mikhail Aleshin did what he had to do.
Crucial in that has been the job IMSA has done in balancing the normally-aspirated machine with the turbocharged LMP2 cars. Its Nissan engine can't produce the power, at least not reliably, of the turbos with the larger diameter engine air-restrictors in force in the US in comparison with the WEC, which explains why it is running 70kg lighter than the Honda-engined machines in the name of balancing their power-to-weight ratios.
The BR01 has a pretty handy driver line-up, led by the pole winner and Nicolas Minassian, so if the car is reliable and SMP up to demands of US-style racing, then it has to be contender.
This week's issue of Autosport, available now, includes an in-depth look from GARY WATKINS at the new Ford GT ahead of its debut in the Daytona 24 Hours this weekend.
There's also a full preview of the big race, a curtain-raiser for the American and international sportscar seasons.