A 24-hour race is a test of fortitude. Anything and everything can happen. From wrecks to blown engines, flawless runs to drives through the infield that could be best described a trainwreck, the Rolex 24 at Daytona is truly a race in which anything can happen. Add in a grand total of one hour of practice in the dry and the situation gets even more convoluted.
The wild and woollyness that was Thursday resulted in the underdog SMP Racing BR01-Nissan starting from pole, but Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani in the Tequila Patron ESM Ligier JS P2-HPD quickly swept by and took the lead. Early on, it was the Le Mans-based prototypes that dominated. Katherine Legge charged from the rear of the class to lead overall in the DeltaWing and had one of the fastest cars on the grid.
The Panoz DeltaWing Racing team was able to keep themselves up in the hunt despite a couple of penalties until Chris Cumming spun his PC-class ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet in turn 1, a nearly blind location to approaching drivers. Andy Meyrick could not see Cumming and ran directly into the rear of the No. 8, damaging the tub and ending his night.
Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian‘s Ligier JS P2-HPD was the class of the field early on. Despite John Pew damaging the car by running into the back of Johannes van Overbeek on an early restart, the team was a contender to win overall until the engine expired nine and a half hours in.
Despite a number of penalties, Tequila Patron ESM was always able to capitalize on their speed to put themselves back in front of the Chevrolet Corvette DP’s. Then, the Corvette DP challenge fell off. Both of Action Express Racing‘s entries went to the garage. The No. 5 broke a CV joint and lost six laps. The No. 31 went to the garage with smoke coming from the driveline just past the three-quarters mark. They would finish fourth and sixth, respectively.
Action Express’ issues left a somewhat depleted by illness Wayne Taylor Racing and handling-deficient VisitFlorida.com Racing to take on Tequila Patron ESM. While Max Angelelli, Rubens Barrichello, Jordan and Ricky Taylor did their best in the car, Derani appeared to be able to run away on command. Over the last hour of the race, Derani pulled away to take the victory by 26.166 seconds over the Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 with the VisitFlorida.com Racing team another minute back in third.
Afterwards, the team was naturally very pleased. However, the young Derani was the star of the show.
“The last two hours were pretty intense,” Derani said during the press conference. “Trying to not make any mistakes while increasing the gap was amazing. I need to thank my team for the amazing car that they gave me.”
After the finish, Angelelli pulled over on the backstretch and stopped, in need of medical attention. He was taken to a local hospital in Daytona Beach for evaluation. At last update, Angelelli was conscious and alert while receiving treatment.
Prototype Challenge turned into a battle for survival. JDC/Miller MotorSports‘ No. 85 led early before dropping back with various problems. That allowed PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports‘ No. 52 to assume the advantage and slowly build a three-lap lead. Wave-arounds under full course yellow allowed the No. 85 to get back onto the lead lap. A caution neutralized a 40 second lead, then Stephen Simpson pounced on Nick Boulle for the lead.
Later on, both PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and BAR1 Motorsports‘ No. 20 went behind the wall for repairs. That allowed the No. 85 to build up their lead to 20 laps. It looked like the race was going to be a cakewalk until Kenton Koch made an error in the infield and got into the tires.
“[The crash] was a mistake on my end,” Koch said after the race. “We went out on cold, sticker tires and these tires take a while to get up to temperature when its so cold outside. I’m not making any excuses, but I was also tired. It was just a dumb mistake on my part and I felt terrible about it. The team did an awesome job getting the car back together.”
The repairs cost the team more than half of their lead, but they were able to hold on to it for the rest of the race and claim the first-ever class victory for JDC/Miller MotorSports. PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports’ lineup of Boulle, Tom Kimber-Smith, Robert Alon and Jose Gutierrez finished three laps back in second. BAR1 Motorsports’ No. 20 shared by Johnny Mowlem, Marc Drumwright, Tomy Drissi, Ricardo Vera and Brendan Gaughan was third.
The GT-Le Mans class was nothing short of a choo-choo train for the first 20 hours. Corvette Racing, Porsche North America, BMW Team RLL and the Ferraris from SMP Racing, Risi Competizione and Scuderia Corsa were all right there in the hunt for much of the race. The only team that was not in the hunt was Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. The Ford GT’s had incredible teething issues. Gearbox woes, stalling on track, multiple blown tires. These all combined to create a terrible debut.
Eventually, the pack started to cull itself. The No. 100, driven by Lucas Luhr at the time, crashed out of the race just past halfway when a brake rotor exploded. The result saw Luhr go hard into the wall, but he walked away.
Once the sun rose, problems erupted. Risi Competizione had multiple problems. The SMP Racing Ferrari suffered an engine failure. Porsche North America’s No. 911 broke a differential.
The result was that Earl Bamber in the No. 912 ended up with the lead, but had both Corvette Racing entries baring down on him. With 35 minutes to go, Oliver Gavin executed a bump-n-run on Bamber to take the lead. Once teammate Antonio Garcia passed Bamber, the race was on.
The green light was given by Corvette Racing Program Director Doug Fehan to race each other cleanly and the duo did so. Garcia tried multiple times to get past on the high side in the tri-oval, but just couldn’t make it stick. On the final lap, Garcia made a last-ditch effort on the outside to take the win away, but he just couldn’t do it. Gavin was able to edge out his teammate by just .034 of a second to take the GT-Le Mans victory.
Afterwards, Gavin described his plan in the final laps in simplest terms.
“Don’t let him by,” Gavin said during his post-race press conference, with a smile on his face. “[The battle] was always going to be intense because we’re teammates. I know Antonio [Garcia] really well; we’re good friends and I’ve raced with him for many years. I know how smart he is in the car and that he would try and pounce at the right moment.”
Behind the two Corvettes was the No. 912 shared by Bamber, Michael Christensen and Frederic Makowiecki 13 seconds back. Scuderia Corsa’s No. 68 with Alessandro Pier Guidi, Daniel Serra, Memo Rojas and Alex Premat was fourth.
In GT-Daytona, the new Lamborghini Huracan GT3’s seemed to be the car to beat. They had more straight-line speed than the other new chassis on the grid. The only way it seemed that they could lose was if they beat themselves. Sure enough, that’s more or less what happened.
Paul Miller Racing’s No. 48 with the driving team of Mirko Bortolotti, Bryce Miller, Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow was the class of the field for much of the race. Just before 1 a.m., Bryce Miller was at the wheel when Change Racing‘s Justin Marks caught him for the class lead. The two drivers battled fairly, but then collided and spun exiting the tri-oval. Both cars went into the inside wall before sliding back across the track. Bryce Miller nearly hit the No. 55 Mazda prototype driven at the time by Tristan Nunez, who was just coming out of the pits, after hitting the wall.
Both cars were heavily damaged and spent time in the garage, ruining great runs for both teams. Change Racing had charged from the rear after Spencer Pumpelly crashed the car on Thursday. The crash forced the team to sit out qualifying.
The demise of the strongest Lamborghini’s allowed a menagerie of different teams to gather at the front. These teams included the No. 28 Lamborghini from Konrad Motorsport, Frikadelli Racing‘s No. 30 Porsche, Black Swan Racing‘s No. 540 Porsche, Aston Martin Racing‘s No. 98 and Magnus Racing‘s No. 44 Audi.
Of that group, the Magnus No. 44 Audi shared by Andy Lally, Rene Rast, team owner John Potter and Marco Seefried was the best handling car of the lot. Down a little on speed to the Lamborghinis, but still very quick, the playful yet serious bunch staked a claim to the lead.
Ultimately, the race came down to fuel mileage. Rast drove the last stint in the No. 44 and had to conserve fuel. Meanwhile, the Konrad Lamborghini driven by Fabio Babini was gaining fast. Rast was forced to let Babini take the lead with nine minutes remaining so that they could save fuel. However, with three minutes (two laps) to go. Babini ran out of gas in the infield, allowing Rast to retake the lead. From there, Rast had to deal with a lack of fuel pressure on the banking and held off Black Swan Racing’s Nicky Catsburg to take the class victory. It is Magnus Racing’s second Rolex 24 class win (they won the GT class in 2012) and for Lally, it is his fifth class victory.
Riley Motorsports‘ No. 93 “Don’t Mess with Texas” Dodge Viper GT3-R finished third in class, last on the lead lap. Aston Martin Racing’s No. 98 was fourth, while the No. 28 Konrad Motorsports Lamborghini had to settle for fifth.
After the race, IMSA announced that they have taken the engines from all five Lamborghinis and the race-winning Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 for inspection. The Lamborghinis were likely taken due to their top speed in comparison to the other makes in the class. Regardless, the top 7 finishers in GTD came from different makes (Audi, then Porsche, Dodge, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, BMW and Ferrari).