The Acura ARX-05 of Wayne Taylor Racing was quick throughout the Rolex 24 at Daytona. However, it was pit strategy that put WTR at the front when it counted Sunday. The team, which had a seven-lap fuel advantage on their competitors, was able to do a short fill of his fuel tank on his final stop and took left-side tires only. That put Filipe Albuquerque in the overall lead with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Renger van der Zande.
Van der Zande ran down Albuquerque from six seconds back and fought hard for the win. However, a cut right rear tire (the second for Chip Ganassi Racing in the final three hours) forced van der Zande to pit with eight minutes remaining. Albuquerque was able to hold on from there to take the overall win for himself, Ricky Taylor, Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi.
For Wayne Taylor Racing, it is their third consecutive overall victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and fourth in the last five years. It is Albuquerque’s second overall victory, the first coming with Action Express Racing in 2018. Ricky Taylor won with WTR in 2017 in the first-ever race for the Cadillac DPi-V.R. Castroneves and Rossi are first-time winners.
“Life is funny, because three years ago we crashed and [now] we win together,” Albuquerque said after the race. “If we are happy and fair to each other, karma will give it back. Congratulations to Wayne Taylor for putting together an amazing team. [The team] prepared really well, and to come over to a 24 hour and win for the first time for Acura, hats off for this team.”
For an Acura to win was actually quite surprising as Cadillac had won all four Rolex 24s in the DPi era and were heavily favored to make it five. However, the challenge from the Cadillacs was slowly whittled down. The JDC-Miller MotorSports No. 5 with Tristan Vautier led early before being taken out by the PFAFF Motorsports Porsche with Zacharie Robichon at the wheel in an incident in turn 1 that also involved Wright Motorsports’ Jan Heylen. The hit broke a radiator on the car and put them in the garage for nearly 90 minutes.
The pole-sitting Whelen Engineering No. 31 ended up having transmission issues. The car was stuck in third gear, forcing an extended stay in the garage. Chase Elliott was supposed to be done for the day by the time the failure happened, but chose to do a couple of extra stints in the car afterwards. They would eventually finish sixth in class, eighth overall.
WTR came to the front in the overnight hours and was able to hold off Chip Ganassi Racing’s Cadillac. Kamui Kobayashi threatened to take the overall lead just before daybreak, but spun in turn 1 and dropped back. Meanwhile, Mazda Motorsports had trouble even getting off of pit road. This forced the team to start at the back of the field. Luckily for them, the shifting issue did not recur once the clock started. They had to fight back from laps down to put themselves into contention.
WTR’s margin of victory was 4.704 seconds over Action Express Racing’s Jimmie Johnson, Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller. In the case of the No. 48, they made their final stop within sight of van der Zande and the overall lead. However, WTR’s fuel advantage and a mediocre final stop dropped them from second to fourth, 10 seconds back. Johnson was able to get himself into a steady groove during the race.
“That was a long race as we all knew it would be,” Johnson said afterwards. “Kamui’s commitment at the end to pick up a couple more spots was so impressive. Of course, we always want more. This is my third second-place finish in this race. This is a special one and I’ll keep coming back. It’s just a very special race. I’m very thankful to have the support from Ally, Cadillac, and Action Express Racing to be here.”
Mazda Motorsports’ Jonathan Bomarito, Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell were third, then Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian’s AJ Allmendinger, Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya and Olivier Pla. Chip Ganassi Racing’s van der Zande, Scott Dixon and Kevin Magnussen were forced to settle for fifth.
In LMP2, a field of 10 took the green with PR1 Mathaisen Motorsports’ Ben Keating leading early. The No. 52 ORECA 07-Gibson was the fastest car nearly all weekend and the speed charts during the race bore that out. The top three LMP2 laps in the race were set by Keating’s teammates. However, a series of mechanical issues hit them hard. The first one cost the team seven laps and they never recovered. Another issue eventually forced them to retire with under an hour remaining.
The European teams that made the trip generally didn’t have a great time. DragonSpeed’s No. 81 was the first car out of the race after Rob Hodes hit the wall in turn 2, then ripped up the bodywork trying to get back around to the pits. Racing Team Nederland’s race ended in the third hour when owner/driver Frits van Eerd crashed into the tires in the bus stop chicane. High Class Racing never got their gold-rated drivers in the car before their ORECA 07-Gibson gave up the ghost.
WIN Autosport, in their series debut, ran very well and led during the overnight hours before mechanical issues dropped them back. A brake failure resulted in a spin late in the race and a long stop to replace brake rotors.
Ultimately, the race came down to a duel between Era Motorsport and Tower Motorsport by Starworks. Gabriel Aubry led until the final 10 minutes, when he was forced to stop for a splash of fuel. That gave the lead to Era Motorsport’s Paul-Loup Chatin, who held on to win in sixth overall along with Ryan Dalziel, team owner Kyle Tilley and Dwight Merriman. Of note, outside of the three drivers from PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, Chatin was the fastest driver in LMP2.
Era Motorsport’s margin of victory was 19.513 seconds over Aubry, Timothe Buret, John Farano and Matthieu Vaxiviere. DragonSpeed’s No. 82 ORECA for Devlin DeFrancesco, Eric Lux, Christopher Mies and Fabien Schiller were third despite mechanical issues in the last couple of hours.
BREAKING NEWS: Power steering issues on the #51 @NurtecODT @Jacob_Companies LMP2 the drivers are going to have to finish with zero assistance from the car… luckily Cody says the training routine has helped muscle the @LigierAutomotiv around this course.
Just under 3 hours left
— Rick Ware Racing (@RickWareRacing) January 31, 2021
The action started in GT Le Mans before the cars even reached the start-finish line to take the initial green flag. The Corvettes led the field to green slowly and it appeared that BMW Team RLL’s Bruno Spengler went early from the fifth starting position. He ran hard into the back of WeatherTech Racing’s Kevin Estre, spinning out the Porsche 911 RSR-19 and loosening his rear bodywork. Later on, the rear bumper and rear diffuser fell off, causing the first caution of the race. While the rear bumper and diffuser were replaced quickly, issues with the front splitter dropped the team 13 laps behind the rest of the class, effectively ending their race before it truly got started.
The race ended up being much like the rest of the weekend with the Corvettes dominating. The two C8.Rs combined to lead 716 of the 770 laps completed by the leaders. The No. 3 Corvette with Jordan Taylor at the wheel took the lead with 21 minutes to go when Risi Competizione’s Alessandro Pier Guidi made his final stop. From there, Jordan Taylor held on to give himself, Nicky Catsburg and Antonio Garcia the class win in 11th overall.
However, things were far more difficult than at first glance for Corvette Racing. Moments after the race ended, Corvette Racing released a statement indicating that Garcia had tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to opt out of the remainder of the race. Garcia lives in Spain and took the COVID-19 test so that he could fly home after the race as per current United States policy for international travel.
Garcia was informed of the positive test at 9 a.m. Sunday morning, just a couple of minutes after he completed his final stint in the car. Upon being informed of the news, Garcia changed out of his fire suit and left the premises immediately. That meant that Catsburg and Jordan Taylor had to do the remaining one-quarter of the race by themselves. Given that Garcia had driven nearly eight hours before being informed of the positive test, it did not cause any drive-time issue for the No. 3 team.
The No. 3 Corvette’s margin of victory was 3.519 seconds over teammates Tommy Milner, Alexander Sims and Nick Tandy. BMW Team RLL’s John Edwards, Augusto Farfus, Jesse Krohn and Marco Wittmann were third, followed by Risi Competizione’s Pier Guidi, James Calado, Jules Gounon and Davide Rigon. The No. 25 BMW of Spengler, Connor de Phillippi, Philipp Eng and Timo Glock were fifth.
LMP3 got off to a rather inauspicious start. Muehlner Motorsports America’s Moritz Kranz and Forty7 Motorsports’ Ryan Norman had contact in the International Horseshoe on an early restart while fighting for the class lead. Norman was able to resume at the back of the field, but Kranz’s car suffered a suspension issue that dropped him four laps down to the field.
The issues at the front gave Performance Tech Motorsports’ Rasmus Lindh an early lead. He was able to hold onto the advantage until early in the third hour when he was hit by Calado in the bus stop chicane. Both drivers spun and Lindh backed into the tires to bring out the yellow. That crash put the Performance Tech No. 38 behind the wall for a half-hour for repairs and took them out of the hunt.
From this point on, three cars were at the front of the class. One was the Sean Creech Motorsport No. 33 that took over the lead after Lindh’s crash. Another was the Muehlner No. 6, which made up the four laps that they lost in the opening laps. Kenton Koch was able to take the class lead from Lance Willsey right at the beginning of the eighth hour. The third of these teams was the Riley Motorsports’ No. 74.
LMP3 teams weren’t allowed to run special brakes for the race, so braking issues were feared. This effectively knocked CORE autosport out of any contention.
The pass for the win came on a restart in the 11th hour. Riley Motorsports’ Scott Andrews was able to get past Kranz to take the class lead. A long stop for Kranz in the 12th hour dropped the No. 6 team three laps down, a margin that they would never make up.
As the remainder of the class ran into mechanical issues, the Riley Motorsports No. 74 of Andrews, Oliver Askew, Spencer Pigot and Gar Robinson was reliable and quick. That was all that was necessary to claim the victory in 18th overall.
The margin of victory was a healthy three laps over the Sean Creech Motorsports Ligier of Joao Barbosa, Wayne Boyd, Yann Clairay and Willsey. Muehlner Motorsports America’s Kranz, Koch, Laurents Hoerr and Stevan McAleer were another four laps back in third. Riley Motorsports’ No. 91 Ligier for Jeroen Bleekemolen, Jim Cox, Austin McCusker and Dylan Murry were fourth, while CORE autosport’s Jon Bennett, Colin Braun, George Kurtz and Matt McMurry were fifth after repeated braking issues.
GT Daytona saw teams come and go from the top of the order. Turner Motorsport started up front, then Vasser Sullivan’s Lexuses took the point. The No. 12 ended up having debris go through the radiator, which resulted in a long garage stay while the No. 14 dropped back.
Beyond the first four hours, there were four or five cars that came to the front. They were AF Corse’s Ferrari, which had three of the fastest drivers in the class. AF Corse was joined at the front by Wright Motorsports, the defending class winners from Paul Miller Racing, Wright Motorsports and series debutant HTP Winward Motorsport. Later on, SunEnergy1 Racing joined the fray.
AF Corse and HTP Winward Motorsport ran nose-to-tail and fought each other for the lead for what seemed like five hours. This battle came to an end shortly after a round of stops in the 20th hour. Matteo Cressoni went to the outside of Philip Ellis in an attempt to take the class lead. He seemed to have position, but squeezed Ellis a little. Ellis clipped the grass and got loose, hitting Cressoni. Cressoni spun out and tapped the tire barrier while Ellis continued on.
IMSA officials determined that this was a racing incident, so no penalties were assessed. Cressoni was forced to make an extra pit stop that took him out of the hunt.
HTP Winward Motorsport did receive some pressure over the final four hours from SunEnergy1 Racing, but that ceased in the final 30 minutes. Maro Engel was able to drive the No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 to victory on debut. Not only is it the first WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory for the team, but it is the first WeatherTech class victories for Ellis, Engel, Indy Dontje and Russell Ward.
The margin of victory was 16.329 seconds over SunEnergy1 Racing’s Mikael Grenier, Kenny Habul, Raffaele Marciello and Luca Stolz. This is the best-ever IMSA finish for SunEnergy1 Racing, run in collaboration with Gradient Racing. Paul Miller Racing’s Andrea Caldarelli, Corey Lewis, Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow were third, followed by Wright Motorsports’ Heylen, Klaus Bachler, Trent Hindman and Patrick Long in their Porsche. Heart of Racing Team’s Roman DeAngelis, Ross Gunn, Ian James and Darren Turner were fifth.
The pole sitting BMW from Turner Motorsport shared by Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley, Colton Herta and Aidan Read was a lap down in sixth, followed TF Sport’s Keating, Charlie Eastwood, Maxwell Root and Richard Westbrook. Cressoni, Simon Mann, Nicklas Nielsen and Daniel Serra had to settle for eighth, while Alegra Motorsports’ Maximilian Buhk, Billy Johnson, Daniel Morad and Mike Skeen were ninth. Team Hardpoint/EBM’s Earl Bamber, Rob Ferriol, Katherine Legge and Christina Nielsen were 10th.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship takes the entire month of February off before returning to action at Sebring International Raceway for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts. With the cancellation of the FIA World Endurance Championship 1000 Miles of Sebring, it will be a smaller weekend, but still exciting. The race is scheduled for March 20.
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