Meyer Shank Racing charged through to the front in the final 90 minutes of the Rolex 24 at Daytona to take a stunning win in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship season-opener after Helio Castroneves drove like a demon to ensure Acura’s victory.
The most exciting finish came in the GTD Pro category where the race was decided in a thrilling battle almost all the way to the flag. An all-Porsche affair, Pfaff Motorsport prevailed only after last-lap contact between Mathieu Jaminet and KCMG’s Laurens Vanthoor that sealed the win for the famed Plaid Porsche.
The overall victory was decided by an epic charge from Castroneves in the Meyer Shank Acura DPi. The Brazilian was driving like a man reborn after moving to the team for this season.
He charged past the competition from the second Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing and mastered a late race restart to ensure the victory went to the pink and white machine.
His position was thanks to a great move from Tom Blomqvist in the penultimate hour. The Brit made a great move on Ricky Taylor – racing for his family team – going into the Bus Stop and set up the #60 for a strong finale.
But the fire to the finish was all thanks to Castroneves. He drove like a man who had an urgent appointment somewhere else, and despite Taylor also pulling out his A-game to try and reel the similar Acura DPi back in, there was no hoping of denying Meyer Shank the win.
Third went the way of JDC Miller Motorsports. Loic Duval powered past Taylor with 80 minutes to go, but couldn’t hold the position through the final caution and last round of stops. The team finished just four seconds down in a race that seemed to favour the Acuras the more the race went on, after early domination from the Cadillacs.
An almost equal margin was the difference between JDC Miller and Action Express Racing. The latter car lost a bit of time when Tristan Nunez got a shove a couple of hours from the end and that seemed to sum up the last few hours of the Whelen Engineering-backed cars race where the team did a good job but didn’t get any joy from it.
Outside of the four-car field at the sharp-end of the prototypes, those further down the order fell victim to a variety of mechanical and other technical problems which cruelly ripped away their chances of success.
As pointed out in the Overnight Report, the #48 Ally-backed Action Express Cadillac lost time with a technical issue, as did the #01 Chip Ganassi entry. Then the big shock came when the sister #02, which had been leading for a long time, went behind the wall with a mechanical issue which took significant time to fix. Whilst all three managed to get running and take the flag, they all lost so many laps that it wasn’t possible for them to trouble the front.
DragonSpeed USA prevailed in the LMP2 class, in what was a pretty aggressive battle with Tower Motorsport within the final 30 minutes.
Getting closer and closer to each other on-track, Colton Herta did all he could to defend his lead in the DragonSpeed ORECA from Louis Deletraz in the similar Tower Motorsport machine.
It was a nip-and-tuck battle throughout, but was finally resolved when the two came together going into the Bus Stop and Deletraz had to take avoiding action across the grass. The Tower Motorsport car didn’t seem to pick up any damage, but the time lost was impossible for Deletraz to recover as he lost another position to Racing Team Nederland’s Giedo van der Garde as he recovered back onto the asphalt.
The bright yellow ORECA finished seven seconds behind DragonSpeed and had four seconds in hand over Deletraz.
Fourth went the way of PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, with Mikkel Jensen, Ben Keating, Scott Huffaker and Nico Lapierre banking solid points for their full-season charge after losing a handful of positions overnight.
The class tended to stay pretty much as a whole – rather than fragment like DPi – but cars did lose significant chunks of time throughout. G-Drive Racing by APR lost time with both cars, one significantly more so than the other. The #69 ground to a halt around the eight hour to go mark and had to retire, while the #68 finished half-a-dozen laps off the lead as various issues put pay to the crew’s charge.
It was the same story for teams including United Autosports, which finished sixth in class, and Era – which recovered from a crash very early on – to take seventh in what was a great comeback from the team considering the extent of the damage.
Whilst one car finished on the podium, it wasn’t to be a double-glory for PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports as the #11 also hit trouble and was running more than 20 laps down after hitting technical troubles on track just after the 13 hours-to-go mark. With less than 90 minutes to go, the team finally retired the car after hitting more problems.
High Class Racing ran well in the early stages but lingering damage from a crash in the darkness curtailed the Danish team’s charge in a spell when it was looking like a good result could have been on the cards.
Cautions and IMSA’s pass-around rules meant the end result appeared to be a tighter than it was in reality, but really this race was a comfortable result for Riley Motorsports, having pretty much led from the very start in its Ligier.
Felipe Fraga, Gar Robinson, Kay van Berlo and Michael Cooper all stuck to their roles, and proved while all are well-respected drivers in their own rights.
Second was an amazing result for Sean Creech Motorsport, with João Barbosa anchoring a great race for the Prototype Challenge regulars and some well-deserved silverware for the crew which also included Porsche Carrera Cup North America champion Seb Priaulx, Lance Willsey and Malthe Jakobsen putting in rapid stints in the Ligier JS P320.
Their performance was made all the more remarkable when you consider which team finished third – the Core Autosport entry of Jon Bennett, Colin Braun, George Kurtz and Nic Jonsson. Braun and Bennett are both full of experience of IMSA racing, and how to do well, but had no answer to the pace of the duo ahead.
Fourth went to the only car within half-a-dozen laps of the lead, with Andretti Autosport suffering an electrical issue which took the team out of contention for the win – having been a thorn in Riley’s side for quite some time.
The lead GT class went down to an absolutely insane finish between the Pfaff and KCMG Porsche 911 GT3 Rs, as Mathieu Jaminet and Laurens Vanthoor (in the Pfaff and KCMG respectively) bumped their way round the final 90 minutes of the race in a thrilling battle for the win.
Swapping places throughout, it looked Jaminet had the win sealed with four minutes to go, with Vanthoor unable to find a way past. However, Vanthoor muscled his way through on the run into the International Horseshoe and took over the lead. He didn’t get to have much of a spell at the front as Jaminet pushed back ahead in exactly the same place on the final lap, having shadowed his fellow Porsche factory driver all the way round the banking.
That’s when things completely boiled over. Running into the Bus Stop Chicane – newly named the Le Mans Chicane – the pair were side-by-side and neither wanted to give an inch. In their desire to be the first out the other side, they took the first left/ride still locked together. In an incident that will be completely different depending on what side of the fence you’re on, Vanthoor was forced to take to the grass on the inside of the Chicane and was sent spinning.
His spin allowed Jaminet a clear run to the chequered flag, and also allowed Alessandro Pier Guidi to sweep ahead and finish second in the Risi Competizione Ferrari. KCMG took third in the end, benefitting from the fourth-placed VasserSullivan Lexus not quite matching the pace at the front right at the close.
The class could have been a lot different if not for drama overnight. Jules Gounon was putting in some great stints for the WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 crew, but with about a third of the race remaining, the car came into the pitlane smoking heavily and was forced to retire – taking out one well-favoured potential winner, but giving Pfaff and KCMG a two-way rather than three-way scrap to the flag.
With one car retiring, the other Mercedes-AMG being run by Proton USA – which also runs the WeatherTech cars – also fell out of contention for the win with a few small issues. Austin Cindric, Dirk Müller and Patrick Assenheimer finished fifth in class, more than ten laps ahead of both the #3 Corvette Racing C8.R and the #25 BMW M Team RLL M4 GT3 which both had to go behind the wall at various points thanks to mechanical issues for both.
The last of the Proton/WeatherTech cars – the #79 Porsche 911 GT3 R – took eighth.
It wasn’t any better for those two team’s second cars either, with the #24 BMW ninth-in-class and 42nd overall. The #4 Corvette, meanwhile, was even further back having been hampered by even bigger technical issues overnight – finishing 46th and second-to-last of the cars still running.
Multiple champion Andrea Caldarelli also missed out on the chance to pick up another Rolex after his TR3 Racing Lamborghini was forced to retire after earlier mechanical problems slowly got terminally worse throughout the first half of the race.
Compared to the Pro class, the mainly Pro-Am GTD category was a lot calmer of an affair with Wright Motorsport controlling things at the front in its Porsche 911 GT3 R. The final stint was anchored by IMSA veteran Jan Heylen, a man who has the calmest head you’d want to convert a lead to a win.
His only true competitor was the Magnus Racing Aston Martin Racing driven to the flag by Andy Lally – who took over the car in the final stint from Spencer Pumpelly. They couldn’t close in on the lead Porsche, but second in the team’s first race with a new manufacturer is an amazing result.
Gilbert Korthoff Motorsports rounded out the podium in what was a complicated build-up for the team, having replaced Guy Cosmo with James Davison coming out of last week’s Roar Before the 24. The Mercedes squad finished 16 seconds ahead of AF Corse, the last of the teams on the lead lap in GTD.
That’s because the second of the GT3-based classes tended to be more scattered, with fiddly issues putting teams on the back-foot throughout and slimming down that lead pack above.
One of the biggest teams hit by those sort of issues was the Winward Racing Mercedes which, as highlighted in our other reports, was well in with a chance of snagging themselves a Rolex and a well-earned win. Unfortunately, with just under six hours to go Philip Ellis had to go behind the wall so the team could fix a problem. That lost them nine laps compared to the leaders.
Elsewhere a bit further down the super-sized class, TeamTGM finished seventh in its IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship debut after years in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, T3 Motorsports North America took eighth and Heart of Racing finished ninth in a race of what could have been after issues for the team’s GTD Pro entry earlier in the race.
Team Hardpoint rounded out the top ten in its Porsche, after a mega effort from the team to repair a technical issue with the GT3 R which took Rob Ferriol’s squad way down the order. They then capitalised on misfortune for others to bag tenth.
Notable retirees was the CarBahn with Peregrine Racing Lamborghini, which was leading for a time in the hands of 2020 British GT Champion Sandy Mitchell. Like so many others, the Huracán squad had its race curtailed early after a noble quest to try and overcome issues within the car proved to be too big a task.
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