Rolex 24 Race Report

Winning Porsche Penske 963. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Winning Porsche Penske 963. [Photo by Jack Webster]

By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

The Captain won the 24 Hours of Daytona for the second time. Roger Penske’s first time was in 1969 with a Lola Mk 3B Chevrolet with drivers Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons. This time, the Roger Penske led Porsche Penske Team triumphed in the Rolex 24, with their Porsche 963, piloted by Dane Cameron, Filipe Nasr, Matt Campbell and Josef Newgarden besting all others in taking a 2.1 second victory. Second place overall went to the Whelen Engineering Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series R, while the final podium spot went to the #40 WTR/Andretti Acura.

Actually, it wasn’t quite a 24-hour contest, as confusion reigned at the finish, with the checkered flag being shown some one minute and 36+ seconds early. It is likely that the error did not affect the final outcome, as the Porsche seemed to have everything well in hand, but in racing you never know until it is over. IMSA admitted the error right away, and the rule book states quite clearly that when something like that happens, even if the flag was thrown in error, the results stand and are official. Regardless, no one from the Cadillac team was complaining as they were quite sure that they couldn’t have caught the Porsche in another minute and a half.

Filipe Nasr: “The race really came down to the wire at the very final stop. It was pretty much all about the fuel numbers…I just have to say that was a great call from the team, from Porsche Penske Motorsports, just to give me the opportunity to be in the lead again in that final part of the race, and then it was down to me to hit the numbers and keep the 31 behind.”

In a welcome change from past Rolex events that we have covered, the weather was perfect both all week and for the race itself. 60’s at night and high 70’s to low 80’s during the day under sunny to partly cloudy skies made for a comfortable race for crews, drivers and spectators.

Speaking of spectators, in all of our years of going to this event we have never, and we repeat, NEVER seen such a large crowd at the Rolex 24. It seemed even larger that the crowds back in the heyday of GTP racing back in the 1980’s. IMSA certainly seems to have tapped into what the public wants with the new GTP class. Not only GTP, but LMP2, GTD-Pro and GTD featured outstanding cars and drivers. There were IMSA regulars, WEC drivers, former F1 stars and current IndyCar pilots sprinkled among the starting grid of 59 cars.

Pipo Derani (always quick), put the Whelen Cadillac on Pole at the Roar before the 24 the weekend prior to the race and as usual the Cadillac was strong throughout the entire race, only losing to the Porsche Penske after the final pit stop. Fastest lap of the race was set by new Whelen Cadillac driver Tom Blomqvist, who fit in quite nicely with the Cadillac team after winning the Rolex 24 last year in the MSR Acura. Five of the GTP entries finished on the lead lap, a testament to the quality of the GTP field.

In LMP2, it was Era Motorsport taking the win in their ORECA LMP207 with Christian Rasmussen, Dwight Merriman, Ryan Dalziel and Connor Zilisch sharing the driving duties. Again, the LMP2 class was top notch, with five of those entries finishing on the same lap.

In the GTD-Pro ranks, which featured the debut of the Corvette Z06 GT3.R (four of them) and the highly anticipated Ford Mustang GT3 (three of those), it was Ferrari on top, with the popular Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3, piloted by Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Daniel Serra and Davide Rigon taking the class win, with a one lap margin over AO Racing’s pole sitting Porsche 991 GT3 R in its popular “Rexy” dinosaur color scheme.

Risi driver Alessandro Pier Guidi: “Well, it’s amazing. First of all, I think we deserved this victory. We were also trying a lot of times to achieve this victory. We finished twice second, and it’s a long time partnership between Risi and Ferrari….we’ve been close many times, but never able to achieve this victory. Finally we get it. If you see in the footage after the checkered flag and the picture is amazing. Everyone was crying, happy, and I went and I gave a big hug to Giuseppe, because all the passion he put in here in this effort, he really deserves this.”

Finally, in GTD, Mercedes came out on top, with Winward Racing’s Daniel Morad, Russell Ward, Philip Ellis and Indy Dontje sharing driving duties, besting the AF Corse Ferrari, which finished on the same lap as the Mercedes.

In the land of make believe, the new Brad Pitt racing movie was filming all week at Daytona with a real Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, which ran in the race, and a duplicate “movie” version which ran with film crews several times during the week, both in daylight and in the night. There was even a “staged” victory lane celebration right after the real race winners’ overall podium was concluded, which featured three actors celebrating. We were there, right in the front row of journalists. Unlike real life, there were three takes. Who knows, we might end up in the finished movie – or more likely on the cutting room floor!

We even spotted Brad Pitt, who worked undercover as the fire extinguisher man on a real race pit stop for the Wright Motorsports team. Don’t think anyone else noticed him.

All in all, a Rolex 24 for the ages, the history books and the movie theatres.

See you all at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in March.

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