“Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or income on some items through the links below.”
Pole winner Tom Blomqvist, who led the first two hours in his Acura ARX-06, was untouchable in the final two hours for Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian.
Wayne Taylor Racing’s Acura ARX-06 with Andretti Autosport driven by Felipe Albuquerque, Ricky Taylor, Louis Deletraz and Brandon Hartley. Albuquerque trailed second place by 4.191 seconds.
Heart of Racing’s Aston Martin Vantage finished ahead of all Pro cars and on top of the 33-car GT3-spec cars.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona that marked the start of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season and launched the new GTP era of hybrid prototypes ended as it began. Pole winner Tom Blomqvist, who led the first two hours in his Acura ARX-06, was untouchable in the last two hours.
“I was convinced that we had the lead over the Cadillacs,” said Blomqvist, “I knew[the Cadillac drivers]were nervous, because they had the second-fastest cars on the track.”
Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian won the second consecutive Rolex 24, where the aggressive pace of Blomqvist’s new co-driver in the WeatherTech Championship, Colin Braun, helped the team turn it into a race for second place.
Neither the cautions that overwhelmed the field – there were 14 – nor the restart enabled the Cadillacs to answer the near-clear run of the winning Acura, where Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who won a third Rolex in a row, were the co-drivers were from the endurance race. Aside from Castroneves’ turn 1 spin, those punctures and pit road stops to add gear oil and flush the engine oil system, the Acura ran without a hitch.
“Our car had a gearbox problem all night,” said ever-aggressive team owner Michael Shank. “We just decided to run it until it exploded.” The leaking seals managed to make it to the finish.
The race for second place was won by Wayne Taylor Racing’s Acura with Andretti Autosport driven by Felipe Albuquerque, Ricky Taylor, Louis Deletraz and Brandon Hartley. Albuquerque trailed the checkers by 4.191 seconds, despite four cautions and restarts winning over the last two hours.
The Taylor team retook the first lap with two hours to go after an overnight drive to the garage to try and repair an oil filler pipe that made it difficult to flush the oil system during the race. Both Acura teams had to flush the oil system due to the new biofuel required by IMSA this year, which ends up in the internal combustion engine’s oil system and is hard on the bearings.
The No. 01 and No. 02 Cadillacs ran the race smoothly, but lacked the pace to match the fleet of Acuras. The Action Express Cadillac spent 25 minutes in the garage replacing the rear suspension after a collision with a GTD car.
Both entries from Penske Porsche Motorsports (battery pack and gearbox) and one of the RLL Racing BMWs (battery pack) were long in the garage. BMW’s No. 24, the last manufacturer to begin development of its new GTPs, lacked the pace in traffic and finished five laps down, including a short trip to the garage to replace brake pads. Sister BMW was the only one of the nine GTP starters not to finish.
The Porsche also battled for the lead with Cadillac throughout the race before technical issues intervened. “The Acura was a touch faster,” said Urs Kuratle, manager of Porsche’s GTP program. “It could have been an interesting finish.”
The thrill of racing at the black and white checkered flag was left to LMP2 drivers James Allen and Ben Hanley. Allen’s Proton Competition ORECA followed leader Hanley on the final trip through Turn 1 and came into the bench in Turn 6 for second. But after the final run through the Le Mans Chicane, Allen came alongside and won by inches at the start/finish.
Allen said he was held up by the second-placed AF Corse entry in the final hour before setting his sights on Hanley. “I could see on the penultimate lap that I was making a good run to the start/finish,” he said. Allen chose to save his move for the final round. “I came off the bus stop and asked myself, ‘Did I do that well enough?’ I’ve never had anything like it (finish) and I’m not sure I’ll ever have anything like it again.”
Tension began for the Proton team after a major crash during practice on Thursday that forced it to rebuild the car, which involved changing all four suspension angles and fitting new bodywork. The top four in LMP2s finished within 13 seconds of each other on the same lap, including TDS Racing and AF Corse.
After an almost flawless run, AWA’s LMP3 winning crew finished 12 laps ahead of Sean Creech Motorsport’s pole-winning car. The winning team made one unscheduled stop to replace a rear wing endplate and had a vibrating tire that required an extra stop. Pre-race favorite Riley Motorsports was the first class retirement with a blown engine.
The GTD Pro entries may have all finished behind the winning GTD Aston Martin of Heart of Racing, but the battle between the Mercedes-AMG GT3, Corvette Racing and the Lexus RC F GT3 of Vasser Sullivan of WeatherTech Racing was furious. Several dogfights between the three developed as the yellow flag fest led to four restarts in the last two hours, but it was the Mercedes and its overall balance through the infield and on the bench that took victory in the hands of class pole- winner Maro Engel.
“It’s crazy,” said Engel. “It’s not what you want to see when you’re out front. You pray for no yellow colors.’
The new Ferrari 296 GT3s, the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2 and the Porsche 911 GT3 R all suffered from insufficient direct speed due to the air restrictors assigned to the exemplary new examples of aluminum and carbon fiber technology. IMSA’s Balance of Performance choices clearly expect these cars to get faster as the season progresses thanks to better weight distribution and a wider performance window.
“If you pass (the Mercedes-AMG) and they come right back by, yes, it’s frustrating,” said Romain Grosjean, who was riding the Iron Lynx Huracan. It finished fourth in GTD Pro and 10e overall just ahead of the defending champion Pfaff Motorsports Pro class Porsche. Ferrari’s Pro entry, Risi Competizione, retired after a collision with a GTD car broke the floor of his 296 GT3.
The theme of qualifying in GTD was carried over into the race, except it was Heart of Racing’s Aston Martin Vantage finishing ahead of all the Pro cars and on top of the 33-car GT3 spec cars instead of the three Mercedes-AMG entries that took over the top three Pros in time trials.
The quartet of riders, including last year’s class champion Romain de Angelis, ran smoothly from start to finish. Platinum driver Marco Sorensen drove the final stint holding the HoR Aston Martin for a combined 33-car GTD entry. He had behind him the heated three-car battle between the Pro cars, which gave him a buffer against the Magnus Racing Aston Martin, who finished second in class. “We had the Pro cars behind the finish line,” said Sorensen. “I knew I just had to stay ahead of them to get the win.”
Niki Thiim managed to get within one position of Sorensen in his Magnus Vantage, passing the Corvette C8.R and the Lexus RC F GT3 in the battle for the Pro win. But he came up short and finished behind the Mercedes-AMG of Pro winner Engel.
“I think it’s icing on the cake,” said team principal Ian James when asked if he should finish for all GTD Pro entries. “It’s not the most important thing.”