Thrilling end to Rolex 24 At Daytona

With four hours to go, Cadillac continue to dominate.

The 21st hour began with the continuation of the battle between the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac and the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac, meanwhile, in GTLM, the six leading cars were all within a matter of seconds. The beginning of the hour saw the #55 Mazda DPi pull in to the pit lane with an oil fire at the rear of the car. Spencer Pigot escaped the car unharmed but the car remained in the pits, dropping out of the top five. Another yellow flag for a PC incident brought out by the #8 Starworks car Motorsports car spinning into the inside of turn one. This brought the pack closer together once again. The gap between the top three in P closed down to five seconds as the race restarted. The battle in GTLM was beginning to hot up between the #62 Ferrari and the #69 Ford GT. The #912 Porsche dropped out of contention due to a drive through penalty and fell two laps down. The #33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes cycled back in to the lead of GTD under pressure from the Michael Shank Acura cars. Sam Bird took the lead in the #63 Ferrari towards the end of the hour. A third caution of the hour was called after the #81 DragonSpeed car hit the barrier, smashing its rear wing.

With two hours left, Cadillac still held a comfortable lead, the VISIT FLORIDA Racing #90 was the best of the rest, running third. The two Cadillac’s were fighting hard between themselves, swapping positions. Filipe Albuquerque took the lead from Christian Fittipaldi and pulled out a 20 second advantage. Despite the clear pace advantage of the Cadillacs, VISIT FLORIDA Racing were still on the lead lap. Just one lap back, the #2 Tequila Patron ESM sat fourth with the #13 Rebellion Racing running fifth in class, eight laps down. Ben Hanley began the hour having just lost control of the DragonSpeed Oreca into the Bus Stop. The car limped back to the pits for repairs, body work littering the track. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports car dominated the PC class, 24 laps clear of the second place #26 car.  The lead six cars continued to battle in GTLM, the #66 Ford leading the way from the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari second ahead of the #68 and #69 Fords. The #3 Corvette and #911 Porsche completed the six car train that was running almost nose to tail.

Heartbreak hit in GTD, Sam Bird pulled off the circuit with smoke streaming from the back of the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari at the end of the hour. The #63 Corsa pulled over with the rear wheels locked on the inside of turn six. It would appear the engine had blown and seized. This handed the lead to the #29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi.

The #90 VISIT FLORIDA car inherited the lead as the next pitstop cycle begun, the #10 Cadillac fell in to third with a slow stop. Felipe Albuquerque took the advantage in the #5 and set about building his advantage as the trio sliced through the traffic. Starworks Motorsport officially retired their cars from the race.

Meanwhile, in GTLM, Corvette took the lead through the pit stops, holding on to the lead before eventually losing out to the #66 Ford and the #62 Ferrari towards the end of the hour. GTD was still a five way fight as the race reached the end of the 23rd hour. The #33 Riley began the hour on top, under pressure from the #29 and #28 cars, both of whom passed at the end of the hour. The #28 Alegra Motorsports car was on a charge as the race entered the final hour, passing three cars in as many laps. Michael Christensen put his car into second behind Connor De Phillippi. The hour ended under caution as the bonnet was ripped off the #93 Michael Shank Racing car.

At the end of a fantastic, Rolex 24 At Daytona, it was the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac that took the win after a controversial move to pass the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac. The aggressive move down the inside into turn one with just five minutes remaining assured victory for the #10 which made contact and spun the #5 off the circuit. Albuquerque got the car restarted and set off after the #10. The move was investigated by the stewards and deemed legal. As a result, Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor, Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon took the win by a margin of just 0.671 seconds. Albuquerque, Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi took second place with the #90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley coming home an unexpected third. Marc Goossens, Renger van der Zande and Rene Rest bringing the car home one lap down. The trio put in a fantastic performance but were just unable to match the pace of the Cadillacs.

The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports car came home first, twenty two laps ahead of the #26 car. The #20 BAR1 Motorsports car completed the podium, the other two cars in class, both run by Starworks were retired.

The final half hour of the race, went down to the wire in GTLM with three different cars leading the class. But eventually, it was the #66 Ford GT with Dirk Mueller at the wheel coming out on top. Mueller fought his was passed the #62 Ferrari of James Calado through the first couple of corners with just 30 minutes to run, the pair traded paint as they fought their way through the infield. The close fought battle allowed the #911 to sneak through a gap and into second place, demoting the Ferrari into third. Ferrari fought back though, Ginacarlo Fisichella crossed the line just a matter of tenths off the Porsche. After 24 hours, the top seven in GTLM, were split by just 7.5 seconds. The # Corvette took fourth ahead of the #69 Ford, #912 Porsche and #68 Ford.

Going into the final hour in GTD, it was a five way battle for the win; ultimately, it was the #28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche which took the win by just 0.293 seconds over the #29 Audi. The #33 Riley Motorsports Team AMG Mercedes crossed the line 5.5 seconds off the lead with the #57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi and the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura rounding out the top five, all of which, were separated by just 10 seconds.

Jeff Gordon became the fourth driver in history to win both the Daytona 500 and the Rolex 24 after the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac took first place.

"This is very surreal to me, this whole experience and moment, to have this on my resume," said Gordon. "It's a very elite group that's won the Daytona 500 and the Rolex 24 together. That’s something I'm very, very proud of. But I think more than anything is this experience for me of – not to take anything away from 2007 [where he finished third] with Max and Jan [Magnussen] and Wayne [Taylor] – what amazing race car drivers both Ricky and Jordan are and how difficult this race is.

You know, this experience to me was about building this bond and this friendship that I didn't expect to happen because of the way they welcomed me in, and we had a lot of fun along the way, they answered all my questions because I had a lot of them, and they helped me adapt, and that’s what helped us as a group, I think, to go out there and win.

And then I was able to learn just how talented they are. I mean, I was so impressed while watching all night. I was glued to the TV every second, every lap. I couldn’t sleep because I wanted to watch these guys do what they did in the rain, in the cold, in the most treacherous conditions, and they did it at a level, that I'll be honest, I'm not capable of doing, and I was so impressed. Then you go to the last stint of a 24 hour race and you see it come down to that, and it was a thrill of a lifetime, and I’m just so honoured to be sitting here and be a part of this experience."

Gordon’s team mate, Max Angelleli will take retirement now that the race is done.

"I'm very happy. Happy for what I did and what I’ve achieved with the boys and Jeff today, to finish my career with a win, a big win like this one in the Rolex 24, it's great. You know, I'm thankful to the Taylors, the family." said Angelleli.

The biggest talking point of the final moments, has to be the coming together between Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque.

"The way I saw it, we came through GT traffic and I was closer than I had been" said Taylor. "He’d been struggling in turn one. Their car didn’t look very good there, and we were really strong on the brakes. I had thought about doing this for years and years, and this has always been something – people always open up after that little kink in turn one – they open their hands a little bit, and it’s just so easy to release the brake there and pop in there.

If you get enough alongside, you can make it work, and I think he saw me coming, he saw me committing, and he closed the door. If he knew I was committing, why would you close the door and make us crash?"

Understandably, Albuquerque saw things rather differently.

"It was a good fight until I got hit, to be honest,” said Albuquerque. “There is not much to say. I had some GTs ahead of me so I could not brake so late.

I closed the door and then I got spun. The officials took the decision, it is what it is, and we finished second. In Tour de France, when one guy falls, the other guys wait for him. This is a big race, and we dive in and brake late. It happens. We could see Wayne Taylor, the dad, with his hands on his head.

If he’s a true racer who did a mistake, just back off. Wait, don’t leave. And he left! A true racer, in my opinion, in the end, deep inside, I’d feel a little bit ashamed of the win."