Last weekend marked the 55th edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona and kick-started the 2017 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The race was filled with drama from the first hour and heavy rainfall putting the grid under a 2-hour long full course yellow in the early hours of the morning. With the full course yellows making 21 appearances over the 24 hours of racing it was evidently an action-packed race. 14 of the 55 entrants in the race failed to take the chequered flag, with the last retiree dropping out of the race with just half an hour left on the clock.
From the beginning of the race weekend, it was clear that the Cadillac DPis were the dominant car on the field, taking fastest lap in all of the practice sessions and qualifying. The case did not change during the race. Although the VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley/Multimatic did hold the lead of the race for around 30 laps during the 24 hours, it was primarily a fight between the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac and the Action Express Cadillacs for the overall win.
There were a few challenges from other chassis in the Prototype class for the overall win but none of these came to light. The #22 Tequila Petron Nissan Onroak DPi looked to be in with a chance of challenging for the overall win during the night period of the race. However, heavy rainfall was making it very difficult for the drivers to get the tyres up to optimum racing temperature for a few laps after they had been in the pits. This caused great issues for the #22 as, with Brendon Hartley at the wheel, the New Zealand driver lost control of the car coming onto the banked corner and made contact with a GT car, damaging the steering on the Nissan. This incident took the #22 completely out of contention for the race, ending 17th overall and seventh in class.
It was not just issues for the #22 during the race. The second Action Express car – number #31 – had a start-up issue from the beginning of the race. This was losing the car time during pit stops as the team had to take it behind the wall to bump start it in the garage. Seb Morris got into the car for the first time, having won his seat in the Sunoco Challenge, and put on an amazing display. He managed to get the #31 up to first overall and get a pit stop advantage on second place in his first stint.
But that was where the good fortune of the #31 disappeared. All of Morris’ hard work was undone as the car failed to start up again in the pitlane. Rather than a simple start-up behind the wall, the car disappeared for around half an hour for more extensive repairs. It fell down the order and out of contention for the win. There were issues on the #5 Action Express Cadillac, but nothing as extensive as those issue to behold the #31. After 24 hours of racing, the final half an hour saw intense wheel-to-wheel racing for the overall lead of the race, with under a second splitting the leading pair.
Using the pitstops, #5 Action Express had managed to get ahead and be leading going into the last few laps. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing car was forced into a ‘do or die’ move as the end of the race got closer. As he tried to go up the inside into the first corner, leading to the infield section, the #10 made contact with the #5, spinning the Action Express car off into the off-field. Both cars managed to get through the accident unscathed, but it was a shock when the #10 was not handed an “advantage by contact” penalty. #10 Wayne Taylor Racing went on to take the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona overall win, with the #5 crew having to settle for second. Filipe Albuquerque, who was piloting the #5 at the end of the race, was furious about the result, claiming that in-race incidents happen but the Wayne Taylor Racing car should have waited for him to keep their race going wheel-to-wheel to the chequered flag and make the win of the race fair.
The Prototype Challenge class saw the #38 Performance Tech Motorsport car as the only one not to succumb to a big issue during the 24 hours. They won the Prototype Challenge class with the two Starworks Motorsport cars retiring in the last few hours. The #8 and #88 Starworks cars had suffered a lot of damage, with them both being involved in heavy impacts that saw them in the garages for repairs for a long time. The #88 was hit by the #31 in a similar accident that fell upon Hartley in the #22 Tequila Petron car, whilst an off-track moment from the #8 Starworks Prototype Challenge car saw it spear into the side of the #73 GT Porsche, crashing it into the tyre barrier and taking the Porsche out of the race. The Porsche had been leading the GT Daytona class at the time. The #8 Starworks car was handed a ten-minute stop/go penalty for the incident after it had been in the pits for about four hours for repairs.
Incidents during the race saw the two BAR1 Motorsports finishing 22 laps behind the leader of the class. The #20 and #26 cars appeared to have lost some performance from qualifying, losing their advantage over the #38 Performance Tech Motorsport car. The #38 managed to take the win in class from pole in class and barely had any challenge for the lead during the race.
After locking out the top three in qualifying, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing had a much harder time during the race. Although they still held an advantage over the GT Le Mans field there was a much stronger challenge from behind through the 24 hours. In the end, four GT Le Mans cars were in contention for the win, with the cars all running wheel-to-wheel during the final handful of laps. What made the end of the race even more exciting was four different manufacturers in the top four at the end of the race, showing that Ford’s advantage from qualifying had been overcome during the 24-hour race.
The #62 Risi Competizione looked to be the biggest threat for class-leader #66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing as they sat second on track behind the American team. The #62 had been the biggest competition to the Fords throughout the race and managed to keep coming back to second, sometimes first, after the pitstop cycles. However, the Porsche #911 was sitting third at the end of the race and looking for any opportunity to progress further up the field. The Corvette #3 was sitting fourth, also looking for a chance to get higher up the field but it didn’t quite have the pace of the leading three.
Taking the opportunity when the #62 tried to make a move up the inside of #66 and went wide the #911 Porsche managed to steal second from the Ferrari 488 GTE and begin chasing down the Ford for first in class. The #62 had no chance to fight back as it fell into range of the #3 Corvette behind it, leaving it vulnerable to losing a podium altogether. As much as they tried the pace of the Porsche and Corvette were no match to those ahead in the Ford and the Ferrari, seeing the #66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing take the overall class win and the #911 Porsche and the #62 Ferrari finishing off the class podium.
Of all the classes to be competing, the GT Daytona class had the closest racing of them all. During the 24-hour race there was consistently a different leader, with the top eight cars in class usually all being from different manufacturers. The class was too close to call before the race had started, and even with just 30-minutes left who was going to win was unpredictable.
The unpredictable nature of the class was underlined when just half an hour of the race remained the leading #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 suddenly stopped on track. Sam Bird had been fighting back through the field, showing the superior pace of the Ferrari, and had just re-taken the lead when his car, with no warning, stopped out on track dropping him completely out of contention. There was not enough time left in the race to try and repair the car so last year’s GT Daytona Champion-winning car failed to finish the race.
The #73 Porsche had been showing great pace during the first section of the race, leading the class and having Matthew McMurry perform impressively during his stints. It was unfortunate that the car was taken out of the race by the #8 Starworks Prototype Challenge car as it had been showing fantastic pace and could have been a contender for the class win had it have made it to the end of the race.
The class was won in the end by the #28 Alegra Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R, with the #29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS second and the #33 Riley Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 rounding off the podium positions. It was a perfect reflection of the closely pegged GT3 cars in this class that the podium housed three different manufacturers. Six different manufactures were present in the top ten at the chequered flag, just as there had been on average through the 24-hours of racing.