The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona flagged off last January 30th and concluded on the 31st at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. At 2:40pm EST on Saturday, the 54th iteration of this race saw a fitting 54 drivers begin the grueling 24-hour race on the famed NASCAR tri-oval as well as its infield road course.
A 24-Hour race means that all teams would have to race around the clock, each driver aiming to go the farthest distance possible once the checkered flag waves the next day.
Being the first race of the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship, and as any great endurance race should be, the Rolex 24 Hours was not without its fair share of action and drama. The race had a total of 21 cautions, with around half of those being given prior to the 10-hour mark. When the dust cleared, only 43 of the 54 cars finished the day-long race.
The race start on saturday afternoon set the mood for Daytona’s audience. With around the 20-hours remaining, the #0 Panoz Deltawing Racing car in its eye-catching stars and stripes livery suffered critical damage when its driver Andy Meyrick drove into a stationary Prototype Challenge car at Turn 1, spelling an early retirement from the race despite their impressive efforts at the start.
24 hours later, a newcomer to the IMSA Sportscar Championship found himself steering his car to victory. 22-year-old Pipo Derani in the Extreme Speed Motorsports Honda Ligier JS P2 took the lead with an hour and 17 minutes left in the race and pulled away from there, giving Team Tequila Patron ESM the victory.
Derani, along with fellow drivers Scott Sharp, Johannes Van Overbeek, and Ed Brown took the Honda Ligier JS P2 to a total of 736 laps.
While the race has an outright victor, there are several classes and sports car categories that race simultaneously during the endurance race. For the Prototype Challenge class, the JDC-Miller Motorsports #85 ORECA FLM09 driven by Chris Miller, Misha Goikhberg, Stephen Simpson and Kenton Koch was able to secure the win, but not without a major scare along the way. During Koch’s stint at around the 15-hour mark, the car spun on turn 6 on a cold set of tires and impacted a barrier. With a 19 lap lead at the time, the team used up a good 10 laps worth of time making repairs to the vehicle and get it back in racing order.
The GT Daytona (GTD) class on the other hand found a clear cut case of proper fuel strategy deciding its victor. The #28 Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Fabio Babini passed Rene Rast’s #44 Audi Tire Center Magnus Racing R8 LMS GT3 with 9 minutes left on the clock, only to sputter mid-race with three minutes remaining due to lack of fuel. This left Rast and his team to fend off the #540 Black Swan Racing 911 GT3 R driven by Nicky Catsburg while saving on the R8’s fuel. All told, the #44 R8 LMS GT3 managed to cross the line with a 3.048 gap from the closing #540 911 GT3 R.
Perhaps what got the crowd talking most about was the finish of the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class wherein a pair of Corvette GTLM cars (#3 and #4) driven by Antonio Garcia and Oliver Gavin spent the last 15 minutes of the race neck and neck and tussling for the lead, only to be decided by a photo finish at the checkered flag. The pair of C7Rs finished with only a 0.034 second gap between them, with Gavin taking the lead by a whisker from his teammate.
The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona is the first race in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship, with the 12 Hours of Sebring set to be the next race on March 16th to 19th.