Author: Alexander Kofman
When the checkered flag flew on Sunday, it signaled the end to a chaotic but thrilling 57th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Fernando Alonso and his teammates in the #10 vehicle, Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. (Daytona Prototype international) were declared the winners after a historic second red-flag stoppage early in hour 22 due to standing water making the track dangerously un-drivable, particularly in turn 1 and the bus stop chicane.
An anticlimactic end to the race did nothing to dampen the excitement of the first 16 hours of the twice-round-the-clock test of man and machine, or the rain-soaked final hours of green-flag running. Clean, hard racing defined the opening hours, and as night fell over Daytona. Alonso had hustled the #10 team through to the overall lead the car’s sixth-placed grid spot, pursued by the #5 Acura team, the two Mazda’s, and the #6 Acura team. The #6 car spun toward the back of the DPi field in a safety car restart incident. The lead in GTLM (GT Le Mans) class changed rapidly between the #911 Porsche team, #4 Corvette squad, and #62 Ferrari crew. The #24 BMW team was removed from contention early on by steering column issues respectively.
The fan favorite pole-winning #77 Mazda crew was retired after an engine failure, and the #55 team car was delayed by a fuel leak described as a “minor explosion,” a disaster for a revived Mazda team with real hopes of victory. The race settled into a rhythm after about ⅓ distance, punctuated by a safety car at half-distance to recover previously class-leading, #3 Corvette, dropping it out of contention. The remaining Mazda, the #55 car, crashed in the infield section, going behind the wall and officially retiring an hour later.
The onset of rain in hour 14 dramatically changed the face of the race. As the field pitted for wet tires, the #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac team jumped the #10 car and the two Acura’s to take the lead. The sun rose over Daytona to find a red flag, following a lengthy safety car caused by the #4 Corvette spinning out of contention into the mud. A two-hour stoppage gave way to less than one lap of green-flag running as three GTD (GT Daytona) cars crashed into each other after the restart due to abysmal visibility on track.
The four DPi (Daytona Prototype international) contenders became three as the #6 Acura lost 17 laps with an oil pump failure. Penske Acura #7 driver Ricky Taylor was forced to make an unscheduled stop under yellow and driver change due to illness, and though additional down force was added to the car, it became clear with four hours to go that the fight was down to the two Cadillac’s: the Wayne Taylor Racing-run #10, piloted by Jordan Taylor and later Fernando Alonso and shared with Kamui Kobayashi and Renger Van Der Zande, and the Action Express Racing #31, crewed by ex-F1 driver Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran, and former Nissan ace Pipo Derani. With Nasr at the wheel of the AXR car and Alonso piloting the #10, the longtime rival Cadillac teams diced for the lead over the course of several restarts, but mistakes by Nasr allowed the Alonso through into the lead in the last five minutes of green-flag running.
The GT Le Mans class race had remained hard-fought, but the #62 Ferrari team took the lead after the #911 Porsche team rear-ended the leading #66 Ford crew, sending both cars to the pits for repairs. The #25 BMW team made a surprise pass for the lead just before the red flags were shown for the second time, sealing their class win.
The #18 Dragon Speed Oreca-Gibson team took LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype 2) class honors in a race where all four class entrants hit trouble at different points in the race, ultimately winning by four laps despite causing the final safety car that gave way to the red flag by crashing on the circuit.
In GT Daytona, the #11 Grasser Racing Lamborghini team emerged victorious from the chaos, followed by the #29 Land Motorsport Audi team. The longtime class leader, the Scuderia Corsa #63 Ferrari crew, crashed out half an hour before the stoppage after encountering a stopped car on track that was invisible in the spray.
The next International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) round is another classic, the 12 Hours of Sebring. It will be joined by the FIA World Endurance Championship for two back-to-back long-distance races, taking place on March 15 and 16. Many of the stars from the Daytona 24 will also congregate next weekend at the challenging Mount Panorama circuit for the Bathurst 12 Hours, Australia’s premier endurance race.