IMSA: Daytona 24 proves a thrilling start of the season


It was a thrilling end to the Rolex Daytona 24 Hours but history was made in Prototype and a race to the end in GTE

Words by IMSA PR

The SMP BR01 Nissan took the green flag at the start of the Daytona 24 (photo: Rolex)
The SMP BR01 Nissan took the green flag at the start of the Daytona 24 (photo: Rolex)


Driving like a seasoned veteran, 22-year-old Pipo Derani took the lead with one-hour, 17-minutes remaining and pulled away down the stretch to lead Tequila Patrón ESM to victory in the 54th Rolex 24 At Daytona, capping off a sensational race in the opening round of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.

Derani was joined by Johannes van Overbeek and car owners Ed Brown and Scott Sharp in the No. 2 Honda Ligier JS P2. It was the first overall triumph for both Honda and Ligier in the event, and the second overall victory for Sharp, who teamed with rival car owner Wayne Taylor in 1996.

“The last two hours and a half was pretty tough, pretty intense, with the Taylor brothers pushing us really hard trying to victory,” Derani said. “I was trying to not make any mistakes and keep the gap. To increase the gap up to the end was amazing.  I need to thank my team for the amazing car they gave me.”

The winning car completed 736 laps on the 3.56-mile circuit, 2,620.16 miles, with the competitive race featuring 76 lead changes.

“When you have a supporter like Tequila Patrón and Ed, you want to deliver wins like this,” Sharp said. “2015 was a bit of a rough year for us.  We made a lot of changes as November rolled around, and to see all that culminate together and to come out of the box and win a big race like this is just huge for us.”

The Extreme Speed Ligier was the first LMP2 based car to win at Daytona (photo: Rolex)
The Extreme Speed Ligier was the first LMP2 based car to win at Daytona (photo: Rolex)

Max Angelelli finished second, 26.166 seconds behind in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP co-driven by brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor plus Formula One veteran Rubens Barrichello, a late roster addition. Wayne Taylor Racing – owned by the 1996 and 2005 Rolex 24 winner – finished second for the third time in the last four years.

Visit Florida Racing took the remaining podium position with a lead-lap finish for Ryan Dalziel, Marc Goossens and Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 90 Corvette DP, 1:27.276 seconds behind at the checkered flag.

Scott Pruett came up short in a bid for an unprecedented sixth overall victory in the event, finishing fourth in the defending Prototype champion No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP co-driven by Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Felipe Albuquerque. The team ran in contention until a broken axle sent the Action Express Racing team to the garage for repairs with less than four hours remaining.

The defending winning No. 02 Ford Chip Ganassi EcoBoost Riley of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson ran in contention for the first half of the event before falling back with brake problems. Its chances ended shortly after the 21-hour mark when Larson crashed in the International Horseshoe, resulting in major front-end damage, although the team managed to repair the car to finish seventh in the Prototype class.

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The LMPC crown was taken by the Miller team (photo: Rolex)
The LMPC crown was taken by the Miller team (photo: Rolex)


DC-Miller Motorsports scored a breakthrough for its first Prototype Challenge (PC) victory, dominating the class in the No. 85 Hi-Tide Boat Lifts/Red Line Oil ORECA FLM09 shared by Chris Miller, Misha Goikhberg, Stephen Simpson and Kenton Koch.

The Prototype Challenge (PC)-leading 85 Miller Motorsports team survived a scare at the 15-hour-mark when Kenton Koch spun the spun in Turn 6 on cold tires and impacted a barrier while leading the class by 19 laps. The team lost 10 laps making repairs.

“Cold tires and a tired head,” Koch said of the incident. “It was a mistake and I felt terrible about it. I’ve never driven so slow in my life to make it the finish line. We were pretty far ahead, so we played it safe and made it to the end.”

Tom Kimber-Smith, the 2015 Rolex 24 PC winner, finished second with a new set of co-drivers in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA FLM09: Robert Alon, Jose Gutierrez and Nicholas Boulle. Brendan Gaughan, Johnny Mowlem, Tomy Drissi, Marc Drumwright and Ricardo Vera took third in the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports entry.

Mark Wilkins worked the defending two-time PC class champion No. 54 CORE autosport Flex-Box/Composite Resources ORECA FLM09 into the class lead before the car suddenly slowed at 8 p.m. with terminal engine problems. Wilkins joined Jon Bennett and Colin Braun in winning the class in 2014, only to lose last year’s race with a spin in the chicane caused by suspension damage with less than 20 minutes remaining in the event.

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The Corvettes fought to the finish of the Rolex Daytona 24 (Photo: Roles)
The Corvettes fought to the finish of the Rolex Daytona 24 (Photo: Roles)


For Corvette Racing, the question entering the 54th Rolex 24 At Daytona was simple: How do you top 2015?

Last year, the team’s pair of Corvette C7.Rs won the Rolex 24, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class and then the team won the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The answer was delivered Sunday in an epic 1-2 finish, with the 2015 Le Mans-winning No. 4 Corvette C7.R of Oliver Gavin edging the 2015 Daytona and Sebring-winning No. 3 Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia to the line by 0.034 seconds, the closest class finish in the history of the Rolex 24.

“What you saw today was simply the two best road racers in the world with the two best cars in the world,” said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager. “You’d be hard pressed to find a better race than this. You don’t spend 23.5 hours working this hard and not let those guys continue to race.”

Fehan assured Garcia once he moved into second that there would be no team orders. After that, the battle for the win was on in the season-opening IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race. Once he shed the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR of Earl Bamber to take second, Garcia set his sights on Gavin and the two ran nose-to-tail over the final 20 minutes. With three minutes remaining, Garcia briefly passed Gavin entering Turn 1, but ran wide, allowing Gavin to retake the position.

Garcia got a run coming out of the bus stop on the final lap, but came up just short in a drag race to the stripe giving the win to Gavin and co-drivers Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler. Garcia and co-drivers Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller finished second, while Bamber rounded out the podium in the No. 912 Porsche North America entry along with Michael Christensen and Frederic Makowiecki.

“All I could think about was my boss, Doug Fehan and what he would say if we did touch,” said Gavin. “Then on the last lap I was thinking I had just enough on him, but then he towed up behind me.  It was like the line was just going away from me.  I couldn’t get to the line fast enough.  I’ve just seen a picture of it, actually, and it was pretty close.”

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The GTD Class was eventually won by the Magnus Racing Porsche after others took themselves out of the Rolex 24 (Photo: Rolex)
The GTD Class was eventually won by the Magnus Racing Porsche after others took themselves out of the Rolex 24 (Photo: Rolex)


The GT Daytona (GTD) finish was equally thrilling with fuel strategy playing an integral role in the finish. The No. 28 Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Fabio Babini passed Rene Rast’s No. 44 Audi Tire Center Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 with nine minutes remaining, but ran out of fuel with only three minutes remaining in the 24-hour race.

Rast was able to conserve enough fuel to finish 3.048 seconds ahead of Nicky Catsburg’s No. 540 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R to win, joined by co-drivers Andy Lally, John Potter and Marco Seefried. Catsburg meanwhile was joined by Patrick Long, Timothy Pappas and Andy Pilgrim in the runner-up finish.

Rounding out the podium was the No. 93 Dodge Viper GT3-R of Ben Keating, Jeff Mosing, Damien Faulkner, Gar Robinson and Eric Foss, 5.059 seconds back.

“I think it was one of my hardest stints ever in my life,” said Rast of his final race-winning stint. “The radio was constantly in my ear telling me how many turns I had left, go faster, but save more fuel.  It’s so hard to go slower than to go fast, and I had to adapt myself every single lap.

“I saw the Porsche coming and they told me to let the Lamborghini pass, and I said ‘That’s not the way how we’re going to win.’ It was a big, big team effort. They always knew what they were doing, and I really appreciate the work.”

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