Wet weather dominates Daytona 24 as Cadillac and WTR take popular win


Wayne Taylor Racing take out honours after late race pass

Heavy rains that began in the early morning hours on Sunday and continued throughout the day made the 57th Rolex 24 At Daytona a battle for survival, and the team that wound up to be the fittest was the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R squad of Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande, Kamui Kobayashi and Fernando Alonso.

With two hours and seven minutes remaining in the race, Alonso took the lead when 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype champion Felipe Nasr spun off course in Turn 1 in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R. Ten minutes later, and with rains intensifying, the race was red flagged for the second time due to track conditions. It was the first Rolex 24 in history to have two red flags.

It was not restarted, giving the No. 10 Cadillac fielded by Wayne Taylor Racing its second Rolex 24 At Daytona victory in three years. Cadillac won its third consecutive Rolex 24 since launching its DPi program at the start of the 2017 WeatherTech Championship season. 

Jordan Taylor was the lone member of the driving lineup in both victories and now is a two-time overall Rolex 24 winner. His 2017 victory came alongside his brother, Ricky, as well as four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon and longtime Wayne Taylor Racing driver Max Angelelli. 

That victory helped to propel the Taylor brothers to five consecutive WeatherTech Championship victories and the 2017 Prototype title. Wayne Taylor Racing also won the Rolex 24 in 2005.

“I think it was an interesting race with the conditions changing, very tough, but I think, like everyone else says, everyone did their job,” said Jordan Taylor. “All four drivers led in their own right and drove to the lead, different parts of the race, and it was all about survival. You saw a lot of guys taking a lot of risk early in the race, but we waited with the game plan of running our own race and not getting caught up in anyone else’s battles. 

“I think it was the right game plan. We stayed out of trouble, no car damage, no one went off the track. That’s the way you win these 24‑hour races, and we kind of came into the grid thinking almost every single car can win the race, and you see guys making little mistakes here and there, and this team has now done six out of seven years finishing on the podium without issues. I think it’s a huge testament to Wayne Taylor Racing.”

Alonso, the two-time Formula 1 World Champion, took his first victory in his second Rolex 24 appearance. He became the third Formula 1 World Champion to win the Rolex 24, joining Phil Hill and Mario Andretti. Hill was the 1961 Formula 1 champion and 1964 Rolex 24 champion. Andretti was the 1978 Formula 1 champion and the 1972 Rolex 24 champion. Alonso won his two world championships in 2005 and 2006.

Alonso’s victory comes on the heels of an overall win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last June and comes in advance of a scheduled appearance in May’s Indianapolis 500.

“I’m very, very proud of the job that we achieved today, but it was not a one‑day job, it was a one‑month job,” Alonso said. “For me in December we started preparing the race and receiving all the documents, how the Cadillac works and how Wayne Taylor Racing, some procedures that maybe are different compared with other teams. We tried to have a quick integration, Kamui and myself, trying to learn as much as we could from the team in the Roar, and then on the race itself, it was very, very difficult. Conditions were changing all the time.”

It was the first Rolex 24 victory for both van der Zande and Kobayashi. Van der Zande was the 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype Challenge (PC) champion. It was the second consecutive victory for van der Zande, Jordan Taylor and the No. 10 team, as it also won the 2018 season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. 

“I’m super happy,” van der Zande said. “Fantastic. I think I said before the weekend, I think to the team, Wayne and Max (Angelelli), fantastic that they put such little pieces together. It’s a big puzzle, and it comes together in this victory here right now. Thanks a lot to my teammates, the whole team, and I’m very happy to bring home a watch and a lot of victory feelings. What more to say?”

The victory for Kobayashi comes in his first Rolex 24 and his first WeatherTech Championship start. The Japanese ex-Formula 1 driver is a full-time driver of the No. 7 Toyota LMP1 car in the FIA World Endurance Championship. 

“I’m so happy to be here, and obviously I think like the 24‑hour race, it’s never easy even when you have a good car or whatever because you have so many issues, problems,” Kobayashi said. “I think today we had really extremely difficult conditions. I think all the team guys; the drivers did a great job. I think the team did a really, really good job, and obviously the car was really good.”

Despite the spin, Nasr was able to continue in the No. 31 Cadillac DPi and rejoined the race in second place, where he would finish with co-drivers Pipo Derani and Eric Curran. It was the second straight runner-up result in the Rolex 24 for Nasr and Curran, who went on to win both the WeatherTech Championship and IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup Prototype titles in 2018. 

Derani, the 2016 Rolex 24 overall winner, joined the No. 31 team as Nasr’s full-time teammate for the 2019 season. Curran has moved to a Michelin Endurance Cup-only role with the team.

Completing the DPi class podium was the No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi squad of Ricky Taylor, Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi. The trio combined to lead a total of 78 laps during the race, but Rossi, who was driving the car at the time of the red flag, could get no closer than third place.

The Nos. 10, 31 and 7 cars were the only ones to finish on the lead lap. Finishing fourth, four laps down, was the No. 54 CORE autosport Nissan DPi quartet of Jon Bennett, Colin Braun, Romain Dumas and Loic Duval. The No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi team of Misha Goikhberg, Tristan Vautier, Devlin DeFrancesco and Rubens Barrichello completed the top five.

Next up for the WeatherTech Championship and Michelin Endurance Cup is the 67th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on Saturday, March 16 at Sebring International Raceway. Tickets are available now at SebringRaceway.com.

No. 18 DragonSpeed ORECA Wins LMP2 at Daytona

Just prior to the red flag, Sebastian Saavedra crashed the No. 18 DragonSpeed ORECA into the tire barrier, significantly damaging the car’s bodywork. However, the Colombian eventually managed to get the car running and the well-timed red flag gave the No. 18 team its first Rolex 24 victory in the LMP2 class.

Saavedra joined co-drivers Roberto Gonzalez, Ryan Cullen and Pastor Maldonado in winning by three laps over the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports LMP2. It was the first Rolex 24 win for all four drivers. 

“It’s absolutely crazy, to be honest,” Saavedra said. “On my side more than anything, a month ago I didn’t even have a ride, so of course thank you to Roberto and DragonSpeed for giving me the opportunity to be part of this amazing group. 

“Overall it was a crazy race since the beginning. We were expecting it to be like last year with a few yellows, and that was not the case, and we knew it was going to be more of a survival type of event than most.”

I was the one who started the race,” Gonzalez added. “It was push from the start, it was fighting from the start. We did a couple of mistakes, but the crew did an amazing job to keep us in the front, keep us in the lead, losing the least amount of laps, and we kept fighting. 

“Obviously a big thanks to them. I think they won the race for us today, and these guys, they drove perfect. Pastor didn’t put a foot wrong today, and Sebastian, Ryan and I, we were just hanging on and pushing for the win since the start.”

Cameron Cassels, Kris Wright and the father and son combination of Kyle and Robert Masson finished second in LMP2 in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA. Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley, Nicolas Lapierre and James Allen completed the LMP2 podium with a third-place run in the No. 81 DragonSpeed ORECA.

BMW takes emotional victory in GTLM

After more than 22 hours of tight competition, the weather forced an unprecedented early ending to the Rolex 24 At Daytona, but the racing and star players kept things dramatic and interesting for the whole span of the twice-round-the-clock event.
A second red flag flew at Daytona International Speedway Sunday afternoon because of heavy rain showers with an hour and 45 minutes remaining in the scheduled race – the first time in history the race has had two red flags. And after much discussion, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series executives decided to call the 24-hour race official – 10 minutes early – because of the bad weather.

Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, who drove the final stint for the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac, earned the overall victory for the team – the organization’s third total and Alonso’s first. He joins elite company with fellow F1 champions Mario Andretti and Phil Hill – to have also won a sportscar race at Daytona. 
Brazilian Augusto Farfus was the driver of record for the winning GT Le Mans (GTLM) class driving the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE team – having flown in as a substitute for the team’s regular driver Tom Blomqvist, who had travel issues. Americans Connor De Phillippi and Colton Herta, along with Austrian Philipp Eng, co-drove the Bobby Rahal-owned car with Farfus. Rahal, the 1986 Indy 500 winner, also won the Rolex 24 overall title as a driver in 1981.
“I don’t think any of the cars in our class had more than 20-30 seconds lead throughout the whole race,’’ Farfus said. “The GTLM [class] is always professional, extremely talented drivers.
“We have seen through the years this race is getting more like a sprint than an endurance from the start to the end. … Even in this weather we were all fighting.’’
The winning BMW team’s sister car, the No. 24, was co-driven by one of the historic event’s best feel-good stories of triumph. Former IndyCar champion Alex Zanardi, who lost both legs in a racing accident in 2001, drove that No. 24 BMW for more than six hours in his first competitive laps in the United States since his injury.
Zanardi did three driving stints total for six hours and 17 minutes, even as the team dealt with some mechanical problems in the car. Ultimately, Zanardi’s team finished ninth in class. Zanardi, however, absolutely finished first in many hearts the world over as he made his inspired return to competition stateside.
After a slow driver change in his initial driving stint Saturday evening – having to use a back-up version of Zanardi’s specially designed steering wheel – there were no more major issues for the popular champion. He said after the race, that in all the driver change practices with the team and in all the meticulous design work to develop the innovative steering control, there had never been a hiccup like that.
His work at Daytona, however, will be best remembered for overcoming obstacles and doing so with a positive spirit and bright smile.
“I should say bittersweet, but in reality more sweet than bitter,’’ Zanardi says of his race.
He spoke about the heart-touching enthusiasm and encouragement he received every day at the track from fans and teams too. And if there is anything he hopes his Daytona story can do, it’s to bring optimism and hope to others facing big challenges in their life.
“If someone can receive some type of inspiration from what I do, it fills my heart with pride,’’ Zanardi said. “But all I can do is tip my hat and continue my journey.”
As for the race, the final red flag played a crucial role in the GTLM class finish. Richard Westbrook had been leading the tightly contested class in the No. 67 Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing only minutes before cars were stopped on pit road for heavy rain. He made an emergency pit stop for fuel in the Ford GT as the red flag came out, not only relinquishing the lead, but ultimately suffering a penalty for pitting while the pits were closed. 
Once the race was declared official, a 60-second penalty was assessed to the No. 67, relegating them to fourth in class, as the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR driven by Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy and Frederic Makowiecki moved up to third. 

“I’ve driven in many conditions in my life, in the fog, in the rain, but nothing like that.’’ said Westbrook, a former Rolex 24 winner.
“Obviously we’re looking at the radar and knew the weather was going to get worse and worse but you can’t ever bank on them throwing a red and then them calling the race. But that is in the back of your mind.
“The best place to be in the lead and at that point we were controlling the race and pulling away. Obviously we had to pit and everyone was going to have to pit a few laps later, but we were the unlucky ones today in that they threw the red flag just after we pitted.”
The victory was especially important for BMW as the manufacturer’s longtime race executive Charly Lamm passed away this week and its winning drivers dedicated Sunday’s win to him.

GRT Grasser Racing Team Goes Back-to-Back with Lamborghini in GTD in Rolex 24 At Daytona

Christian Engelhart says that, to be perfectly honest, he had no idea he was leading his ultra-competitive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class in the Rolex 24 At Daytona until his team gave him the good news just as a red flag flew with under two hours left in the race.
Because of steady rain showers, IMSA ultimately called the race official 10 minutes short of its intended 24-hour length. And Engelhart conceded, with a smile, his work maneuvering through the field under rainy, uncertain conditions on the Daytona International Speedway road course had resulted in one of his greatest triumphs.
“We were actually one lap down when I started the stint,’’ Engelhart said. “So, I managed to overtake the leader so that, when the yellow came out, we got a wave by and rejoined the pack, but we were very, very far behind. At this point, I asked what position we are, and I think we were P8 or P9, something like this, he said on the radio.
“And after that, I never got any more information. I was just pushing. When the red flag came out, I didn’t know I was first. I was told then that we were first. I thought we were still fighting, and I was giving everything to come to the front, and I didn’t expect that we were already. 
“So quite a surprise, a positive one, of course.” 
Engelhart took the lead, officially, two laps before the red flag, helping his co-drivers on the GRT Grasser Racing Team – Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti and Rik Breukers – to their second consecutive GTD class victory. 

Former Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso drove the No. 10 Cadillac Prototype to the overall victory for Wayne Taylor Racing.
It’s the second consecutive class win at the Rolex for this Lamborghini team however, especially impressive in such a highly competitive class – which also features the most cars – 23 – in its class. The winning Lamborghini led 23 laps. The seventh-place No. 33 Mercedes actually led the most laps (141) in that class.
The only all-woman team in the race competed in the GTD division, as well, and had four of racing’s most accomplished female drivers in Katherine Legge, Simona De Silvestro, Bia Figueredo and Christina Nielsen. They finished 13th in class. Legge had a brief off-course excursion in the team’s No. 57 Acura NSX GT3, but the team rallied back from it.
“It’s disappointing to have a situation like this so close to the end of the race, but it’s super tricky conditions out there and it could happen to anyone,’’ Nielsen said of the incident. “We didn’t see what happened, but these conditions are difficult to manage. We were just saying, if you’re playing tennis and you drop a ball, you just get a new one and try again. Here, if you make one mistake, there are high consequences.
“It looked like the car had a wipe from the tire wall on it and had some front-end damage so there was contact with the wall. Props to the Heinricher Racing and Meyer Shank Racing guys for getting the car back out on track. But all we can focus on now is collecting points because we’re out of contention – but one or two points can matter in the end, I’ve been there before.”
The team’s other car, co-driven in part by NASCAR race winners Justin Marks and A.J. Allmendinger, finished fifth in class. Allmendinger – the 2012 Rolex 24 overall champion – spent the Rolex weekend pulling double duty in his new gig commentating for NBC Sports and also driving the No. 86 Acura NSX.
“It was nasty out there, on the border of ridiculous, but I get it – it’s the Rolex 24, not the Rolex 19,” said Allmendinger, who spent much of his driving time in the rainy conditions.