DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – At last, Risi Competizione has some fine timepieces.
A successful competitor in sports car racing since 1998, Giuseppe Risi’s Houston-based team has claimed multiple class victories over the years at Le Mans, Sebring and Petit Le Mans. But until Sunday, it had not celebrated victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Daniel Serra, Davide Rigon, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado teamed to drive the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 from a fifth-place start in the Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) class to victory by a lap over the No. 77 AO Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R (992).
Among the spoils for the veteran Risi foursome are the customary Rolex watches awarded to class winners at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship opener.
“This is the race that I was missing, that I really wanted to win,” said Serra, who drove the final stint. “Today is one of the happiest days of my racing career.”
Laurin Heinrich, Seb Priaulx and Michael Christensen brought the pole-winning AO Porsche home in second place, with the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 finishing third with co-drivers Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Neil Verhagen and Sheldon van der Linde.
The dominance of the No. 62 Ferrari, which survived a fire in the pits in the first six hours of the race, was on display in the closing stages of the race. The car led the last 82 laps, 130 of the final 136 and 215 overall in the race.
“It’s never easy, you know?” Serra said. “You start to hear some noises in the car and you think that everything is out of control in the last few laps.”
The race tested the mettle of the GTD PRO cars and drivers almost from the start. Just minutes into the race, the 2023 GTD PRO champion was involved in a crash that relegated it to an 11th-place finish. Mike Conway was piloting the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 when Dennis Andersen’s Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) entry spun in front of him at the exit of Turn 1.
With just under two hours remaining in the race, the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW stopped for a brake change while running second behind the No. 62 Ferrari. The brake issues returned shortly after van der Linde returned to the track, and the No. 77 AO Racing Porsche moved into second in class.
In the end, the win and the Rolexes went to Risi Competizione, which started to show the strength of the Ferrari 296 GT3 in its debut last season. It was the first Rolex 24 win for Serra, Rigon and Calado, while Pier Guidi picked up his second watch following a Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) victory in a Level 5 Ferrari 10 years ago.
“Giuseppe deserves it,” Calado said of the team owner. “He’s wanted it for a long time. I’m happy for him, and I’m happy for us. It’s a great way to start the year and puts us in good stead for the rest of the year.”
Winward Racing Drives through Large GTD Field to Win
You’ll forgive Daniel Morad if he was a bit emotional at the end of the race. It’s not often that one wins the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Morad led a come-from-behind effort by Winward Racing and teammates Philip Ellis, Russell Ward and Indy Dontje by anchoring the final hours of the team’s Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class victory in the No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3.
“I’ve won it before sitting on the sidelines and now I’ve won it in the seat of the car,” Morad said. “I almost crashed on the in-lap (after the checkered flag), I was crying so much. My voice is gone. I think I hurt myself as well.”
There’s a reason for the emotion. The No. 57 Mercedes started 17th among the 23 GTD entries, yet soldiered through the field to victory, ending a run of bad luck that clouded Winward’s 2023 WeatherTech Championship season.
While 12 different GTD cars led throughout the race, the No. 57 Mercedes rose to the top toward the end, leading 123 of the final 134 laps and a class-high 383 in all. Morad’s previous Rolex 24 victory came in GTD seven years ago. Ward, Ellis and Dontje were all with the class-winning Winward team in 2021.
Ferrari claimed second through fourth places Sunday in GTD. The No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari 296 GT3 co-driven by Simon Mann, Francois Heriau, Miguel Molina and Kei Cozzolino finished second, 2.731 seconds behind the winners. The No. 34 Conquest Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 co-driven by Manny Franco, Albert Costa Balboa, Alessandro Balzan and Cedric Sbirrazzuoli was third, with the No. 023 Triarsi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 and drivers Onofrio Triarsi, Charles Scardina, Riccardo Agostini and Alessio Rovera taking fourth.
In the final hour, the pole-winning No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 stopped with smoke pouring from beneath its hood. Parker Thompson emerged safely and tried to extinguish the fire, but the car was retired and finished 15th in class.
The ensuing caution brought the field back together for the final minutes, but Morad turned his extended stint in the car to a 2.731-second class victory.
“Incredible team, perfect car today,” Morad said.
The WeatherTech Championship season resumes March 16 with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway.