IMSA Rolex 24 at Daytona Results: Meyer Shank Racing Acura Opens GTP Era with Overall Win
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Pole winner Tom Blomqvist, who led the first two hours going away in his Acura ARX-06, was untouchable in the final two hours for Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian.
The Acura ARX-06 of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport driven by Felipe Albuquerque, Ricky Taylor, Louis Deletraz and Brandon Hartley. Albuquerque was 4.191 seconds behind in second place.
The Aston Martin Vantage of Heart of Racing finishing ahead of all the Pro cars and on top of the 33-car entry of GT3-spec cars.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona that marked beginning of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season and the launch of the new GTP era of hybrid prototypes ended as it started. Pole winner Tom Blomqvist, who led the first two hours going away in his Acura ARX-06, was untouchable in the final two hours.
“I was confident that we had the edge versus the Cadillacs,” said Blomqvist, “I knew (the Cadillac drivers) were nervous, because they had the second fastest cars on the track.”
Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian won its second straight Rolex 24, where the aggressive pace of Blomqvist’s new co-driver in the WeatherTech Championship, Colin Braun, helped the team make it a race for second place.
Neither cautions that bunched the field—there were 14—nor restarts enabled the Cadillacs to answer the nearly flawless run of the winning Acura, where Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who won a third straight Rolex, were the endurance race co-drivers. Other than Castroneves’ spin at Turn 1 that flat-spotted tires and stops on the pit road to add gearbox oil and flush the engine oiling system, the Acura ran without problem.
“Our car had a gearbox problem all night,” said the ever-aggressive team owner Michael Shank. “We just decided to run it until it blew up.” The seals that were leaking managed to make it to the finish.
The race was for second place was won by the Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport driven by Felipe Albuquerque, Ricky Taylor, Louis Deletraz and Brandon Hartley. Albuquerque was 4.191 seconds behind at the checkers despite four cautions and restarts win the last two hour.
The Taylor team regained the lead lap with two hours remaining after a trip to the garage during the night to attempt to repair an oil filler line, which made it difficult to flush its oil system during the race. Both Acura teams needed to flush the oil system due to the new biofuel required by IMSA this year, which gets into the oiling system in the internal combustion engine and is hard on bearings.
The No. 01 and 02 Cadillacs ran the race trouble-free, but did not have the pace to match the fleet Acuras. The Action Express Cadillac spent 25 minutes in the garage to change its rear suspension following a collision with a GTD car.
Both Penske Porsche Motorsports entries (battery pack and gearbox) and one of the RLL Racing BMWs (battery pack) had long stays in the garage. The No. 24 of BMW, the last manufacturer to begin development of its new GTPs, did not have the pace in traffic and finished five laps down, including a brief trip to the garage to change brake pads. The sister BMW was the only one of nine GTP starters that was not running at the finish.
The Porsche also contended for the lead along with Cadillac throughout the race before its technical problems intervened. “The Acura was a tick faster,” said Urs Kuratle, manager of Porsche’s GTP program. “It could have been an interesting finish.”
The thrill of racing at the checkered flag was left to LMP2 drivers James Allen and Ben Hanley. Allen’s Proton Competition ORECA trailed leader Hanley on the last trip through Turn 1 and entered the banking in Turn 6 in second. But after the final trip through the Le Mans Chicane, Allen pulled alongside and won at the start/finish by inches.
Allen said he was held up by the second-placed AF Corse entry in the final hour before setting his sights on Hanley. “I could see in the penultimate lap that I was getting a good run to the start/finish,” he said. Allen elected to save his move for the final lap. “I came out of the Bus Stop and asked myself, ‘Did I do that good enough?’ I never had anything like that (finish) and not sure I’ll ever get anything like it again.”
The thrills began for the Proton team after a heavy crash in practice on Thursday forced it to rebuild the car, changing all four suspension corners and putting on new bodywork. The top four in LMP2s finished on the same lap within 13 seconds of one another, including TDS Racing and AF Corse.
Following an almost flawless run, the winning LMP3 crew of AWA finished 12 laps ahead of the pole-winning car of Sean Creech Motorsport. The winning team made one unscheduled stop to replace a endplate on the rear wing and had a vibrating tire that required an extra stop. Pre-race favorite Riley Motorsports was the first retirement in the class with a blown engine.
The GTD Pro entries may have all finished behind the winning GTD Aston Martin of Heart of Racing, but the battle among WeatherTech Racing’s Mercedes-AMG GT3, Corvette Racing and the Lexus RC F GT3 of Vasser Sullivan was furious. Several dogfights between those three developed as the yellow flag-fest led to four restarts in the final two hours, but it was the Mercedes and its overall balance through the infield and on the banking that clinched the victory in the hands of class pole winner Maro Engel.
“It’s crazy,” said Engel. “It’s not what you want to see when you’re running at the front. You’re praying for no yellows.”
The new Ferrari 296 GT3s, Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2 and the Porsche 911 GT3 R all suffered from not enough straightaway speed due to the air restrictors assigned to the exemplary new examples of aluminum and carbon fiber technology. IMSA’s choices for Balance of Performance clearly expects these cars to gain speed as the season progresses due to better weight distribution and a broader performance window.
“When you pass (the Mercedes-AMG) and they come back by on the straightaway, yeah, it’s frustrating,” said Romain Grosjean, who co-drove the Iron Lynx Huracan. It finished fourth in GTD Pro and 10th overall just ahead of the Pro class Porsche of Pfaff Motorsports, defending class champion. The Pro entry of Ferrari, Risi Competizione, withdrew after a collision with a GTD car broke the floor of its 296 GT3.
The theme of qualifying in GTD carried over to the race, except it was the Aston Martin Vantage of Heart of Racing finishing ahead of all the Pro cars and on top of the 33-car entry of GT3-spec cars instead of the three Mercedes-AMG entries that took the top three spots from the Pros in time trials.
The quartet of drivers including last year’s class champion Romain de Angelis ran without problem from start to finish. Platinum driver Marco Sorensen ran the final stint that kept the HoR Aston Martin in front of a combined 33-car GTD entry. He had the heated three-car battle among the Pro cars behind him, which gave him a buffer versus the Magnus Racing Aston Martin, which finished second in the class. “We had the Pro cars behind at the finish,” said Sorensen. “I knew I just had to stay ahead of them to get the victory.”
Niki Thiim managed to advance within one position of Sorensen with his Magnus Vantage, passing the Corvette C8.R and the Lexus RC F GT3 battling for the Pro victory. But he fell short, finishing behind Pro winner Engel’s Mercedes-AMG.
“I think it’s a cherry on the cake” said team principle Ian James when asked about finishing ahead of all the GTD Pro entries. “It’s not the most important thing.”