Rolex 24 at Daytona practice recap: Cadillac tops leaderboard in second practice
DAYTONA BEACH — Good morning from Daytona and the start of the four-day Rolex 24 weekend.
And the 2023 racing season, for that matter.
We’ll be bringing you updates throughout the day.
And man oh man, what a day it looks to be. Bright Florida sunshine and temps inching a tad above 60, with just enough northwest wind to get you reaching for the chapstick. No wonder I-95 South looks like the drafting train of a Daytona 500.
While all the campers and car geeks get comfortable and start wondering if they packed enough food and beverage, here’s your on-track menu …
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Mazda MX-5 Cup practice at 9 a.m., followed by Michelin Pilot Challenge practice, the big boys of the Rolex 24 WeatherTech Championship, Mazda qualifying, Michelin qualifying, WeatherTech practice, Mazda race (45 minutes) and the day’s nightcap, literally: nearly two hours of practice, beginning at 7:15 under the lights, for the Rolex 24 cars.
Drop back in periodically. We’ll keep you posted at various points throughout the day, and as events dictate.
All of this points toward Saturday afternoon at 1:40 and the start of the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.
For racers and race fans, it’s now officially “Happy New Year” time. But hold the champagne until Victory Lane is unlocked.
The Captain has finally cleared his throat and made his presence known.
One of Roger Penske's two Porsche-powered prototypes took over the top spot in the final practice of the opening day of Rolex weekend, pacing the field Thursday night a click ahead of the Acura from Wayne Taylor Racing.
With Aussie Matt Campbell at the helm, the No. 7 Porsche turned a quick lap of 1:35.802, an average of 133.776 mph around the 3.56-mile course.
The Rolex cars, which make up IMSA's WeatherTech Championship series, get the track again Friday morning at 11:20 for a one-hour session. The GTP class of prototypes get a 20-minute stand-alone practice Friday evening, beginning at 6:25.
Gonzales holds off Zilisch in Mazda MX-5, four-wide finish
Tyler Gonzales used the middle lane to hold off the field, beating 15-year-old Connor Zilisch by .015 seconds in a four-wide finish to the first race of the Mazda MX-5 Cup Series on Thursday evening.
Gonzales, a 17-year-old driver for Copeland Motorsports, made a move to the outside on Sam Paley as the field came out of Turn 4 and into the trioval. As Gonzales surged ahead, Zilisch went up a lane higher as Aaron Jeansonne dove to the bottom but neither could to the lead as the cars crossed the line. Paley came home third with Jeansonne settling for fourth.
The dramatic finish capped a race full of tight racing and bump drafting. The top four finishers came home less than a tenth of a second apart and the top nine was separated by less than a half second.
The second race in the Mazda weekend doubleheader is set for 10:15 Friday morning.
Cadillac takes three of top four spots in afternoon practice session
Richard Westbrook, piloting the GTP No. 02 Cadillac Racing entry, turned in a lap of 1:35.185 on his fifth lap, accounting for the fastest time in the second of three scheduled practices ahead of Saturday's Rolex 24.
Until the final lap, Cadillac had accounted for the top three times but Louis Deletraz, in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura, crossed the line in 1:35.423 just under the wire, to come in second. Renger van der Zande was third with a 1:35.427 in the No. 01 Cadillac with Pipo Derani, wheeling the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac entry to a time of 1:35.465, good enough for fourth.
"It's always nice to be at the top, but I don’t really think it means too much," said Westbrook, the 47-year-old British racer. "We had a good run. The car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago, to be honest. It really does feel good now."
Westbrook said early testing of the new LMDh prototype focused on durability, but now, "finally we can work on performance."
"So far, so good, but you just don’t know," he added. "I’m not going to get excited or carried away, but so far, so good."
Other class leaders in Thursday's second of three practice sessions.
LMP2: No. 52 ORECA (1:38.302)
LMP3: No. 74 Ligier JS P320 (1:42.491)
GTD: No. 32 Mercedes AMG (1:46.282)
GTD Pro: No. 79 Mercedes AMG (1:46.4)
McAleer claims Michelin Pilot Challenge pole in RS1 Porsche
Driving the No. 28 RS1 Porsche 718, Sevan McAleer turned in a top time of 1:52.157 during a 15-minute qualifying session, claiming the overall Michelin Pilot Challenge pole for Friday's BMW M Endurance Challenge.
The race will run for four hours and will be divided into two classes, Grand Sport (GS)and the Touring Car (TCR). Green flag on Friday is scheduled for 1:45 p.m.
McAleer, alongside driving partner Cocoa's Eric Filgueiras, is the defending champion of the race and is certainly in prime position to try and defend that title.
“In a four-hour race, obviously a lot can happen,” McAleer said. “It’s nice to be on point to lead the field.
“Our goal is to try to capitalize and get a good result tomorrow. I would love to win but I would be happy with a top three to get some good points.”
McAleer outpaced a pair of Ford Mustangs, narrowly edging Luca Mars in the No. 59 Kohr Motorsports entry (1:52.195) with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Zane Smith qualifying third in the No. 42 PF Racing car with a time of 1:52.343. Hailie Deegan, a fellow truck series competitor, qualified eighth in the No. 41 PF Racing Ford in a time of 1:52.862.
Among drivers in the TCR class, Mat Pombo locked in the fastest time, rounding the track in 1:56.837, good enough for 29th overall in the 84-car field.
Wayne Taylor's Acura takes over atop speed chart
There’s a new “fastest” in the GTP class at Daytona, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone — it's Wayne Taylor Racing, a four-time Rolex 24 winning team.
Taylor’s No. 10 GTP Acura, with Felix Albuquerque aboard, paced the weekend’s first practice session for the Saturday-Sunday Rolex 24. His fastest lap time of 1:35.366 was nearly three-tenths of a second faster than Richard Westbrook’s quickest circuit in the No. 02 Cadillac prepped by Chip Ganassi Racing.
The pole-winning No. 60 Acura was third fastest, just inches behind the Caddy, with Tom Blomqvist in the seat.
Other class leaders in Thursday’s first run:
LMP2: No. 52 Oreca (1:38.302).
LMP3: No. 74 Ligier (1:42.704).
GTD: No. 57 Mercedes-AMG (1:46.763).
GTD Pro: No. 64 Aston Martin (1:47.010).
Rolex cars on the track at Daytona
The first race-week practice has started for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. This opening session runs through 12:35 and will be followed by a pair of qualifying runs for the support races — Mazda MX-5 Cup at 12:55, Michelin Pilot Challenge at 2:25 and 2:45.
The WeatherTech Championship cars return to the track at 3:20 as prep continues for Saturday's 1:40 start to the 61st Rolex 24.
Wagner tops second Mazda MX-5 Cup practice
Gresham Wagner, driving for Spark Performance, topped the leaderboard in Thursday morning's Mazda MX-5 Cup practice, turning in a lap of 2:07.744.
It was the second practice for the event, which is scheduled for two races, one of which is slated for 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The other will take place at 10:15 Friday morning.
Wagner's time was over two seconds faster than Connor Zilisch's 2:09.596, which was best in Wednesday night's initial practice. In fact, 16 drivers in Thursday morning's session bested that mark with Thomas Annunziata (2:07.994), Sam Paley (2:08.120), Aaron Jeansonne (2:08.226) and Jared Thomas (2:08.293) rounding out the top five.
Qualifying is set for 12:55, just after the first WeatherTech Championship practice concludes.
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Rolex 24 at Daytona: Recap from Thursday practice, start of race weekend