What a difference a year makes. After the two Porsche Penske Motorsport 963s were nowhere near the podium in their 2023 debut, every Porsche in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, including the privateer cars from JDC-Miller MotorSports and Proton Competition, ran near flawlessly. It was the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963 squad of Felipe Nasr, Dane Cameron, Matt Campbell and Josef Newgarden that was just a bit more perfect in claiming victory, the first for all of them and the first victory for Penske since 1969. It was the 19th overall victory at the Rolex 24 for Porsche and the first since 2010.
Pipo Derani, Jack Aitken and Tom Blomqvist finished second in the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing V-Series.R, coming short by 2.112s after nearly 24 hours of racing and despite running what Derani described as a flawless race.
Improbably, the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06 finished third in the hands of Jordan Taylor, Louis Deletraz, Colton Herta and Jenson Button, holding off the No. 6 PPM Porsche 963 at the end. The No. 40 had rolled to a stop in the middle of the night, but a reset got the car going and strategy put the car in a better position than might have been expected.
From the start, both of the PPM Porsche 963s as well as the two Cadillacs showed similar pace, and it seemed apparent that it would come down to a Porsche vs. Cadillac fight for the victory. In the cooler night, and early morning hours, the Porsches seems to have an edge. But as the day warmed up, the No. 31 Cadillac came on strong. Entering the race’s final two hours, Blomqvist turned up the wick and caught Nasr.
Blomqvist took the No. 31 to the pits earlier than necessary, but well within the window to make it to the end on one more stop. Nasr brought the Porsche in three laps later for full energy and fresh tires, emerging from the pits ahead of Blomqvist. However, with the Cadillac having warm tires and Nasr’s still coming up to temperature, he was able to squeeze by heading into Turn 1.
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But after more than four hours of green flag running, a late caution set up a 30m sprint to the finish, and came perfectly timed for the GTPs to make their final stop for a quick fill. The Penske crew got Nasr out first, and that was the the race.
Blomqvist did all he could, including setting the fastest lap of race at 1m35.554s with 23m left, but he couldn’t make a move on Nasr while the Porsche got better breaks in traffic. When the checker fell right after 1:40 p.m., Nasr was the first under it to claim the victory.
“The race only finishes at the checkered flag. There’s no decision until then,” said Nasr. “The race really came down to the wire at the very final stop. You know, it was it pretty much all about the fuel numbers. Each one was the energy numbers we were reaching. And I just have to say that was a great call from the team, from Porsche Penske Motorsport. Just to give me the opportunity to be the in the lead again in that final part of the race and then it was down to me to hit the numbers and keep the No. 31 behind.”
Blomqvist came close a few times as he attacked, but could never put together a move to pass.
“At the end of the race, we had the pace advantage,” Blomqvist said. “It was just so difficult to pass. The Porsche was really strong on the straight, we were really good in the infield, so it was just hard to make anything count. There weren’t many cars there at the end of the race in terms of traffic to to kind of find an opportunity and then Felipe at the end … I needed like one small mistake. He went wide by like a few meters, but other than that there was no opportunity.”
In contrast to the 2023 debut of the LMDh cars in GTP when both Acuras and both Cadillacs ran without major trouble, two key competitors from each fell victim to problems in the race. The No. 10 WTRAndretti Acura ARX-06 of Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque, Brendon Hartley and Marcus Ericsson pulled to a stop after a little more than eight hours with Albuquerque at the wheel, right after he detected a funny smell. The problem was diagnosed as a wiring loom issue, and while it was replaced and the car returned to the track after a long repair, it was eventually retired.
The No. 01 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R from Chip Ganassi Racing looked to have the pace for victory with Sebastien Bourdais, Renger van der Zande, Scott Dixon and Alex Palou, but went to the garage in the middle of the night withe an undiagnosed mechanical issue and never re-emerged.
Both BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8s had difficulties during the night. Both were repaired and returned to the track, but finished 13 (No. 25) and 15 (No. 24) laps down.
LMP2 winners, Era Motorsports. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images
Dwight Merriman, Ryan Dalziel, Connor Zilisch and Christian Rasmussen took the LMP2 victory after emerging as a contender overnight. The team recovered from an early incident in which Merriman was caught up in other cars having contact and soldiered on, moving steadily up the order to claim the second win for Era and for Dalziel and Merriman together after they won in 2021. It was Dalziel’s third Rolex 24 victory, and the first for Rasmussen and 17-year-old Zilisch.
The No. 18 was hanging with the leaders heading into Saturday evening, but didn’t make a move for the front until the middle of the night.
“In my mind, it’s a 24 hour race … first half of race, a lot of [it] is about risk management, right?” said Merriman. “So you don’t need to be in the lead after eight hours. But the last three hours is a knife fight. And you need to be up. You need to be in the first couple of positions at that point and we were, so I think that’s kind of part of the strategy.”
Fortunately Era had some sharp blades when it came time for the knife fight.
“We kind of gambled … we were probably the most high downforce of the P2s,” said Dalziel. “We were a little bit of sitting ducks when somebody’s drafting us, but when we can kind of break that 1.5-2s – the draft in the P2 car is almost 10 kilometers an hour. So I think, for us, once we were at the front, we can kind of manage a little bit of pace and the field. But it’s just a good day. I think each one I’ve won is more special.
“These two guys … Christian, last year, was a stud for us. Connor, the same. I feel like today Dwight and I just kind of did our job and I actually…gave up my last stint because I felt like these two guys were the strongest guys on the day and wanted to make sure that we put our best feet forward for the last stint.”
Rasmussen had a solid lead erased by the final yellow, but not only managed to stay out front, he stretched it to a 6.8s margin of victory. George Kurtz, Colin Braun, Malthe Jakobsen and Toby Sowery finished second in the No. 04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA. Riley Motorsports was third with Gar Robinson, Felipe Fraga, Josh Burdon and Felipe Massa in the No. 74 Riley Motorsports ORECA.