Drivers Unsurprised By Frenetic Pace Early In Rolex 24
Saturday, January 26, 2019

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It may be a twice around the clock historic classic, but racers in the early portion of the Rolex 24 At Daytona were driving like it was a furious sprint - as has been the norm of recent years in this demanding race.

Literally from the drop of the green flag for Saturday’s season-opening IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event, cars were making bold and aggressive moves more reminiscent of a short sprint than the famous enduro that has attracted the world’s most accomplished racers to the Daytona International Speedway. It all produced exciting action, however. And few of the competitors were surprised by the frenetic pace.

With a full-course caution flying at the four-hour mark into the race, two-time Formula One champion, Spain’s Fernando Alonso held the lead in the Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Cadillac DPi car. He would eventually take more than a 15-second lead in a triple-driving stint.

“I like sports car racing, the nature of these endurance races, it’s quite fun to experience,’’ Alonso said following his race-leading stint. “There are no two laps the same.’’

France’s Gabriel Aubry had the No. 52 PR1 Mathiaen Motorsports ORECA car lead in the LMP2 class. British driver Nick Tandy held the lead in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR team. And Canadian Daniel Morad led in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the No. 29 Audi R8 MS GT3.

There was intense racing throughout the 47-car field in all four classes with 12 lead changes at the front of the field through the fourth hour.

Polesitter Oliver Jarvis, who set a track record in qualifying, led the first lap and held the point for the first hour before three quick lead changes among three cars – a harbinger of what was to come. Former NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya swapped the point for most of the second hour in his Acura Team Penske car.

“It’s good, to be honest, our car has good balance.,’’ Montoya said. “Honestly with the way the weather looks at the moment, it’s just make it to the rain and see what happens.’’

One of the most anticipated drives of the race, was former IndyCar star Alex Zanardi’s first race in America since a 2001 accident in Germany when he lost his legs. Zanardi’s first driving stint in the No. 24 Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMW M8 was more eventful than he would have liked.

Although Zanardi got in the car immediately, there was an issue connecting his specially-adapted steering wheel. The team had to use a back-up and all the extra time on pit road resolving the issue cost Zanardi a lap by the time he rolled on track.

“I was basically ready to jump out of the car and probably have [co-driver] John [Edwards] back into it and that would have been the shortest stint of my life,’’ Zanardi said.

“But then magically everything was okay, it just clicked. So I took off, of course by then we had lost a lot of time. Taking advantage of the safety car got me back to pit lane and we regained all the time we lost.

“The pace was not bad especially in the beginning and then the car was really good underneath me. As the race progressed I was feeling better and better and better and we gave up a little bit of time to save a little fuel. Things were looking good.’’

 Zanardi’s effort in a double-stint put the car back into fifth place position when he pitted to change drivers again. The car stalled at the end of pit road at the transition to the race track and had to be brought into the pits for repairs but returned to the race.

“Maybe if we solve the problem we can go home with something out of this event,’’ Zanardi said of the circumstances. “We hope so. Not just for myself, but for the team. Everybody worked so hard.

“So far, it’s been a fantastic experience even if it were to end like this. I would certainly never regret dedicating a lot of time to this event.”