It’s been a long time coming, but the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s return to racing finally kicked off on Friday evening with the first practice session for Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech 240 At Daytona.
After a steamy and stormy afternoon, the temperatures dipped and rains receded, allowing for a full, hour-long session Friday evening that ended with Juan Pablo Montoya atop the time chart.
In the No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi, Montoya took the lead late with a time of one minute, 35.960 over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi. Harry Tincknell made it three different manufacturers in the top three with a third-place time of 1:36.013 in the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi.
"It felt great," said Montoya. "It’s very hot, it’s humid. We were lucky with all the rain through the day and thunder we were able to get the practice in the dry.
"IMSA did a really good job. I’m really happy to be back in this Acura. It’s such an amazing car. It’s funny, we were laughing with (co-driver) Dane (Cameron). I’ve done a lot of simulator racing and I got to the first braking zone and even on cold tires, I got on the brakes and I was looking at the seatbelts. I was like, ‘Oof! Oh, yeah, I need to hold my head back here.’"
By the end of the session, the top seven positions were separated by only .789 seconds.
In the GTLM class, the defending class champions and runners-up in January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19 posted the fastest lap. Laurens Vanthoor posted a time of 1:44.003 ahead of what will be the team’s final ride in the GTLM class at Daytona International Speedway.
In the GTD class, the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 fittingly topped the charts, with driver Toni Vilander at the wheel of the white, red and blue WeatherTech machine. Vilander, who will co-drive tomorrow with Cooper MacNeil, posted a time of 1:47.481.
The two-hour, 40-minute race at Daytona International Speedway will broadcast live this Saturday, July 4, on NBCSN, the NBC Sports App and TrackPass on NBC beginning at 6 p.m. ET. IMSA Radio also will have live radio coverage throughout the weekend on IMSARadio.com, in addition to Sirius channel 216, XM 210, Internet 970 for the race.
Bittersweet Return for Team BMW RLL
The motorsports community was rocked on Friday, June 19 after news that beloved racer Alex Zanardi had been seriously injured in a hand bike accident in Italy and as of Friday, remains in a medically induced coma.
The IndyCar and Paralympics champion made his IMSA debut at Daytona in last year’s Rolex 24, competing in the No. 24 BMW M8 GTE with Team BMW RLL – the same car that took the Rolex 24 victory one year after the No. 25 did the same.
While Daytona has brought smiles to their faces the last two trips, it’s a somber return this time around.
"First of all, our thoughts are of course with Alex Zanardi and his family as we get ready to restart our season at Daytona," said John Edwards, who co-drove with Zanardi in 2019. "Alex is the most resilient human being I’ve ever met and his positivity after the adversity he’s faced is inspiring to anyone he’s around.
"In terms of our season, it’s been strange to lead the championship for half a year after only completing one race, but now we have to earn it again. Daytona in July will be a much different challenge than running in January, with different tire compounds required and a much higher demand on our physical fitness. Our focus now is on the championship so we will be aiming for consistent podiums every weekend as we restart our season."
More From Montoya
Fourth of July trips to Daytona International Speedway were at one point the norm for Acura Team Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya. In fact, he did it for seven years straight – in NASCAR.
He’s back at it again this weekend in the No. 6 Acura DPi with Dane Cameron, rather than solo in a stock car. In his seven attempts throughout his NASCAR career, Montoya’s best finish was ninth twice (2009, 2011) and the defending co-champion in the WeatherTech Championship DPi class has few concerns, about this race at least.
"I’m not too worried about it honestly," said Montoya earlier this week. "I’ve been doing three-, four-hour bike rides in this heat. I was karting today, and I got in the kart and it said it was 104 degrees and it was fine. The heat doesn’t seem to bother me too much. Living here in Miami, the last few days I’ve been riding road bikes in the morning and mountain bikes in the afternoon. It’s been fine.
"I think the harder thing might be the neck. Daytona’s not too bad, so I should be good. I think Sebring in two weeks, the neck is going to be a lot harder because even if you train it and work on it and everything, it’s very tough."
What’s on Tap
Saturday begins with a one-hour, 15-minute practice session at 10:15 a.m. ahead of qualifying at 1:55 p.m. As usual, qualifying sessions will run for 15 minutes per class in the order of GTD, GTLM and DPi. Qualifying will conclude for the DPi class at 3 p.m.
Then, it’s time to race.
All 26 cars will be gridded at 5:30 and WeatherTech’s David MacNeil will give the command to start engines just past 6 p.m. And make sure to tune in on NBCSN, the NBC Sports App or TrackPass – you won’t want to miss a special gesture that’s set to take place before the green flag at 6:10 p.m.