Epic DPi Battle Opens 2021 Season
By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 2021 Rolex 24 At Daytona will take its place among the more memorable races in the history of the great annual event. After all, the overall winner was much in doubt well into a final hour that featured a riveting battle between the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 DPi of Wayne Taylor Racing and the No. 01 Cadillac DPi of Chip Ganassi Racing – with the No. 48 Ally Cadillac and the No. 55 Mazda poised to pick up the pieces should the lead Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars falter.
Although the margins weren’t quite as razor thin, there was no shortage of drama in the other classes as well, save for Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) where the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 enjoyed a comfortable three-lap margin over the similar No. 33 Sean Creech Motorsports entry.
Here are three takeaways from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener from my perspective.
The fierce duel for overall honors featured two of IMSA’s most experienced organizations in Wayne Taylor Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing. Both were making their debuts with new partner manufacturers, Acura and Cadillac, respectively. WTR was, of course, competing with Acura after having long been aligned with several General Motors brands. CGR was flying the Cadillac flag on its return to prototype racing after a five-year absence, though the team did enjoy a winning GT Le Mans (GTLM) experience from 2016-19.
Given the compressed time frame between the conclusion of the 2020 season and the 2021 Rolex 24, both organizations faced formidable challenges in optimizing the performance of unfamiliar cars and integrating their teams into the respective cultures of Acura and Cadillac, not to mention largely new driver lineups. That the 24-hour race was ultimately decided when the No. 01 Cadillac cut a tire eight minutes shy of the finish is testimony to the experience and professionalism of both teams.
Experience Isn’t Everything
On the other hand, the GT Daytona (GTD) class showed experience isn’t everything. Winward Racing scored what can only be described as an upset victory in its first race in the category, as the No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 led Sun Energy 1’s similar No. 75 Merc home by some 16 seconds. The race marked a substantial leap for the winning team after scoring a lone win (at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 2019) while campaigning a Mercedes-AMG GT4 in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge the past several seasons. It also marked the first Rolex 24 win for Mercedes-AMG GT3 whose previous best finish was third in their 2017 debut.
The remaining prototype and GT classes offered a mixed bag when it came to the winners’ experience. While it’s true few teams bring as much history to the WeatherTech Championship as Corvette Racing, the team’s lineup underwent seismic shifts for the 2021 season following the departure of long-time program manager Doug Fehan and driver Oliver Gavin, with the addition of Nick Tandy, Alexander Sims and Nicky Catsburg to the driver lineup. The team never missed a beat en route to a 1-2 finish for the Nos. 3 and No. 4 Corvettes – the first endurance win for the C8.R model.
As for the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) and LMP3 classes, LMP2 saw the No. 18 Era Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 take the team’s first class win in what will be its second season in the category, besting fellow LMP2 sophomores Tower Motorsports. While LMP3 was always going to produce a first-time victor in the series’ class debut, the win by the No. 74 Riley Motorsports was remarkable for the lack of issues the team encountered in the first 24-hour race for the car. And don’t forget about Muehlner Motorsports America, which won the IMSA Prototype Challenge and WeatherTech Championship Motul Pole Award 100 in LMP3s the week prior, then overcame a series of setbacks and repairs in the Rolex 24 to finish third.
After the hectic workload during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 and Rolex 24 weeks, teams get a chance to catch their breath now before returning to action March 17-20 at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. It’s a respite well earned.