Richard Westbrook Puts the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh Up Front, Ending Acura’s Run
By John Oreovicz
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competitors got a preview Thursday of the likely weather conditions for the start of the 61st running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, set for Saturday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.
With Friday expected to be about 10 degrees cooler and conditions for the conclusion of the 24-hour contest Sunday predicted to trend warmer, Thursday’s daytime practice under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-60s served as a happy medium. But shifting winds made the conditions tricky, catching several drivers out throughout the day.
In Thursday’s late-afternoon practice, Cadillac ended Acura’s dominance at the top of the timing screens that had run from last weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 test through Thursday morning practice. Richard Westbrook set fastest time of the day overall and in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with a lap of 1 minute, 35.185 seconds (134.643 mph) in the No. 02 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-LMDh in that second session.
It bested Louis Deletraz in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 fielded by Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport by 0.238 seconds, with the second through sixth positions separated by less than two-tenths of a second. Filipe Albuquerque paced GTP in the morning session at 1:35.366 (134.187 mph) in the No. 10 WTRAndretti Acura.
“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it really means too much and you can’t read too much into it,” said Westbrook, whose co-drivers in the No. 02 Cadillac entered by Chip Ganassi Racing are Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn.
“These GTP cars have big fuel tanks and you really don’t know how much fuel the others are running. But we had a couple pretty good runs today, and our car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago!
“I think everyone is pretty happy in the Cadillac camp right now,” he added. “I’m not going to get excited or carried away, but so far, so good. We haven’t had any technical issues so far. But in a racing situation, with full-course cautions and maybe different engine map setting you haven’t used before, it’s completely different.”
Mikael Grenier was the fastest GT driver on Thursday, notching an afternoon lap of 1:46.282 (120.585 mph) in the No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 he will share with Mike Skeen, Kenton Koch and Maximilian Goetz in the GT Daytona (GTD) class. They are currently set to line up third on the grid.
Grenier admitted that the frequent red-flag session stoppages on Thursday were frustrating, but somewhat to be expected with race pressure building.
“For sure it was a bit annoying because sometimes it disrupted the run plan a little bit,” he said. “But I think we can expect that as well during the race with 61 cars on the track, so we have to get used to it.
“Today was a lot cooler than it was last weekend for qualifying, but it will be a good test for Saturday night.”
The morning practice was broken up by no fewer than five red flags, the most serious coming when Lucas Auer went slightly off track in the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes exiting Turn 2 and clouted the inner wall head-on. Auer, who had just turned the fastest GTD class lap of the session at 1:46.763 in the car that Philip Ellis qualified for the class pole on Sunday, was transported to a local hospital for further observation. The car sustained extensive front end damage, leaving the Winward team’s participation in the race in jeopardy.
A third practice was scheduled under the lights at Daytona International Speedway.
Rolex 24 activity continues Friday with two final practice sessions – the second for GTP cars only. The green flag for the 24-hour race waves at 1:40 p.m. ET Saturday. Live coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. on NBC.
Austin Hatcher Foundation Honors IMSA for Charitable Impact
The Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer selected IMSA as the recipient of its 2022 Impact Award. Foundation President and CEO Amy Jo Osborn made the presentation to IMSA President John Doonan on Thursday at the track media center.
IMSA was honored for its impact in assisting the charity in raising more than $3.4 million since 2009 toward providing services to children with cancer and their families, including $116,000 in 2022. Osborn’s son, Austin Hatcher Osborn, was just nine weeks old when he succumbed to pediatric cancer in 2006.
“What the Austin Hatcher Foundation has done is remarkable,” said Doonan. “This is a testament to the importance of the foundation’s mission and the quality of individuals who populate our race cars, paddocks and racetracks.
“On behalf of all my IMSA teammates at the headquarters, and also on behalf of the entire IMSA family in the paddock and the garage area, it’s an honor to accept the award. We’re proud to be associated with you all.”
The foundation also presented its 2022 Humanitarian Award to Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires team Hixon Motor Sports.