GTP Hybrid Era Gets off to Rousing Start in Front of Record Crowd
By Holly Cain
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In front of what was declared the largest Rolex 24 At Daytona crowd ever, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship introduced its hybrid-powered headliner class to competition today. And through the early hours of the historic season-opening race, all five classes provided exactly the kind of close competition to keep the audience and competitors captivated.
At the six-hour mark, the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 fielded by Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport was out front in the 61-car field with driver Filipe Albuquerque and atop the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class. The No. 10 exchanged the lead through most of the fifth and sixth hours with the pole-sitting No. 60 Acura from Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian, the defending race winner.
Live flag-to-flag coverage of the Rolex 24 continues on Peacock through the checkered flag. USA Network joins in from 10-11:59 p.m. ET tonight and again 6 a.m.-noon Sunday. The final thrilling hours of the race will air live on NBC starting at noon Sunday.
The Meyer Shank Racing Acura led a race best 118 of the opening 200 laps, but the Albuquerque retook the lead during pit stops at the six-hour mark and held a 19.014-second lead over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac V-LMDh during the pit stop exchange.
There were only three caution flags for 14 total laps through the opening six hours at Daytona International Speedway.
Meyer Shank Racing’s Tom Blomqvist, who won the pole position and started the race, was encouraged by the initial performance of the GTP Acura. Multiple drivers described the early competition as “chippy” but said it was a good sign as to how the race may play out.
“It’s the longest time I’ve been in the car since we got it, so I think that kind of says a lot,’’ Blomqvist said. “We’re just kind of driving it into the unknown now. We’ve done everything we can. We know our car is a good car, it’s strong and fast car, which is obviously very promising to start this new GTP era.”
Many were curious how the new GTPs would fare in the endurance event. Only the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 was markedly disadvantaged – 83 laps behind the leader – pulling off track two hours into the race for electrical repairs. The No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 also went to the garage for a change of battery and hybrid components just over three hours in. Both cars later returned to racing but were multiple laps behind.
IndyCar driver Rinus Veekay had the No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA LMP2 07 out front in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), with Rasmus Lindh leading in Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) in the No. 36 Andretti Autosport Ligier JS P320. The defending LMP3 Rolex 24 race-winning No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier retired just before the three-hour mark with a mechanical issue.
The Heart of Racing Team held the lead in both GT classes at the six-hour mark. The team’s No. 23 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 led in GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO), running 23rd overall. The sister No. 27 Aston Martin led in GT Daytona (GTD), one position behind.
The Rolex 24 is also the opening round of the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup (IMEC), so each class leader at the six-hour mark earned points to also head their respective IMEC standings.
Winward Racing Rebounds in Backup Chassis
Team owner and co-driver Russell Ward lifted spirits at Winward Racing by driving the rebuilt No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 from the back of the GTD field up to sixth place by the end of the first hour of the race. Winward, with assistance from Iron Lynx Racing, worked until 4 a.m. Saturday assembling a new car around the backup Mercedes chassis after Lucas Auer crashed the team’s primary car in practice on Thursday. Auer sustained lumbar fractures in the accident and was replaced by Daniel Morad.
The Winward car sat in fifth place in GTD after six hours.
“There were so many question marks with a brand new car assembled overnight,” Morad said. “We were just crossing our fingers, hoping everything would run smoothly. The car is driving well, and the balance is quite nice. So far, so good.”
Johnson, Rockenfeller, Button Named Drivers for Hopeful Le Mans Garage 56 Entry
The Hendrick Motorsports Garage 56 project – in conjunction with partners Chevrolet and Goodyear – announced the driver lineup for the team’s proposed 24 Hours of Le Mans entry. Jimmie Johnson, who won a record-tying seven NASCAR Cup Series championships with the team, was named to co-drive with sports car ace and past Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button.
“I want to say on behalf of Hendrick Motorsports, we couldn’t be more proud of this driver lineup that’s going to go forward and represent this great effort, kind of a monumental effort, so to speak, that we’ve been working on for quite some time,’’ Hendrick Motorsports President Jeff Andrews said.