Porsche Power, Rough Starts and the Next Generation Arrives
By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 62nd running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona is in the books and it’s fair to say the highly anticipated start to the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship lived up to its billing. The largest crowd in event history saw a deep and competitive 59-car field produce fierce racing throughout, leading to the final, frantic hour that saw the top five in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) and Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) classes and the top two in Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) finish on the lead lap. Only in GTD PRO – where the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 scored the team’s first Rolex 24 victory for Ferrari – did the class winner take the checkered flag on a lap of its own.
Safety in Numbers
Not only did Porsche take the overall victory in the form of the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963, the German marque took home four of the top six placings thanks to the No. 6 Penske Porsche’s fourth-place finish ahead of Proton Competition’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling and the No. 85 JDC-Miller MotorSports 963s. Thus, while rival manufacturers Cadillac and Acura collected championship points for second and third, respectively, BMW’s points haul in the manufacturer standings was limited to fourth place with the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 posting the manufacturer’s best result of seventh.
Win the Rolex 24 and you’ve got a leg up on the WeatherTech Championship driver, team and manufacturer championships. Finishing in the top three or four still leaves you well-positioned for the season ahead, but a poor finish jeopardizes hopes for a season-long championship.
Thus, did some of the fancied championship contenders exit Daytona International Speedway behind the proverbial eight ball? Having set the pace during the early stages of the race, the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R was credited with 10th place in GTP after suffering terminal mechanical problems midway through the race. Likewise, in its debut for Pfaff Motorsports, the No. 9 McLaren 720S GT3 Evo was also classified in 10th in GTD PRO after completing 532 laps.
At that, the Cadillac and Pfaff teams got off comparatively lightly compared to Vasser Sullivan, which saw its No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 credited with 11th place in GTD PRO and the No. 12 Lexus classified 15th in GTD. The former spent an hour in the garage effecting repairs following an early-race accident where they were an innocent bystander and the latter caught fire following a pit stop after starting from the pole and having a strong run the majority of the race. Worse yet, the Heart of Racing Team’s No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 Evo finished 22nd in GTD after retiring with just 303 laps completed.
With the strength and consistency these teams have demonstrated over the last few seasons – and many of them at Daytona – fighting their way back to the top of the points is a challenge they will attack and we will enjoy watching.
Youth Is Served
One of the big talking points about the Rolex 24 was the influx of world-class driving talent from Formula One, IndyCar and the FIA World Endurance Championship. And rightly so. Thanks to a gigantic 59-car entry, there was no shortage of seats for guest drivers. What’s more, the competitive nature and professionalism of those entries made those seats attractive, especially given the event’s unique spot on an otherwise jam-packed motorsports calendar.
But as has often been the case in the past, the Rolex 24 also provided a stage on which a host of emerging young talent could showcase their stuff in front of a virtual who’s who of the motorsports community, not to mention the larger automotive industry. This is nothing new. At the risk of dating myself, I well remember how Max Papis put himself on the map – in the United States, at least – with his fiery drive in the final stint of the 1996 Rolex 24.
Thus, did 17-year-old Connor Zilisch and 23-year-old Christian Rasmussen serve notice of their star potential in teaming with Ryan Dalziel and Dwight Merriman to capture the LMP2 win in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07. Yes, Zilisch has already signed as a development driver for NASCAR’s Trackhouse Racing while Rasmussen will contest the road races on the IndyCar schedule for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Over in GTD, 24-year-old Ritomo Miyata – who has won multiple championships in Japan and is scheduled to compete in the European Le Mans Series and the FIA Formula 2 Championship this year – gave a good account of himself in his IMSA GTD debut in the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus.
Thanks to their performances in the Rolex 24, the racing world at large now counts Messrs. Zilisch, Rasmussen and Miyata among those who will be heard from soon and often in the future.