Photo: Courtesy of IMSA

Five Takeaways: 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona

By IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A wet and wild Sunday led to the first rain-shortened Rolex 24 At Daytona in the 57-event history of the prestigious enduro on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.

As one would have expected in the days of practice and qualifying preceding the drop of the green flag on Saturday afternoon, the outcome would be unpredictable. The conditions magnified that fact, but in the end, the four class winners were clearly deserving.

Here are our five takeaways from a Rolex 24 that will not soon be forgotten:

1. No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R Team Is Deserving Champions
While Fernando Alonso didn’t take the lead for the final time until 10 minutes before what turned out to be a race-ending red flag came out, the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R he shared with Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande and Kamui Kobayashi was unquestionably one of the strongest cars in the field throughout.

All four of the car’s drivers posted top-12 lap times, led by Kobayashi, whose one minute, 34.598 second (135.472 mph) Lap 12 speed was only 0.094 seconds slower than Felipe Nasr’s race-best lap of 1:34.504 (135.607 mph) set on Lap 77 in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi.

Taylor posted the third-quickest lap in the race, while van der Zande had the 10th fastest lap and Alonso the 12th fastest. Alonso pulled out to a healthy lead in his late-afternoon/early-evening stint on Saturday, and the quartet combined to lead a race-high 259 laps of what would be a 593-lap race, or 43.6 percent of the total laps completed.

“Everyone did their job,” said Taylor. “All four drivers led in their own right and drove to the lead, different parts of the race, and it was all about survival. You saw a lot of guys taking a lot of risk early in the race, but we waited with the game plan of running our own race and not getting caught up in anyone else’s battles. I think it was the right game plan.

“We stayed out of trouble, no car damage, no one went off the track. That’s the way you win these 24‑hour races. We kind of came into the grid thinking almost every single car can win the race, and you see guys making little mistakes here and there, and this team has now done six out of seven years finishing on the podium without issues. I think it’s a huge testament to Wayne Taylor Racing.”

2. Mazda’s Time is Coming – And Soon
After teasing us with an “unofficial” track record during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mazda Team Joest and driver Oliver Jarvis delivered officially during qualifying when the Englishman scored the Motul Pole Award in the No. 77 Mazda RT24-P DPi with a lap of 1:33.685 (136.792 mph) besting PJ Jones’ 26-year-old record of 1:33.875.

Both Mazda DPis – the No. 77 shared by Jarvis, Tristan Nunez, Timo Bernhard and Rene Rast and the No. 55 co-driven by Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell and Olivier Pla – were quick at the Roar, quick in qualifying (Bomarito qualified fourth) and quick in the early stages of the Rolex 24. Sadly, however, neither was around for daybreak Sunday morning.

After leading at different times throughout the first six hours, the No. 77 was forced to retire with a mechanical problem. The No. 55 lost three laps in the first quarter of the race before battling back, only to have an incident take them out in the 14th hour.

Despite the disappointment, it was clear that both Mazda Team Joest entries now have plenty of speed. Add to that a strong performance for the team in the 2018 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts and there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about their chances for a breakthrough victory to come soon.

“While it is disappointing that we didn’t see the checkered flag, our Mazda Team Joest crew and drivers can leave with their heads held high that they had put together an effort that ran at the front and was a contender for the victory at Daytona,” said Mazda Motorsports Director John Doonan. “Our Mazda employees, partners, owners and fans deserve to enjoy success, and our approach was to race from the front and push ourselves and the competition as hard as we could. We’ll learn everything we can, put a plan into place to address the issues we had here and go for it again at Sebring. Racers are optimistic, and we are already looking ahead to Sebring to show what we can do.”

3. BMW Races with Higher Purpose – And Wins
BMW Team RLL and its No. 25 BMW M8 GTE co-drivers Augusto Farfus, Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng and Colton Herta didn’t mind the raindrops falling in victory lane Sunday afternoon as they celebrated the first Rolex 24 victory for a BMW GT car since 1998 (BMW-powered Daytona Prototypes claimed overall victories in 2011 and 2013).

The team was thrilled to bring home the victory as a tribute to longtime BMW stalwart Charly Lamm, who was the team principal for Schnitzer BMW. Lamm passed away suddenly last Thursday at the age of 63.

“This win is magical and of special significance to me,” Farfus said. “A few days ago, I lost a very important person in my life. I am sure that Charly was with me on the way to this success, so the win is for him. Now it is time to celebrate.”

It capped off quite a month for BMW Team RLL, which attracted mainstream attention for having two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi as part of its driver lineup in its No. 24 M8 GTE. That team finished ninth in GTLM due in part to a damaged steering column on the first pit stop as Zanardi – who lost his legs in a Champ Car crash in Germany in 2001 – was attempting to install his specially modified steering wheel with hand controls at the same time the car was dropped from its air jacks.

The team lost several laps repairing the steering column. Nevertheless, Zanardi still had a positive first experience in the Rolex 24.

“I feel incredibly sorry for everyone who worked so hard on this project, both in Munich and here in the USA,” Zanardi said. “We really tested countless possible scenarios in the run-up to the race, and then something happens in the first pit stop which has never happened before. But that is motorsport for you. We just have to accept it.

“That aside, my appearance here at Daytona, with all the fantastic reactions from the fans, colleagues and opponents has been like a fairy tale. I would like to say a big thank you to BMW Motorsport and BMW Team RLL for one of the best experiences of my life.”

4. Bad Luck Thwarts Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Chances of GTLM Three-Peat
Had it not been for some bad luck, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing very well could have taken home its third consecutive GTLM victory in the Rolex 24.

The team’s No. 67 Ford GT, which won the 2018 edition with the same three co-drivers in Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon, fell five laps down to the GTLM leaders early in the race after Briscoe hit the pit wall and then incurred a stop-and-hold for an improper wave-by. However, they battled all the way back to lead 15 laps before a late-race stop for fuel in a closed pit with what would be two laps remaining relegated them to fourth in the final race standings.

The No. 66 trio of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais, meanwhile, were top contenders throughout much of the race, leading for a total of 34 laps before an incident with the No. 911 Porsche GT Team RSR while leading the race on a late restart removed the No. 66 from contention for the win.

“It’s disappointing not to win here today, because we certainly had two cars capable of winning,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “The weather conditions were treacherous for everyone, and it certainly played into how the race turned out.

“But we had both Ford GTs get back to the front after issues on the track, and that’s a tribute to the Ford and Ganassi crews and their never give up attitude, who worked so hard to make repairs under very tough conditions for them. We didn’t win today, but these efforts go a long way to helping win championships.”

5. Parity Reigns Again in GTD
There were five GT Daytona (GTD) cars on the lead lap at the end of the 57th Rolex 24 At Daytona. There were another five GTD cars that finished one lap down and one more that was two laps behind at the end of the race.

One of them, the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 shared by Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart and Rik Breukers, won the race for the second consecutive year. Any of the other 10 could have with a lucky break here or there.

The five cars on the GTD lead lap represented four different manufacturers: Lamborghini (first), Audi (second and fourth), Lexus (third) and Acura (fifth). Another Lexus was the first car a lap down in sixth, followed by a Mercedes-AMG, a Porsche, a Ferrari and a BMW.

In other words, one car from each of the eight manufacturers competing in GTD finished the race inside the top 10. That’s parity.

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