By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
47 cars started the long and grueling 57th edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and despite a major downpour in the second half, 10 entries weren’t sitting in the pits when the race was rain-shortened.
Prior to the heavy rains that stopped the race a record two times, it was reliability issues involving multiple entries including class favorites.
Just over an hour into the race, the No. 99 NTG Motorsport Porsche GTD hit the tire barriers at the West Horseshoe. Other than cosmetic damage, all appeared to be fine as it continued rolling.
Not long after, the No. 99 Porsche, driven by Juergen Haering, hand grenade the engine in Turns 1-2, causing several cars going wide just to avoid getting into each other or running over the oil. This resulted the first full course caution of the Rolex 24, and the GTD was credited as the overall last-place finisher.
The next major retirement wouldn’t take place until the seventh hour when the track-record setting No. 77 Mazda Joest DPi, driven by Timo Bernhard, suffered a turbocharger failure. It was questioned by many as to whether or not the Mazda will be reliable for 24 hours, and that was answered in that period as Bernhard’s back end of the car was on fire as it laid to rest at the Bus Stop.
Mazda’s rotten luck continued past the 13th hour when the sister car, the No. 55 Madza, driven by Olivier Pla, sustained left rear damage after heavy contact was made at the exit of the International Horseshoe. It sent Pla into a spin before it stayed stranded in the grass, bringing out the ninth full course caution. While an AMR safety crew checked on Pla, there was no serious harm, but it ended his race.
Before Pla’s retirement, the No. 55 Mazda had two issues. The first taking place in Hour No. 4 when Harry Ticknell was behind the wheel. Going into Turn 5, the No. 57 Meyer Shank Racing Acura GTD, driven by Katherine Legge, made contact with Ticknell, sending him into a complete spin.
No penalties were assessed and the Mazda continued, but two hours later, a fuel leak resulted lost pace at the sixth hour and went behind the wall. Team Joest were able to bring the car back until their accident put them out for good and with the No. 77 already out, it was a crushing double retirement for Mazda.
As the Rolex 24 hit the 14th hour and near 5 a.m. EST, rain had arrived and the complexity of the race changed as it began pouring. It led Tommy Milner’s No. 4 Corvette GTLM spinning in Turn 1 and the driver side slammed the tire barriers in the 15th hour. Milner got out of the car and was okay, but the Corvette was able to continue on, but their bid of a Rolex 24 victory was over.
Nearly two hours later, conditions have gotten worse that IMSA decided it wasn’t safe to run, warranting the first red flag.
The field resumed action 90 minutes later, but the biggest incident of the race occurred just before the race went back under green.
A three-car GTD crash took out the No. 9 Porsche of Zachaire Robichon, the No. 46 Lamborghini of Taylor Proto and the No. 48 Lamborghini of Ryan Hardwick. Proto’s car lost pace at the tri-oval, just in front of the field as other drivers such as Fernando Alonso in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R had to intervene.
Alonso and others were successful to avoid the madness, but not Robichon whose left front plowed into Proto, ripping off the wheel and extended the caution period. Neither driver were hurt in the crash.
Several more cars had near scares and their own excursions with the wets, but continued on. That was the case until the 21st hour when the last accident of the race took place at the braking zone heading into the Bus Stop chicane.
Toni Vilander’s No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari GTD, battling low visibility like everyone else, couldn’t react on time to avoid Dirk Werner’s No. 540 Porsche GTD, slamming into him. It ended Vilander’s race as the whole front end was crunched, putting the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari on the flatbed truck and credited with a 34th place finish, the highest retiree.
Less than an hour later, the race was red flagged once again for heavy rain and IMSA officials called the race with 11 minutes remaining, giving the overall victory to the WTR Cadillac of Alonso, Jordan Taylor, Kamui Kobayashi and Renger van der Zande.
Other entries that retired from the Rolex 24 were the No. 47 Precision Performance Motorsports Lamborghini GTD, No. 71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GTD, No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari GTD, and No. 84 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi.
While several cars were dashed from winning a Rolex watch, it’s on to the next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship as most of the field will compete in the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida on March 16, the second leg of the Michelin Endurance Cup.