This weekend’s 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona wasn’t an instant classic but packed just enough variety, entertainment and drama to serve its usual role as one of the more fun racing events on a season calendar.
Here’s some final reflections after a long couple days to cap off the week.
So, first, we have to discuss the final battle between Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque that led to Taylor going for the pass to the inside at Turn 1 and Albuquerque going for the apex, but then the ensuing collision that followed.
Here’s what each driver said about the move in the post-race press conference.
“Well, it was a good fight, until I got hit, to be honest,” Albuquerque said. “There is not much to say. I had some GTs ahead of me so I could not brake so late, and I closed the door, but then I got spun. There is not much to say, and yeah, the officials took the decision. That’s what it is. We finished second.”
“Yeah. I don’t 100 percent understand ‑‑ I mean, closing the door and getting hit,” Taylor said. “I think that explains it. But I’ve obviously been working on it for a while and looking at where we were strong and where we weren’t strong, and it’s the 24 hours, so you’re going to ‑‑ I mean, everybody is going to take a risk.
“The way I saw it, we came through GT traffic. I was closer than I had been. He’d been struggling in Turn 1. Their car didn’t look very good there, and we were really strong on the brakes, and so I have thought about doing this for years and years, and this has always been something ‑‑ people always open up after that little kink in Turn 1, they open their hands a little bit, and it’s just so easy to release the brake there and pop in there. If you get enough alongside, you can make it work, and I think he saw me coming, he saw me committing, and like he said, I guess, he closed the door. But I think Beaux (Barfield, Race Director) always talked about shared responsibility, and if he knew I was committing, why would you close the door and make us crash?
“But the way ‑‑ from my perspective, it’s Max’s last race. There’s a lot of emotions going on. I wanted to win terribly. We were either going to make a move and do something and win or sit there in second and wait for ‑‑ wait until next year, basically. I didn’t want to do that.”
When you consider the situation and the time of racing, you understand why Taylor opted to make the move he did. At an earlier stage in the race, the consequences of attempting such a move could have worse effects. A penalty could be called if the move is considered “blatant,” or worse, you’d get damaged and have to go to the garage. This contact was light enough that both cars continued.
It was suggested at the driver’s briefing on Saturday morning that moves that are considered proactive would be viewed as without need for a penalty, while reactive moves would trigger one. In this case, it’s hard to definitively say based on the main camera angle that Albuquerque’s move was entirely reactive, versus that he was just going for the apex because he had a right to turn into the corner. And Taylor saw a gap, and given an earlier move he’d made in the race at the Bus Stop, he’d shown he was not going to pass up a potential opportunity to make that move. So, by that definition, it’s a racing incident between two drivers not willing to give up in their pursuit of a Rolex 24 victory.
If a call gets made there, it decides the winner of the race by officiating rather than by the combatants on track. In TSO’s take, it was a case where “swallowing the whistle” was probably the right thing to do for Race Control.
The above contact grows in stature because of the dynamic between Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express Racing in the Prototype ranks. In some respects, the battle feels akin to the Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing rivalry in the Verizon IndyCar Series the last couple years when both teams had Chevrolets. You know there’s mutual respect there, but you also know each team desperately wants to beat the other one.
As the number of teams running Daytona Prototypes declined, Taylor and Action Express emerged as the leading contenders for wins on a weekly basis. At the Rolex 24, Action Express scored overall wins in 2010 and 2014, while Taylor had yet to expand on its 2005 win, despite coming close on the last few occasions.
For years, they’ve had the Corvette DP package to work off of, but with different chassis underneath. Action Express ran Coyote chassis while Taylor ran Dallaras.
As such, it’s an interesting subplot of this week’s Rolex 24 that the new Cadillac DPi-V.R that both teams run is built on the base Dallara chassis, and Max Angelelli was integral in the design and development process.
The Taylor team’s test program really paid dividends when it came to the early practice sessions, but Action Express got back on top in qualifying when Joao Barbosa beat Ricky Taylor for the pole.
With Action Express having one over Taylor going into the race, it quickly became apparent that Taylor didn’t want to let the race get away again. And for the first 22 hours before the dramatic last two hours, the Taylor car did have a more consistent measure of pace compared to the Action Express car.
It was only when the delayed second Action Express car got in the way of Ricky Taylor on a restart that the gloves came off. But IMSA Race Control remained consistent in these two rulings. No further action was taken as that restart was reviewed, and no further action was taken on the Taylor/Albuquerque clash.
Story lines overflowed with the Taylor team breaking through for this win. Jeff Gordon joins A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Jamie McMurray as drivers who have won both a Rolex 24 race and a Daytona 500. Max Angelelli has won in his final start. Jordan Taylor now has a Rolex 24 win to go with his 24 Hours of Le Mans win in a Corvette in 2015. And Ricky Taylor has his first major endurance race victory.
Gordon took Wayne Taylor’s offer of a drive after he ended his full-time NASCAR driving career seriously, and has been preparing for this race for nearly half a year. And he did what he had to do in his stints to keep the car on the lead lap and out of trouble. Aside of his early race contact with Tom Long, which could be viewed in a similar light to the Taylor/Albuquerque clash, Gordon was consistent before letting the sports car regulars do their thing.
Gordon relished the opportunity to grow the friendship and relationship with the Taylor brothers, hailing their talent, their humor and their feedback levels. At one point, Gordon recalled a moment when the rain was happening where Jordan was effortlessly describing the conditions before he got in the car, while driving it himself.
“I couldn’t sleep because I wanted to watch these guys do what they did in the rain, in the cold, in the most treacherous conditions, and they did it at a level, that I’ll be honest, I’m not capable of doing, and I was so impressed,” Gordon said.
The family patriarch and a two-time Rolex 24 driving champion in his own right, Wayne Taylor said emotion was the overriding story of this win.
“I don’t think I’ve cried this much since I was a baby,” he said.
It wound up not being as great a day for the Verizon IndyCar Series field compared to potential earlier in the race, but it was still an interesting day for those with full-time or recent IndyCar ties.
Sebastien Bourdais again showed why is he one of the great all-around drivers of his generation with yet another star turn in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT. Bourdais drove most of the miserable conditions during the night as it rained, moving the car into the lead and keeping it in the top three. He then had time to kick back and watch teammates Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller do the rest. The Frenchman won this race overall in 2014 with Action Express, and his hometown race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year. Not bad for your part-time job.
The other three current or recent IndyCar drivers in the Fords didn’t quite have as perfect a result. Tony Kanaan had what he called a “blast” in his Ford GT race debut but a couple penalties knocked the No. 69 Ford he shared with Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx back to fifth. Tincknell had a somewhat mixed Rolex 24 debut as he hit a Corvette C7.R and also missed the pit lane entry, but the young English driver still is overflowing with potential.
Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe’s race came unglued courtesy of Briscoe having a rare moment out of sorts when he lost the back end of his No. 67 Ford GT at the Bus Stop and backed into the outside retaining wall. The track conditions caught many folks out and if a driver of Briscoe’s distinguished caliber could get caught up in it, fair to say no one was safe. Those two and Richard Westbrook finished the race, but only in 10th in class.
Things went better for Dixon, Kanaan and Bourdais’ IndyCar supplier, Honda, with its debut of the new Acura NSX GT3s for Michael Shank Racing. Both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal led laps, and Hunter-Reay’s No. 86 car he shared with Jeff Segal, Ozz Negri and Tom Dyer finished fifth in the GT Daytona class on the car’s debut. The No. 93 car Rahal drove with Andy Lally, Katherine Legge and Mark Wilkins was also set for a good finish before losing a hood and causing another caution within the last 90 minutes, and dropped to 11th. Shank’s team, which enjoyed testing support and help from Wisconsin-based RealTime Racing and will enjoy support from Ohio-based Honda of America Racing Team (or HART) throughout the year, did an excellent job with the two new GT cars after previously running in the Prototype class.
“To be slightly disappointed with a fifth-place finish in the debut of the Acura NSX GT3 in a 24-hour endurance race, says a lot about the dedication of HPD, Acura and Michael Shank Racing. Our goal was just to finish the race and, if not for contact damage from earlier in the race, we were on track for two top-six finishes. This bodes very well for our prospects in this program, beginning at Sebring in March,” said Art St. Cyr, President, Honda Performance Development.
NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell’s Alex Job Racing team entered as one of the top sleeper entries in the 27-car GT Daytona class. But a stop plus four-minute, 18-second penalty assessed early for an improper wave by was the car’s death knell for win chances. Persistence and attrition brought Bell, Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo and Pierre Kaffer back to sixth in class.
At least those drivers running in the GT classes had success, because no such luck found those in Prototypes.
Spencer Pigot appeared the best placed for Mazda, but an engine failure in just before noon Sunday took him out of fifth place. James Hinchcliffe’s No. 70 Mazda was delayed overnight with a gearbox change and then eventually retired.
RC Enerson’s first sports car start saw him at least able to run a number of laps once the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson got going, and make the finish in 10th place. But first hour electrical issues cropped up again and set the car laps back before the team’s hopes of success ever began.
Conor Daly’s last-minute call-up to Starworks Motorsport was an interesting one as the team fought through reported straight-line speed issues, then a variety of incidents during the race. Daly called the track “frozen” to IMSA Radio and said it was one of the toughest set of track conditions he’s ever dealt with. Both his No. 88 car and the sister No. 8 car were retired a couple hours before the checkered flag.
Sage Karam and Jack Hawksworth both have switched to Lexus. Karam didn’t get a chance to drive after Scott Pruett’s early accident. Hawksworth managed to lead for Lexus in the 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3, and the car finished in 14th in the GTD class.
Some of the other class winning drivers today spent some time on the open-wheel ladder growing up. Daniel Morad and Michael Christensen spent the 2010 GP3 Series season racing each other, Morad with Status Grand Prix and Christensen with Arden. Morad joked that he was thankful to have the Dane on his Alegra Motorsports team as he went on a tear to close out the GT Daytona class win, as those two shared the car with Jesse Lazare (a former USF2000 racer), Michael and Carlos de Quesada. The latter de Quesada and his Alegra team won this race in 2007, and now had the opportunity to race with his teenaged son in the same car.
Performance Tech Motorsports dominated the PC class and the win never realistically appeared in doubt. James French has amassed thousands of laps in various vintage F1 and other open-wheel cars and has really grown as a sports car driver, firmly establishing himself as Brent O’Neill’s team leader. Pato O’Ward (Pro Mazda) and Kyle Masson also have Mazda ladder experience and were consistent in their Rolex 24 debuts. Late add Nick Boulle did the rest. It was hard not to feel for Clark Toppe, who would have been in that seat had he not had an incident at the Roar test. Last year’s IMSA Mazda Prototype Lites champion though was gracious anyway, as the likable and rather tall Texan wished Performance Tech a congratulatory message on Twitter.
The youthful exuberance stuck out in the post-race press conferences. All four of the Performance Tech drivers are 27 years of age or younger, and Morad and Christensen (both 26), Lazare (19) and Michael de Quesada (17) are even younger as a group. The second-placed GTD entry, the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS of Connor De Phillippi (24), Christopher Mies (27), Jules Gounon and Jeffrey Schmidt (both 22) was also packed with youngsters.
Had it just been one standout car that had a young lineup you could call it an outlier, but with the Taylor brothers only in their mid-20s, and with this batch of young drivers do well, it speaks volumes that the kids were alright – particularly in a race where the driving was so hard to do.
Other quick notes:
- Shank (fifth in GTD) and JDC-Miller Motorsports (fifth in P) scored top-five finishes in class in their first race in a new class, in a 24-hour race. That’s not easy to pull off.
- The new cars were downright impressive. The overall podium featured two DPis and one LMP2-spec car, the new Porsche 911 RSR podiumed and could have won in its debut, and in GTD, a new-to-the-series and new-to-the-Riley team Mercedes-AMG GT3 finished third. It took 20 hours before any of the new Prototypes hit any sort of terminal failure, although small hiccups popped up along the way.
- That GT Le Mans race was something special with four of the five manufacturers duking it out, and Corvette Racing being unlucky to not see its outstanding pit work rewarded.
- One of the rare GT Daytona cars that didn’t lead was Lamborghini. The best of the eight Lamborghini Huracán GT3s was Paul Miller Racing’s car in seventh place.
- Heartbreak hotel for Scuderia Corsa, which was on pace for a GTD win before apparent engine problems caused Sam Bird’s wings to be wounded. Bird shared the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 with Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen and Matteo Cressoni.
There’s so many stories that come out of a 24-hour race that trying to recap them all is crazy. But we hope we tried here on TSO Ladder this weekend. We thank you for reading and for your subscriptions. Now, get some sleep, those of you who read our halfway post at the 2:30 a.m. mark…