Rain and purple flags wreck the racing on the Rolex 24 at Daytona

Enlarge / The #77 Mazda Team Joest, Mazda DPi (Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez, Rene Rast, Timo Bernhard), the #7 Acura Team Penske, Acura DPi, (Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi), and the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing, Cadillac DPi (Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran, Mike Conway, Pipo Derani) racing on Saturday at Daytona


Although we often cowl our personal journey preparations, on this case Rolex flew me to Orlando and offered two nights in a resort in Daytona Beach.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA.—This previous weekend, a lot of the world’s racing fraternity turned out for the annual Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona International Speedway. First held in 1962, the race across the clock on a 3.5-mile (5.6km) mixture of 31-degree banking and flat infield might be IMSA’s highest-profile occasion and one of many hardest 24-hour races on the calendar. 2019’s occasion was no cakewalk, significantly as soon as Mother Nature confirmed as much as spoil the celebration.

Regular readers will little doubt be accustomed to the IMSA sequence. But for those who’ve by no means heard of it or are questioning what we’re doing in Florida in January when the Daytona 500 is not till February: that is the US’ top-tier sports activities automotive racing sequence. There are 4 completely different classes of automotive, all of which race on the identical time. The quickest of those is the DPi class, for 600hp (kW) prototype race vehicles from Acura, Cadillac, Mazda, and Nissan. Well, form of, as a result of the DPis are literally primarily based on the opposite prototype class, LMP2. LMP2 vehicles are additionally carbon-fiber prototypes, however all of them use the identical 4.0L Gibson V8 engine.

For the previous two years, DPis and LMP2s ran in the identical class, with the previous pegged again to the velocity of the latter by a course of often known as “balance of performance.” This yr, the DPis have been let off the leash, for this can be a manufacturer-backed class with skilled racing drivers behind the wheels. The LMP2s, like at Le Mans, are meant for pro-am squads.

Then there are the lessons for race vehicles primarily based on road-legal equipment. The quicker of those is GTLM (aka GTE at Le Mans). Like DPi, this class is for factory-backed, all-pro groups from the likes of BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Ford, and Porsche. Then there’s GTD (often known as GT3 in lots of different sequence—complicated, eh?), which is once more meant for pro-am groups and options such niceties as antilock brakes.

Who began the place?

The pre-season take a look at—often known as the Roar Before the Rolex 24—left little doubt that the mix of extra highly effective DPis and new Michelin tires (changing final season’s Continental rubber) can be blisteringly fast. So it proved in qualifying, when Oliver Jarvis set a brand new observe document of 1:33.685 minutes within the #77 Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P. (At the Roar, Jarvis had gone even quicker, however the climate was higher.) It was an encouraging begin to the yr for Mazda, which knocked repeatedly on the door of victory in 2018 with out ever having the ability to step inside.

“We’re here to show that we’re capable of winning races,” Jarvis stated. “Hopefully we can do it here, but I think people now realize we’ve made that step that we needed to make last year. For [Mazda Motorsports Director] John [Doonan] I’m just so happy, he’s put his heart and soul into this project, so it’s a special day for us.”

Much consideration was being lavished on the automotive that certified in sixth place, the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, as a result of one of many automotive’s 4 drivers occurred to be Formula 1 megastar Fernando Alonso. Bored of driving an uncompetitive McLaren in that sequence, Alonso has additionally been attempting his hand at IndyCar and endurance racing. Indeed, he raced on the Rolex 24 in 2018, however in a much less aggressive LMP2 machine, and final June gained the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Toyota. This yr, he was in a DPi with an opportunity—the #10 gained the season-ending Petit Le Mans race in October—together with Taylor, Toyota teammate Kamui Kobiyashi, and the splendidly named Renger Van der Zande.

Porsche had given its GTLM vehicles a pleasant heritage search for the race, and Nick Tandy took the category pole in his 911 RSR, however right here, too, many of the consideration was additional down the grid. Alex Zanardi raced in F1, was a double champion within the open-wheel CART sequence (for IndyCars, however not referred to as IndyCar for causes too lengthy to elucidate right here with no gigantic derail), however then misplaced each his legs in a horrific crash on the CART race held on the Lausitzring in Germany in 2001. Since then he is turn out to be an inspiration, each for returning to motorsport and likewise for profitable a number of Paralympic gold medals. I used to be lucky sufficient to interview Zanardi to seek out out extra in regards to the particular diversifications within the #24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE that he shared with three different drivers, which you’ll learn on this companion article.

Only 4 LMP2s had been entered within the race, and the pole in that class went to the #81 Dragonspeed Oreca/Gibson with James Allen (not the F1 journalist) doing the honors. Finally, pole in GTD was clinched by Marcos Gomes within the Via Italia Racing Ferrari 488 GT3.

You talked about one thing about rain?

You’d suppose with such a tremendous lineup this yr we would have had a cracking race. While there have been some wonderful on-track battles, sadly this yr’s Rolex 24 will probably be remembered extra for the retirements and the purple flags. (During racing, a purple flag means the race is suspended and all of the vehicles are parked within the pit lane.)

Early on, there was little to select from between the Mazdas, Acuras, and Cadillacs in DPi, though the pole-sitting #77 Mazda led early on. But simply after the six-hour mark, it began to go incorrect for Mazda. First the #77 was pressured to retire with engine bother. Then, about ten minutes later issues hit its sister automotive, forcing the #55 RT24-P into the pit lane for 3 laps for repairs. A valiant effort by way of the night time by drivers Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tinknell, and Olivier Pla virtually received them again on the lead lap, however with ten hours to go they had been hit by one other automotive and likewise needed to retire.

With the Mazdas gone, the race for the general win was primarily between the 2 Penske Acuras and the #10 Caddy. Fernando Alonso took over from Taylor on the first driver change and took the automotive to the entrance, exhibiting he is simply as at house driving a automotive with a roof and coated wheels as he’s in a single-seater. The #10 was nonetheless within the lead when he handed the automotive over to Kobayashi, however then a sequence of yellow flag warning durations (the place the vehicles must flow into behind a security automotive with no overtaking allowed) took away their benefit.

However, issues received worse as soon as the rain arrived. Originally we had been predicted nothing however a lightweight sprinkle, probably within the remaining hour. But the skies over Daytona had been grey and ominous from the second the inexperienced flag was waved on Saturday afternoon. The rain began in earnest somewhat earlier than 5am, then received heavier and heavier. At 6am, the #4 Corvette C7.R aquaplaned right into a tire barrier, bringing out one more security automotive interval that continued for greater than an hour earlier than the choice was made to purple flag the race. Race vehicles run with little or no experience top, and which means they’ll turn out to be undriveable if there’s standing water. And oh, was there ever standing water. The vehicles parked in pit lane to attend for a break within the climate.

When that got here, an hour and three-quarters later, the race managed a single lap earlier than one more security automotive. The drawback was standing water on the infield, significantly on the factors the place the observe transitioned onto or off of the banking. Another lengthy security automotive adopted, then a couple of minutes’ extra inexperienced flag racing earlier than the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari slammed into the again of the #540 Porsche. As you will see from the in-car footage under, visibility was virtually utterly non-existent.

With about two hours left on the clock, the race was purple flagged for a second time, one thing that had by no means occurred within the earlier 56 years of the race. But earlier than that occurred, Alonso had returned the #10 to the lead with a beautiful little bit of driving, capitalizing on a mistake by one other F1 alum, Felipe Nasr. The vehicles returned to pit lane for greater than two hours, however the climate didn’t enhance, and IMSA determined to name the race after 23 hours and 50 minutes. Taylor, Alonso, Van Der Zande, and Kobayashi had been victorious total, every incomes a shiny new Rolex Daytona for his or her troubles.

Alonso virtually tried to speak himself out of a victory; earlier than regaining the lead and earlier than the ultimate purple flag, he complained to his workforce over the radio that the circumstances had been too extreme to maintain racing. “I called a lot of times when I was second, over the radio, that [the] safety car was necessary. I think the last five, seven laps of the race, were not, I think, right. For anyone…because the visibility was nearly zero, we could not be flat out on the straights. The car was moving, the [traction control] was coming in 6th gear, [at] 200 miles per hour. There were parts of different cars in different points of the track because people were losing the bodywork here and there. And I was calling the team for a safety car immediately because I could not see anything,” he stated after the race.

Victory in GTLM went to one of many BMWs. Although the #24 took itself out of rivalry when the steering wheel connector was damaged throughout a driver change, the #25 of Augusto Farfus, Connor De Phillippi, Phillipp Eng, and Colton Herta stayed out of sufficient bother to take the highest step of the rostrum. They devoted the win to Charly Lamm, the top of Schnitzer Motorsport—a longtime BMW workforce that gained the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans for the marque. “This win is magical and of special significance to me,” Farfus said. “A number of days in the past, I misplaced an important individual in my life. I’m positive that Charly was with me on the way in which to this success, so the win is for him. Now it’s time to have fun.”

Top honors in LMP2 went to the #18 DragonSpeed automotive of Roberto Gonzalez, Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Saavedra, and Ryan Cullen, and in GTD it was the #11 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan with Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Christan Englehart, and Rik Breukers, making it two wins in two years for that outfit.

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