Wayne Taylor Racing, trying to defend its title with a reconfigured driver lineup, returned to the forefront at the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA, leading the final practice for Saturday’s 58th running of the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway that opens the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
Kamui Kobayashi led the session with a lap of 1 minute, 35.340 seconds (134.424 mph) in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi, topping the headlining Daytona Prototype international class. Kobayashi and Renger van der Zande are returning WTR drivers, joined at this year’s Rolex 24 by newcomers Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon; Dixon is one of six former Indianapolis 500 champions in the field.
“I’m very happy with how the car has felt during the practice sessions [but] the team built a great car for the race which is very important,” Kobayashi said. “We’re going to fight to win … we’ve worked very hard to get to this point.”
Another champion in the field – two-time and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch – was back on track Friday along with his No. 14 Lexus RC F co-drivers, Jack Hawksworth, Michael De Quesada and Parker Chase. With Hawksworth driving, the No. 14 posted the seventh-fastest time in the production-based GT Daytona (GTD) class, at 1:47.310 (119.429). The team opted out of Thursday’s qualifying due to an engine change. The Lexus returned for Thursday’s night practice and had the 11th-fastest GTD lap.
Busch is racing in the Rolex 24 for the first time at the track where he will try to win the DAYTONA 500 for the first time on Feb. 16.
But, first things first.
“There have been a lot of changes [with the car] overnight,” Busch said after Friday’s encouraging session. “We made a couple of gains on it but not as much as we’d hoped to gain, so we certainly feel like we’re off a little bit on speed and overall lap time. We’d love to get that better so we can be more competitive and from there we just want to try to stay on track and complete all 24 hours.
“It was unfortunate to get in [the car] early [Thursday] but I got some good laps last night and got a couple more good laps this morning.”
The pole-sitting No. 77 Mazda DPi co-driven by Oliver Jarvis, Olivier Pla and Tristan Nunez were seventh-fastest in Friday’s practice; Nunez logged that lap, 1:37.076/132.020). The No. 77 captured the Rolex 24 pole for the second consecutive year on Thursday.
Also Friday, the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge series opened its season with the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge. The trio of Dylan Murry, Jim Cox and Jeroen Bleekemolen co-drove to the overall (and Grand Sport class) victory in the No. 35 Mercedes-AMG GT. The Touring Car class was won by Gavin Ernstone and Jon Morley in the No. 61 Audi RS3.
“So to be able to drive at Daytona is one win; to be able to win here is an entirely different level, a different world,” Murry said. “I always said if I could win one race, it’d be Daytona.”
Tickets for the 58th Rolex 24 At DAYTONA, the 62nd annual DAYTONA 500 and other Daytona International Speedway events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat, and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest Speedway news throughout the season.