Team owner Wayne Taylor, forced to shuffle the deck this year when it came to assembling a driver lineup for the 58th Rolex 24 At DAYTONA, came up with a full house of talent. The result: a successful defense of last year’s championship and a third victory in the last four years in North America’s premier sports car race at Daytona International Speedway.
With the exit of his son Jordan to another team and the absence of Formula 1 legend Fernando Alonso, who joined the team only for last year’s Rolex 24, Taylor landed former and current IndyCar Series stars Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon to join returnees Kamui Kobayashi and Renger van der Zande. The foursome co-drove the increasingly iconic No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi to the victory, giving Taylor his fourth Rolex 24 championship as an owner; Taylor also co-drove to victory twice, during his driving days. Dixon, a former Indianapolis 500 champion, came home a Rolex 24 champion for the third time.
Kobayashi brought the Cadillac home Sunday afternoon with a final two-and-a-half-hour stint. The team overcame a stutter-step just after 8:15 a.m., with nearly five-and-a-half hours remaining, Briscoe ran a red light at the pit road exit; the penalty was a stop-and-go the next time around, plus 60 seconds. The lead was lost to the No. 5 Cadillac DPi driven by Loic Duval. At 9:45 a.m., during a round of pit stops with Briscoe back at the wheel, the No. 10 retook the lead for good.
“Just keeping it on the track [was the key],” Briscoe said. “Kamui did a fantastic job the last two-and-a-half hours. We knew the car was fast. We were just relieved there were no yellows at the end so we could maintain the lead. Just so proud of all these guys. Wayne just puts together this program and they are always a car that can win the Rolex 24. Amazing to be a part of it. Whew! We did it.”
As expected, with a slightly smaller field (38 cars) compared to some years, the race pace was relentless and caution periods (33 laps total) were minimal. A total of 833 laps were run on the 3.56-mile road course, equating to 2,965 miles – both race records. The distance traveled by the three cars who finished on the lead lap was roughly the equivalent to a Daytona Beach-Napa Valley cross-country road trip.
Kobayashi crossed the finish line 1 minute, 05.426 seconds ahead of the pole-sitting No. 77 Mazda DPi co-driven by Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez and Olivier Pla. The No. 5 Cadillac finished third, co-driven by Duval, Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais.
“As everybody knows this is a very difficult race to win,” said Taylor, a native of South Africa and a longtime Orlando area resident. “This year was probably more difficult than any other year. We had a [lower] car count, which meant there was not going to be a whole lot of yellows so pretty much everybody was running flat-out the entire time, working really hard.
“Truly, the team was really outstanding. These drivers … can’t say enough about them. They’re like superstars [but] there are no egos. This is a team event and everybody is focusing on the big picture and that’s to win for everybody.”
In addition to capturing the overall championship, Taylor’s team also topped the headlining Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class. Three other classes also competed simultaneously – Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD).
The No. 81 ORECA co-driven by Colin Braun, Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley and Harrison Newey won the LMP2 title. GTLM was won by John Edwards, Augusto Farfus, Chaz Mostert and Jesse Krohn in the No. 24 BMW M8. And in GTD, Madison Snow, Bryan Sellers, Corey Lewis and Andrea Caldarelli drove the No. 48 Audi R8 to victory.
The Rolex 24 – the season-opening race for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season – once again attracted an “all-star” field featuring six former Indianapolis 500 champions plus the two-time and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch. Competing in the Rolex 24 for the first time, Busch co-drove the No. 14 Lexus RC F with Jack Hawksworth, Michael De Quesada and Parker Chase.
Busch nonetheless looked like a sports car veteran at times, doing both double and triple stints to help push the No. 14 to a respectable ninth-place finish in the production-based GTD class. That was no small task. His team’s chances for a class victory took a double hit this weekend: first, when the team didn’t qualify on Thursday because of an engine change, resulting in a rear-of-the-field start; then, when a brake change caused a crippling 10-minute pit stop just before 4:30 a.m., nearly 15 hours into the twice-around-the-clock race.
“We just didn’t have the long-run pace,” Busch said. “Our tires would [wear] and overall it was a real handful there late in runs. That’s kind of where we lost ground. But getting that first 24-hour go was pretty cool so we will see what happens [in the future].”
Auto racing resumes Feb. 8-16 at Daytona International Speedway, with DAYTONA Speedweeks Presented By AdventHealth, a nine-day slate of NASCAR racing capped by the 62nd annual DAYTONA 500 – “The Great American Race” – on Sunday, Feb. 16.
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