Era Motorsport Returns to Daytona Victory Lane in LMP2
January 28, 2024
By John Oreovicz
IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 62nd running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona boiled down to a two-car race for overall and Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class honors between the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R and the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963.
The Porsche seized the advantage a little more than 19 hours into the 24-hour endurance contest that served as the season opener for the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and Matt Campbell and Felipe Nasr combined to build a 10-second lead. But Pipo Derani and Tom Blomqvist fought back in the Cadillac, culminating in Blomqvist making a daring pass for the lead on Nasr into Turn 1 with an hour and 20 minutes remaining.
A full-course caution that flew with 52 minutes remaining eliminated Blomqvist’s 2.2-second advantage and reset the race for a final sprint. When the pits opened eight minutes later, the Porsche crew got Nasr out ahead for the green flag that flew with 32 minutes to go.
That clean air at the head of the field was all the Brazilian needed. He kept the No. 7 Porsche that he shared with Dane Cameron, Matt Campbell and Josef Newgarden in front through the final stages, crossing the line 2.112 seconds ahead of the No. 31 Cadillac, which was driven by Blomqvist, Pipo Derani and Jack Aitken. Jordan Taylor, Louis Deletraz, Colton Herta and Jenson Button finished third in the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06.
“It’s incredible to think we pulled that one off,” Nasr exclaimed before being mobbed by Porsche personnel in the postrace celebration.
It was the 23rd time Porsche claimed overall honors in the Rolex 24, the last coming in 2010 using a Riley chassis in the Daytona Prototype (DP) class fielded by Action Express Racing – the same team that now fields the Whelen Cadillac.
Team Penske owns two prior sports car victories at Daytona – a 1966 GT/GTO class win and the overall prize in 1969, when Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons enjoyed a 30-lap cushion at the finish in a Lola T-70/Chevrolet.
“When you think about 1969, when we won here with a Lola, things were a lot different in those days,” Penske said. “Just to see the competitiveness, where six or seven tenths of a second was the difference after 24 hours of racing, it’s unbelievable.
“I’ll tell you, this goes down as one of the biggest wins we’ve had.”
The victory was equally as satisfying for Porsche, which entered IMSA’s new GTP era featuring a hybrid-electrified platform in 2023 in a highly publicized resumption of the German marque’s relationship with the Penske organization, which produced major sports car victories in several different time periods since the early 1970s. But the Penske-Porsche partnership fell short of the WeatherTech Championship crown last season, losing out to the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac.
Porsche targeted increased reliability in the five IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup events for 2024. That goal was achieved at Daytona International Speedway, as all four Porsche 963 hybrids in the field (two with Penske, one with JDC-Miller MotorSports and one with Proton Competition) finished in the top six.
Cameron competed for the Penske-Porsche program in the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2023, and the American sports car ace was delighted to transfer to the North American-based IMSA program for ’24. He was in tears in Victory Lane.
“Fifteen years – that’s a long time,” Cameron said. “I’m so proud of these guys. We had so many issues in the long races last year, and so much work to tune this thing up.”
Campbell and Nasr teamed to score a GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) class victory at the 2022 Rolex 24 driving a Porsche, but this was the first overall win for each.
“Incredible the way this race ebbs and flows and the way we took it to the Cadillacs today,” said Campbell. “Hats off to them – they really gave it to us. To finally get our first big victory in the world with this car is phenomenal. What a team! We finally got it done.”
Era Motorsport Returns to Daytona Victory Lane in LMP2
The fight for Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class honors in the Rolex 24 was a good one, with five cars remaining in contention to the finish.
The No. 04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA LMP2 07 and the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA were the main contenders, until the No. 18 with drivers Dwight Merriman, Ryan Dalziel, Connor Zilisch and Christian Rasmussen took control over the final four hours. The No. 18 drivers led 132 of the final 136 laps, with Rasmussen taking the checkered flag with a 6.8-second advantage over Malthe Jakobsen in the No. 04, which was co-piloted by George Kurtz, Colin Braun and Toby Sowery.
“It’s awesome; it’s a huge bucket list item for me,” said Rasmussen, the team’s IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup driver about to embark on his first full season of IndyCar Series competition. “We were just strong all race. We kept improving, we knew we had the pace and we had the strategy just right. Then just cruised to the finish. I’m over the moon.”
Merriman and Dalziel were also half of the Era lineup in 2021 that won the Rolex 24 LMP2 race.
The No. 74 Riley ORECA with drivers Gar Robinson, Felipe Fraga, Josh Burdon and Felipe Massa finished third in LMP2.
The WeatherTech Championship resumes March 13-16 with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Central Florida.
Risi Rejoices with Commanding Rolex 24 GTD PRO Victory
Winward Racing Takes GTD Honors for Second Time in Four Years
January 28, 2024
By Jeff Olson
IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – At last, Risi Competizione has some fine timepieces.
A successful competitor in sports car racing since 1998, Giuseppe Risi’s Houston-based team has claimed multiple class victories over the years at Le Mans, Sebring and Petit Le Mans. But until Sunday, it had not celebrated victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Daniel Serra, Davide Rigon, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado teamed to drive the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 from a fifth-place start in the Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) class to victory by a lap over the No. 77 AO Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R (992).
Among the spoils for the veteran Risi foursome are the customary Rolex watches awarded to class winners at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship opener.
“This is the race that I was missing, that I really wanted to win,” said Serra, who drove the final stint. “Today is one of the happiest days of my racing career.”
Laurin Heinrich, Seb Priaulx and Michael Christensen brought the pole-winning AO Porsche home in second place, with the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 finishing third with co-drivers Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Neil Verhagen and Sheldon van der Linde.
The dominance of the No. 62 Ferrari, which survived a fire in the pits in the first six hours of the race, was on display in the closing stages of the race. The car led the last 82 laps, 130 of the final 136 and 215 overall in the race.
“It’s never easy, you know?” Serra said. “You start to hear some noises in the car and you think that everything is out of control in the last few laps.”
The race tested the mettle of the GTD PRO cars and drivers almost from the start. Just minutes into the race, the 2023 GTD PRO champion was involved in a crash that relegated it to an 11th-place finish. Mike Conway was piloting the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 when Dennis Andersen’s Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) entry spun in front of him at the exit of Turn 1.
With just under two hours remaining in the race, the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW stopped for a brake change while running second behind the No. 62 Ferrari. The brake issues returned shortly after van der Linde returned to the track, and the No. 77 AO Racing Porsche moved into second in class.
In the end, the win and the Rolexes went to Risi Competizione, which started to show the strength of the Ferrari 296 GT3 in its debut last season. It was the first Rolex 24 win for Serra, Rigon and Calado, while Pier Guidi picked up his second watch following a Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) victory in a Level 5 Ferrari 10 years ago.
“Giuseppe deserves it,” Calado said of the team owner. “He’s wanted it for a long time. I’m happy for him, and I’m happy for us. It’s a great way to start the year and puts us in good stead for the rest of the year.”
Winward Racing Drives through Large GTD Field to Win
You’ll forgive Daniel Morad if he was a bit emotional at the end of the race. It’s not often that one wins the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Morad led a come-from-behind effort by Winward Racing and teammates Philip Ellis, Russell Ward and Indy Dontje by anchoring the final hours of the team’s Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class victory in the No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3.
“I’ve won it before sitting on the sidelines and now I’ve won it in the seat of the car,” Morad said. “I almost crashed on the in-lap (after the checkered flag), I was crying so much. My voice is gone. I think I hurt myself as well.”
There’s a reason for the emotion. The No. 57 Mercedes started 17th among the 23 GTD entries, yet soldiered through the field to victory, ending a run of bad luck that clouded Winward’s 2023 WeatherTech Championship season.
While 12 different GTD cars led throughout the race, the No. 57 Mercedes rose to the top toward the end, leading 123 of the final 134 laps and a class-high 383 in all. Morad’s previous Rolex 24 victory came in GTD seven years ago. Ward, Ellis and Dontje were all with the class-winning Winward team in 2021.
Ferrari claimed second through fourth places Sunday in GTD. The No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari 296 GT3 co-driven by Simon Mann, Francois Heriau, Miguel Molina and Kei Cozzolino finished second, 2.731 seconds behind the winners. The No. 34 Conquest Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 co-driven by Manny Franco, Albert Costa Balboa, Alessandro Balzan and Cedric Sbirrazzuoli was third, with the No. 023 Triarsi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 and drivers Onofrio Triarsi, Charles Scardina, Riccardo Agostini and Alessio Rovera taking fourth.
In the final hour, the pole-winning No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 stopped with smoke pouring from beneath its hood. Parker Thompson emerged safely and tried to extinguish the fire, but the car was retired and finished 15th in class.
The ensuing caution brought the field back together for the final minutes, but Morad turned his extended stint in the car to a 2.731-second class victory.
“Incredible team, perfect car today,” Morad said.
The WeatherTech Championship season resumes March 16 with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway.