By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine
The 2022 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the first event on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship calendar, featured 61 cars spread among 5 classes of competition.
Previously covered was the DPi class, which raced for the overall victory and featured 7 different cars from manufacturers Cadillac and Acura. Down one manufacturer from last season with the departure of the very popular Multimatic Mazda team, this class was still very strong at Daytona, with each of its participants leading the race at one point or another. For 2023, the newly named GTP (formerly LMDh) class becomes the top tier of IMSA racing and new manufacturers are anticipated to join the fray in 2023 and beyond.
In the LMP2 class at the Rolex 24, the very capable DragonSpeed USA team of Eric Lux, Devlin DeFrancesco, Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta took the top spot on the podium (and new Rolex Daytona watches) for their outstanding run to victory in their ORECA LMP2 07. They finished an amazing 5th place overall, covering 751 laps, and finishing just over 7 seconds in front of the second place LMP2 car of Racing Team Nederland.
Coming back from over three laps down early, because of drive through penalties due to a faulty pit speed limiter, the team used smart strategy to make up laps and time on full course yellows and pit stops. Eric Lux: “How many pit stops did we have compared to everyone else, because we had a lot of drive throughs –“
Pato O’Ward: I know for the first 25 minutes we were plus 6, or plus 7, more than everybody else…”
Devlin DeFrancesco: “I think we really hurt our crew. They’ll need a good night’s sleep because we put them through the ringer a little bit.”
IndyCar regular Colton Herta finished off the team’s heroic effort with a quad stint at the end of the race, securing his 2nd Rolex class win (the first one was in the BMW GTLM car in 2019). So, between the overall winning DPi Acura, which featured 2 IndyCar drivers and the DragonSpeed winning LMP2 car, which featured 3 IndyCar drivers, there were a total of 5 regular IndyCar drivers getting new Rolex watches at Daytona.
Colton: “It was a lot of fun. It was really cool to be able to do it in a Prototype and with this group. Like I said, I didn’t know Eric (Lux) before this race weekend, but I’m glad I was able to drive with him at least once. He’s really good and fast and a really good guy. I know these two guys for a long time (O’Ward and DeFrancesco), and we’ll be competing against them very soon. But it was a lot of fun. And to win it on debut was amazing. And just what a team.”
In LMP3, it was the Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 of Gar Robinson, Felipe Fraga, Kay van Berlo, and Michael Cooper taking the class victory. It was the second consecutive win for Riley Motorsports at the Rolex 24. They took a one lap victory over the Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier, which fought them for the class victory for the whole 24 hours, along with the CORE Autosport and Andretti Autosport entries – it seemed like every time we looked at the leaderboard, these four cars were running right together. Motorsport Diaries editor James Edmonds will be following up with a “behind the scenes” story about the Sean Creech Motorsports race experience – stay tuned.
Gar Robinson: “The ability to win the first one was very special. It took generations of Robinsons racing to win the first one. I mean, winning two, especially in a row, back-to-back, is something I never thought would have been something that was even in the cards for us.”
Felipe Fraga: “Like, they were amazing. No mistakes from the team, any pit stops, anything. It was a perfect race. And I was like almost dying the last five laps. It was so tense. I was not tired. I could drive more. But my neck was like I couldn’t turn because there was so much emotion…”
At 10pm Saturday night there was the traditional fireworks display across from Lake Lloyd on the Daytona infield, but the real fireworks were saved for the final lap of the Rolex 24 in the GTD-PRO class, as Porsche factory drivers Mathieu Jaminet in the Pfaff Porsche 911 GT3.R and Laurens Vanthoor in the KCMG Porsche 911 GT3.R duked it out and got together in the bus stop chicane on the final lap of the race, right in front of the overall leading Acuras. Vanthoor saw an opportunity going into the bus stop and attempted to out brake Jaminet and the two cars got together. Vanthoor spun, Jaminet continued to the checkered flag and the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo took advantage of the Porsche spin to jump into third place.
The Rolex 24 was the debut race for the new GTD-PRO class, which replaced the GTLM class from previous years. The GTLM class had run its course, and at the end only Corvette and BMW were regulars in the class. At Daytona, no fewer than 13 cars showed up to race, with entries from Corvette, Porsche, Lexus, Mercedes AMG, BMW, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Lamborghini taking part. The future looks bright for this class.
GTLM regulars Corvette and BMW had their problems throughout the duration of the race and were never really factors for the class win. The Porsches and Ferrari, however, were in the hunt from the beginning and the final dramatic last lap was set up by a very intense duel between Jaminet and Vanthoor which went on lap after lap as the clock ticked down to the race finish.
Mathieu Jaminet: “Yeah, those last two hours have been maybe the most stressful of my life. Yeah, I mean, what a crazy fight with Laurens. We all know how good he is, one of the best GT drivers out there in the world. We had a great fight. It was sometimes on the limit, maybe even over.”
For Mathieu Jaminet, it was his first Rolex 24 win in his fourth start and for Matt Campbell it was also his first Rolex win in four starts, and for team newcomer, but veteran driver, Felipe Nasr it was his first Rolex win in seven starts.
For runner up finisher in class, the Risi Competizione Ferrari driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Daniel Serra and Davide Rigon it was a fine race and strong drive. With just a tiny bit more good luck at the finish (and a bit of bad luck for the Pfaff Porsche) they would have been the ones on the top step of the podium instead of finishing two seconds back after 24 hours of hard racing.
Finally, in GTD it was the ever-popular Wright Motorsports Porsche taking the top honors in class after an outstanding effort by drivers Ryan Hardwick, Zacharie Robichon, Jan Heylen and Richard Leitz. They finished 12.52 seconds ahead of the Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage driven by Ian James, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Tom Gamble. It was the highest finish ever for Aston Martin in the Rolex 24.
Richard Lietz: “Wright Motorsports. I only heard the best before I came here. They really welcomed me in a good way. I felt home from the beginning. And I immediately saw that the cars were well prepared; the team knew what it was doing. And also from Pat Long, I got the information, the team was spot on.”
Jan Heylen: “So at the end, with two, three hours to go, it was – we had a good lead. And I was sure in my mind that it wasn’t going to be that easy towards the end. But now there was good speed in the car. And we just had to control our race and not worry about the GT PRO cars. Just super proud to be here with this team that I’ve been lucky to be a part of for more than seven years now.
That pretty much sums up the 2022 running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Another IMSA classic.
Now the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship takes a short break before heading to the orange groves of central Florida for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday, March 19.
Combined with the FIA-WEC 1000-mile race which will be run on Friday, March 18, Sebring once again promises to be yet another closely contested and world class sports car event.
See you there.