By Jack Webster, Eddie LePine and James Edmonds
Welcome Race Fans!
Forty-nine cars, 190+ drivers, 1000+ crewmen, a classic and challenging Daytona International Speedway, twenty-four hours of racing – it all equals a Rolex 24 for the ages.
The winning Acura DPi of Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque, Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves completed 807 laps (2872.920 miles) and took a scant 4.074 second victory over the Cadillac DPi of Jimmie Johnson, Kamui Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller. Finishing third was the Mazda DPi of Oliver Jarvis, Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell. Three different manufacturers in the top three, separated at the finish by only 6.562 seconds and a record five DPi cars finiashed on the lead lap. Amazing.
It wasn’t just this close at the finish, it was literally this close the entire 24 hours. Long gone are the days when a team sends one of its cars out as the “rabbit” to lead and force others into errors or mechanical problems. The cars are so bullet proof now, the drivers so close in talent that the only strategy now is to go flat out from green flag to checkered flag, and rely on superior pit work and race craft.
The final hour at Daytona was shaping up to be a monumental battle for victory. After their final pit stops Filipe Albuquerque in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura DPi was on point, with Renger van der Zande in the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac hunting him down. Perhaps with some fire in his eyes, Renger, who had been dismissed in the off season by Wayne Taylor (and who was the Rolex 24 winner in 2019 and 2020), kept gaining and gaining on Filipe. “We went into the lead, we defended. We were pushing as hard as we could to keep it up. One eye on the road, one eye one the mirrors…but at the end, Renger was closing the gap back to me.” Said Filipe.
With seven and one half minutes remaining in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and with the Cadillac on the rear wing of the leading Acura, the Renger van der Zande challenge for the win concluded, as the Cadillac suffered a cut down right rear tire. Filipe continues: “I always think for him to be catching me, he was very fast. Physics tells us that, when you push too hard, something happens…when he blew, we were lucky, definitely. There was no one who won Daytona or any championship ever without luck.”
With the Ganassi Racing challenge ended, Filipe just had to drive smoothly and not let up for the final seven minutes, holding off the hard charging Kamui Kobayashi (who was also let go by Wayne Taylor after winning Daytona in 2019 and 2020).
The Wayne Taylor Racing squad was ecstatic with the win (a huge one for Acura). It was a terrific team accomplishment, taking over the Acura program from Penske Racing and preparing for Daytona in a very short time. Wayne: “So when an opportunity came to me with Acura Motorsports and HPD, it was something I needed. I needed to go out and prove that we could win as a team….It’s given me a new lease on life because quite honestly I was getting bored. When you’ve been at one place for so long, you’re not sure they take you seriously anymore or take you for granted. But the best thing is I have just won four Daytona 24s in five years.”
Wayne’s son, Ricky, who returned to the family business after piloting the Acura for Team Penske, summed it up. “It was definitely a test of trust and a testament to preparation and sticking to a plan. I think, during the lead up, in the offseason, one of the shortest in sportscar racing history, for the team to take on a brand-new car with the Acura ARX-05, and to go into the most grueling event of the year is always difficult.”
In GTLM, Ricky’s brother Jordan also was a winner, bringing the #3 Corvette C8.R home in first place over the teammate #4 car. It was the first Rolex 24 win for the new Corvette and the first win under the direction of Laura Klauser, the Chevrolet Sports Car Program Manager. As she said: “What an amazing team effort by everyone at Corvette Racing to get the Corvette C8.R to Victory Lane with a one-two finish in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It was a hard-fought battle for this incredible result. The months of work and preparation by everyone associated with this program were evident today on both sides of the Corvette garage. This truly is One Team.”
Winning #3 Corvette driver Nicky Catsburg: “After a year of development and coming back to Daytona, I always knew we were going to have a shot at this one. The team, the car, the drivers…everything needed to work perfectly and it did.”
In LMP2 the Era Motorsport squad brought their ORECA LMP02 07 home in first place, with a 19+ second win. Drivers Paul-Loup Chatin, Ryan Daiziel, Kyle Tilley and Dwight Merriman combined for a fine, trouble free run to the class win. Dwight Merriman: “I’m really proud of the team because it really is a team effort in endurance racing as you get to these super long ones. 24 hours is just so, it’s so hard to win, even if you’re good…So it’s very amazing. I don’t know what to make of it. I haven’t really taken it in yet and couldn’t be happier.”
In the new LMP3 class, it was the Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 of Gar Robinson, Scott Andrews, Oliver Askew and Spencer Pigot picking up new Rolex watches, winning their class by 3+ laps. Spencer Pigot: “It was a pretty smooth race to be honest. We stayed out of trouble and just did our own thing. That was kind of the plan all along. No one knew how reliable these LMP3 cars would be.”
The second place P3 car run by Sean Creech Motorsport had four-time Rolex winner Joao Barbosa as part of a very fast line up which also included Wayne Boyd, Yann Clairay and car owner, Dr. Lance Willsey. Finishing only three laps down after a flawless run, the team has high hopes for a top-step finish in the full IMSA season.
Finally, in GTD, Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars finished both first and second, besting a large and competitive GTD field. Winward Racing took the top spot with the drive shared by Russell Ward, Philip Ellis, Indy Dontje and Maro Engel. They bested the second place Mercedes to the finish line by just over 16 seconds. It was the first time in the Rolex 24 for the entire team. Phillip Ellis: “I think it is going to take us all a couple of days to realize what we just achieved. It still feels quite surreal to be honest.”
The COVID-19 pandemic raised its ugly head during the race, as winning Corvette driver Antonio Garcia was pulled from competition after testing positive for the virus. He was cleared before the race with a negative test, but took another one in preparation for departing the US after the race. Once the positive result came back, Corvette Racing notified IMSA and all involved followed procedure. We wish Antonio well and are hopeful for his quick recovery.
The first race of the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is now in the books, and it was a fantastic race, both for the competitors and those who watched them work. Now it is on to the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, where hopefully we might get back to some sort of normal with perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic appearing more in the rear-view mirror.
See Jack Webster’s book, “Racing Pilots” for some incredible photography and history of American road racing since the early ’70s