Jeff Gordon added a crown jewel to his hall of fame career, joining brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor plus Max Angelelli in giving the Cadillac Daytona Prototype international a winning debut in Sunday’s 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona, the debut of the DPi in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition.
“This is a dream come true for me,” said Gordon, who joined Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Jamie McMurry in winning the event now known as the Rolex 24 and Daytona 500. “That’s quite a group. I’ve always dreamed of driving a beautiful, amazing car that had the technology and could handle like this. It was an amazing experience.”
The victory came with a bit of controversy, with Ricky Taylor nudging his way past fellow Cadillac driver Felipe Albuquerque with less than six minutes remaining. Taylor then held on in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillacv DFPi-V.R, beating Albuquerque to the checkered flag by 0.671 seconds.
“We’ve come so close so many times, I’m speechless,” said Jordan Taylor. “I’m so proud of my brother – he made it happen.”
Angelelli, who oversees the Cadillac DPi program, had the fastest lap in the winning car in the final race of his career.
— SPEED (@SPEED) January 29, 2017
Albuquerque joined Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac, with Action Express Racing seeking its third Rolex 24 triumph since its debut in 2010.
“So close, but no cigar,” said Fittipaldi, a two-time Rolex 24 winner. “The 10 car did an awesome job throughout the race, they had us covered under different conditions. Was it a clean pass? I don’t know. It certainly will sell tickets for next year’s race. Now, we’ll have to turn the page and move on.”
“It was a good fight, until I got hit,” Albuquerque said. “I had some GT cars ahead of me so I could not brake, and I closed the door, but then he hit me in the back, I spun and he didn’t even wait for me. He just took off.”
IMSA officials reviewed the pass, which was ruled a racing incident.
The event was a drama in three acts. It opened with a sizzling duel up front led by the three Cadillac DPis, with the Konica Minolta battling a pair of Action Express entries. The complexion of the race changed shortly after nightfall when rain began at 8 p.m., with the precipitation not letting off until nearly 10 a.m. Then it was time for Act Three, featuring the top two Cadillacs swapping the lead back in forth for the final two-and-a-half hours right down to the checkered flag.
Visit Florida Racing ran in contention throughout the event and took third, with Marc Goossens, Renger van der Zande and Rene Rast one lap behind in the team’s debut of the No. 90 Gibson-powered Riley/Multimatic. Fourth, two laps down, was 2016 event-winning Tequila Patron ESM with Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and Pipo Derani in the first race for their No. 2 Nissan DPi.
Mechanical problems struck many of the new cars. Defending WeatherTech Series champions Dane Cameron and Eric Curran, joined by Michael Conway and Seb Morris in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi, ran with the leaders early in the race before spending time in the garage with suspension and electrical troubles. They placed sixth in the class, 20 laps down. The No. 55 Mazda DPi of Tristan Nunez, Jonathan Bomarito and Spencer Pigot went out late in the event following a fire in the engine compartment while running fifth. The European-based Rebellion Racing and DragonSpeed teams showed promise with their ORECAs in testing and practice, but both teams had problem-plagued races.
Next page: GT, PC classes
Both GT classes also went down to the wire.
Ford backed up its triumph in last June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans by prevailing in a GTLM battle that saw seven cars finish on the lead lap. Dirk Muller – reunited with Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais in the Le Mans-winning No. 66 Ford GT – held off Patrick Pilet’s No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR by 2.988 seconds in a four-car sprint to the finish.
“I told my family back home before I left that I felt we could win it,” Hand said. “We had a good car. It was racy, But we all had to drive through some pretty treacherous rain. I’ve done a lot of racing in my life, and that was some of the toughest stuff I’ve dealt with.”
Muller made the winning pass when he got by the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE of James Calado entering Turn 1 with 34 minutes left. Diving to the inside, Muller got through with slight side-by-side contact. Pilet followed the Ford to take second in the No. 911 Porsche co-driven by Dirk Werner and Frederic Makowiecki. Calado held on for third, joined by Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander.
“I really liked to race against Patrick Pilet and James Calado,” Muller said. “They were really, really nice. I think that was one of the best GT races you could have seen and we could have dreamt of.”
Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller took fourth in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R, looking to give Corvette its third consecutive Rolex 24 class triumph.
Alegra Motorsports came on strong in the final hour to win in GTD, with Michael Christensen holding off Christopher Mies by 0.293 seconds at the checkered flag. Christensen shared the No. 28 Insync Porsche 911 GT3.R (pictured, LAT photo) with Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare and the father-son combination of team owner Carlos and Michael de Quesada. It was the second Rolex 24 class victory for Alegra Motorsports, with the elder de Quesada winning in 2007.
“These kids were just unbelievable,” Carlos de Quesada said. “They listened, they weren’t pushing the car too hard. They clicked off the lap times and kept the car safe the whole time. There’s not one scratch on our car. When I think back to 2007 we had a front bumper and a bunch of stuff missing on our car.”
Mies was joined by Connor De Phillippi, Jules Gounon and Jeffrey Schmidt in the No. 29 Montaplast Audi R8 LMS GT3. Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Mario Farnbacher and Adam Christodoulou rounded out the podium in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG GT3, while Andrew Davis, Robin Liddell, Andrew Davis and Matt Bell were fourth in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMW GT3.
The event saw the debut of Acura and Lexus factory efforts in the GTD class. Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian took fifth with Ozz Negri, Tom Dyer, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jeff Segal in the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3, with teammates Andy Lally, Katherine Legge, Graham Rahal and Mark Wilkins running in contention in the team’s No. 93 entry before retiring in the final 30 minutes.
Performance Tech Motorsports scored a popular victory in the incident-plagued Prototype Challenge class. Pole winner James French teamed with Pato O’Ward, Kyle Masson and Nicholas Boulle in the No. 38 ORECA FLM09 (pictured, LAT photo). That gave the team its first WeatherTech Championship victory and first PC triumph since winning an ALMS race at Baltimore in 2013.
“This was awesome for our little team to win the last time the PC cars run in the Rolex 24,” team owner Brent O’Neil said. “We’ve been here a few times, and Lady Luck has always bit us. But today, the car was perfect and the guys did a great job the entire time. The drivers didn’t put a wheel wrong – unlike some of the other teams. We had a plan, and we stuck to it. It worked out. We came here for the Roar and were fastest, we won the pole and were quickest in nearly every session this weekend. To cap it off with the win is pretty special.”
Johnny Mowlem, Tom Papadopoulos, Adam Merzon, Trent Hindman and David Cheng finished second in the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports ORECA, 22 laps down, with Buddy Rice, Gustavo Yacaman, Don Yount, Mark Kvamme and Chapman Ducotte the only other finishers in the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports entry.
The race was slowed by 21 caution periods, including two lengthy yellow flag sessions totaling 2h38m due to heavy rain in the early morning hours. Running at the finish were 43 of the 55 starters.
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