Rolex 24 drivers question decision to continue racing in poor conditions

Image by Galstad/LAT

Rolex 24 drivers question decision to continue racing in poor conditions


Rolex 24 drivers question decision to continue racing in poor conditions


Some very brave men and women who make their living driving brutally fast sports cars questioned the safety and sanity of IMSA’s decision to continue racing in treacherous conditions.

Heavy and persistent rain made aquaplaning an inescapable reality. Racing in the wake of one or more cars was a blinding experience at times. With the entire field running on rain tires, frequent spins and crashes suggested chance, rather than talent, was in charge during longer segments of racing prior to the final red flag.

The tipping point appeared to come when Fernando Alonso witnessed IMSA’s pace car driver nearly crash while controlling the field under yellow. It further emboldened his belief the threshold to stop the race had been met prior to the event-ending red.

“I went to talk to him because he nearly crashed after the bus stop,” said the Spaniard, who was leading at the time and won the race with the Wayne Taylor Racing team. “I was following him and he had a massive moment aquaplaning and the safety car was pointing to the wall at one point. And then he recovered the car. Immediately after he called red flag, I think he was a little bit scared in that moment.”

Asked if he would have made the same pleas for the race to be stopped if he was running second — sealing the win for Action Express Racing — his tone was sharp and direct.

“Exactly the same,” he continued. “I called a lot of times when I was second, over the radio, that [the] safety car was necessary. I think the last five, seven laps of the race, were not, I think, right. For anyone …because the visibility was nearly zero, we could not be flat out on the straights. The car was moving, the [traction control] was coming in 6th gear, [at] 200 miles per hour. There were parts of different cars in different points of the track because people were losing the bodywork here and there. And I was calling the team for a safety car immediately because I could not see anything.

“And then [AXR’s] Felipe [Nasr] went a little bit long into Turn 1, we took the lead and we were just lucky today. But, I think conditions were also okay to stop the race seven laps before they did and in that moment we were second.”

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Richard Westbrook shared Alonso’s views.

“I absolutely love racing in the rain, as you saw,” he said. “No, I mean, I really enjoy the challenge, but that was just beyond a challenge. You know, you’re just going down the straight, and you’re just thinking, if there’s anyone [who] stops, I’m toast and they’re toast. You could not see a thing.

“And because of the tri-oval around here, and the painted white lines…I mean there’s a reason why NASCAR don’t race in the rain, because it’s just so difficult on an oval. It really is, and you’re crossing white lines, you’re trying to avoid the puddles, the engine’s shutting off because you’re aquaplaning so much. It was just awful.”

Poor visibility and differing closing speeds were problematic for BMW Team RLL’s Alex Zanardi.

“Difficult, very difficult,” he said. “It’s [hard to] give the idea of how tough it was to keep the car on the road. Even behind the safety car, at times you could lose the car. When we finally went for the restart, it was all foggy down the straight. It was really difficult to see where I was going, there were people [lifting off] the throttle just because of that reason.

Image courtesy BMW Motorsport

“And that of course created another reason of danger because you could bump into someone who had decided to not go to the speed you would expecting to travel. Yeah, we had some accidents, but in reality, we had much less than I was expecting.”

GT Daytona winner Mirko Bortolotti, like the rest of the competitors in the class, had the advantage of ABS brakes along with traction control to help manage his car in the driving rain. The added technology was helpful, and also made GTD entries like his GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 a stronger force to reckon with in the rain.

“Honestly, the conditions we saw today were really challenging,” he said. “At some stage, I define it as worst-case scenario. It was really, really dangerous out there sometimes, and I think that at some stage, we had some advantage, obviously with having ABS compared to the prototypes was an advantage on the braking. And I think that also compared to some GTLM sometimes on traction, we were having … we were giving them hard time.

“So it was a real battle out there. It was not just a battle with your class cars, but also with other classes for position because we know how important position is throughout the race for strategy and everything. And so, it was a real race against everything and everyone out there, but obviously the biggest challenge today was definitely the weather.”