Victory was particularly sweet for DragonSpeed in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. The U.S.-flagged LMP2/IndyCar team beat a PR1 Mathiasen team that looked to be the quickest in the field to score its second consecutive LMP2 class win.
Aside from a puncture, Elton Julian’s tidy team had a faultless run, battling for the lead with PR1’s crew throughout and eventually finishing two laps to the good. But in a prototype class which at times is only as competitive as the quality of its gentlemen drivers, it was PR1’s Ben Keating who was the primary topic of discussion at the winning team’s post-race press conference.
DragonSpeed’s Henrik Hedman was quick to compliment Keating’s driving, acknowledging his astonishing pace, which, let’s not forget, came in a race in which he drove two cars in two classes. (The Texan also drove Riley Motorsports’ GTD Mercedes-AMG.)
“What he (Ben Keating) did in this race in LMP2 was just amazing,” said Hedman afterwards. “I’m actually disappointed in myself. I didn’t perform at the level I should have compared to Mr. Keating.
“He is a Bronze driver, but his performance was on par with Gold drivers. Unbelievable. All kudos to him. They (PR1) were unlucky, but at the end of the day we had the crew to do this.
“DragonSpeed is flying under the radar,” Hedman continued, “but I’ve been here for five years and there is no better place to be.
“This is a great feeling. I hope now that LMP2 grows in the US. It would be nice to see a car count at 10.”
Compliments aside, PR1 didn’t win; DragonSpeed did, and on route to the victory, the four drivers — Hedman, Ben Hanley, Harrison Newey and Colin Braun — gave a remarkable performance. All played a part in the victory. For three of the four, this was their first win, Braun the only driver to have taken home a Rolex in the past.
It was redemption of sorts for the No. 81 crew: Hanley and Hedman were part of DragonSpeed’s second crew which led comfortably last year before late-race dramas cost them the win.
The demise of PR1’s challenge this year came, ironically, at the hands of the driver who catapulted the team into the lead in the first place. Keating turned heads in the opening stages, single-handedly building a comfortable lead at a pace consistently 3-4 seconds a lap quicker than his amateur counterparts in the other four LMP2 cars. He had lapped one of his Bronze-ranked peers by the end of his second stint.
Largely thanks to Keating, this race quickly became a fight between three ORECAs and later a straight fight between DragonSpeed and PR1 after Starworks’ 07 Gibson suffered a mechanical issue.
But, during the night the car, during Keating’s stint, PR1 lost four laps due to suspected contact with a wall. This left DragonSpeed comfortably ahead, with the task of managing the gap and running cautiously until the flag.
That the team did…