The Rolex 24 At Daytona came down to the two-car shootout between veteran car owners Wayne Taylor and Chip Ganassi.
Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura found himself trying to hold off the faster No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R driven by Renger van der Zande as the minutes wound down in the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.
Van der Zande made two bids to get around the Acura, and was poised for a thrilling finish. Suddenly, with seven and a half minutes remaining, the Cadillac limped to the pits with a cut right-rear tire, and Albuquerque was home free.
The Acura driver took the checkered flag 4.704s ahead of Kamui Kobayashi in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Harry Tincknell rounded out the podium in the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P.
It was the third consecutive overall victory for Wayne Taylor Racing. The team won the past two years in a Cadillac, with a driver line-up including both van der Zande and Kobayashi.
For 2021, the team switched to Acura, with Taylor signing the reigning IMSA champs, Helio Castroneves and son Ricky Taylor, plus Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi and 2018 Rolex 24 winner Albuquerque.
“I think it was a hell of a show,” Albuquerque said. “I could almost see [Renger’s] eyes in my mirrors, he was so hungry for this. He was faster than me, but it’s one thing to catch and another thing is to pass. He was really pushing hard. I was lucky that they had a puncture. This was probably the hardest race of my life.”
Ricky Taylor led down the stretch before making the decision to turn the car over to his teammate for the final two stints.
“He is a superstar,” Taylor said. “We always knew he was the one we wanted in our Acura, along with Alex and Helio. He had all the pressure on the world on him, and he took it like a champion.”
The elder Taylor joined Ganassi (2006-08) and Peter Gregg (1973, 1975-76) as the lone team owners to win the event three consecutive times.
“That’s six wins in this race, and that’s [expletive] awesome,” Wayne Taylor said on his live NBC interview.
— IMSA (@IMSA) January 31, 2021
Joining Kobayashi in the second-place Action Express Ally Cadillac were Simon Pagenaud, Mike Rockenfeller and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
“We laid it all out there on the table,” said Johnson, who finished second in a Daytona Prototype in his Rolex 24 debut in 2005. “We just got outperformed by the No. 10 car. At the end, we were settling in for fourth, and then to get second was special. It was a lot of fun, and we were hoping to get more, but we’ll be back here sometime in the future and give it another shot.”
The No. 55 Mazda RT24-P had trouble getting out of the pits for the start before Oliver Jarvis was able to get going for the green flag. While the car was able to get up to third for three laps, it seem to run the race at the tail end of the DPi contenders. But near the end, the Mazda came to life. Back on the lead lap, the Mazda co-driven by Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito challenged for the lead several time during the final two hours.
Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron, Olivier Pla and A.J. Allmendinger finished fourth in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura, followed by the Ganassi Cadillac of van der Zande, Scott Dixon and Kevin Magnussen. The five lead-lap finishers was a Rolex 24 event record.
The Ganassi Cadillac was the car to beat throughout the race. However, a penalty during a pit stop in the closing hours for wheelspin on the jacks dropped them 30 seconds back; it put the team in comeback mode for the remainder of the event.
The No. 5 JDC-Miller Motorsports Mustang Sampling Cadillac of Loic Duval, Sebastien Bourdais and Tristan Vautier was the Ganassi team’s biggest threat for the first half of the race. An unfortunate tangle with the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche sent that car to the garage and out of contention.
Another potential winner to experience trouble was the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac. Pole winner Felipe Nasr led the opening 20 laps and was running third when he suddenly lost fourth gear entering the banking in Turn 6 during the 19th hour. He sat in the garage for 21 laps, taking NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, Pipo Derani and Mike Conway out of contention. With the car many laps down, Elliott turned many hours during the closing stages to gain sports car experience.
Corvette Racing became the final GTLM class winner of the Rolex 24, with the two team cars running 1-2 for most of the race. Jordan Taylor took the checkered flag by 3.519s over Tommy Milner. Joining Taylor in the yellow No. 3 Corvette C8.R were Nicky Catsburg and Antonio Garcia, although the latter was forced to sit out the closing hours after testing positive for COVID-19 (click here for story) while Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims shared the silver No. 4 Corvette.
Alessandro Pier Guidi led entering the final hour in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE. Taylor took the lead when the Ferrari pitted with 21 minutes remaining.
BMW’s two-year winning streak in the event ended. August Farfus, John Edwards, Jesse Krohn and Marco Wittman placed third in the No. 24 Team RLL M8 GTE, followed by the Ferrari of Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon, Jules Gounon and James Calado. Connor De Phillippi, Philipp End, Timo Glock and Bruno Spengler took fifth in the No. 25 BMW.