Helio and Mike- A New Winning Combination- Quick Thoughts on the Rolex 24

Photo; IMSA, Mike Levitt

When Mike Shank hired Helio Castroneves to run the 105th Indianapolis 500 last year, I just said, “Huh,” and didn’t give it much more thought. Of course Castroneves went on to win his fourth 500. Today Castroneves, along with Indycar teammate Simon Pagenaud, Tom Blomqvist, and Oliver Jarvis win the 60th Rolex 24.

The driver and owner have clicked and the chemistry may make life miserable for other teams.

Shank won the Rolex 10 years ago, which makes today’s victory extra special.

Great Day for Indycar– Seven of the twelve Indycar drivers finished in the top five in their classes. Alexander Rossi was on the second place team in DPi; Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, and Devlin DeFrancesco won the LMP2 class for Dragonspeed; Rinus VeeKay was second in LMP 2; and Kyle Kirkwood was fourth in GTD Pro.

Speaking of GTD Pro, the battle for the win over the last two laps between winner Mathieu Jaminet and Laurens Vanthoor was the best fight of the day. The drivers exchanged positions had contact with each other in the horseshoe and the bus stop on the final lap with Jaminet going on to win. Vanthoor spun and fell to third.

I’m glad to see Felipe Nasr finally win the Rolex after 10 years of trying.

This was an outstanding 24 hour race. There were compelling stories throughout the race. The DPi class provided a lot of the drama, with the Ganassi Cadillacs both experiencing issues which put them out of contention. Both cars looked strong in the middle of the race.

With six hours remaining, the outcome was in doubt in each class.

Kamui Kobayashi tried to singlehandedly keep the 48 competitive. He had a great first stint, but several issues put the car 22 laps down.

The crowd seemed down a bit, but the fans that did come didn’t seem to let the abnormally cold weather bother them.

From the parts of the Peacock broadcast I saw, NBC did a great job of coverage. James Hinchcliffe, to the surprise of no one was outstanding as a commentator. I enjoyed the times NBC went to break and on Peacock we just heard the sounds of the cars.

Daytona could use a video board and an extra grandstand or two in the International Horseshoe. The track also should figure out a way to get a stand by the Le Mans Chicane.

Acuras 1-2 After 17 Hours

The yellow sky of sunrise reflects the course of the race, currently under its 15th caution. The number 60 Acura of Meyer Shank Racing leads the number 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing. Tom Blomqvist and Ricky Taylor are the respective drivers.

Both Cadillacs of Chip Ganassi Racing are out of contention. Just before midnight the 01 went behind the wall. It is back on track but running 37th overall, 22 laps behind. The 02 had a fuel pump issue just about 30 minutes ago and is currently in the garage.

Indycar drivers are having a mixed day. Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves drive for the leading Acura, and Alexander Rossi got his first stint in the second place 10 just before midnight.

The LMP2 team for which Rinus VeeKay drives is currently running second in class. The Dragonspeed entry with Indycar stars Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta, and rookie Devlin DeFrancesco is currently third.

The Andretti Autosport LMP3 entry is currently fourth in class, one lap down. Former Indycar driver Gabby Chaves is in the car at the moment.

The cold nighttime hours have produced lots of spinning cars, as expected. The current Daytona temperature is 34degrees F.

I will probably not have another up date until this evening. Thanks for following along this weekend. I have a feeling the ending is going to be wild.

Nearing Hour Eight: Cadillac Dominating

Cadillacs have looked strong in DPi through the first eight hours of the Rolex 24, taking the lead after lap 1. The race has been a tug of war between the cars from Chip Ganassi Racing and JDC-Miller’s number 48.

The 48 started with Kamui Kobayashui driving. He took the lead around lap 10 and and extended his advantage throughout the first stint. The Ganassi cars then took over, losing the lead only on pit stops. The 01 seems to be the better of the Ganassi cars right now.

Pole sitter Ricky Taylor fell back early and is now two laps behind. The only other Acura, from Meyer Shank Racing, is currently fourth with Simon Pagenaud behind the wheel.

There have been four caution periods, and three cars are out of the race.

Standings after right hours:

Notes

Joao Barbosa said after his first stint that the tires are taking three laps to get warm after a pit stop. The temperature at the time was 46 degrees. It is now 40⁰.

The Bus stop has been renamed the Le Mans Chicane in a gesture of the new cooperative prototype formula which begins next year.

Wickens Podium Photo

Didnt get a chance to publish this yesterday. This may be the highlight of the weekend.

Race Day- Chily Day, Cold Night Ahead

The 60th running of the Rolex 24 starts at 1:40 pm EST today. The temperature at the start will be in the mid 40’s and by the midpoint of the race the mercury will read low 30’s. By the end of the race temperatures will rise to the low 50’s.

How teams and drivers handle the tires after pit stops could be key to winning the event. I’m not sure if Michelin has a temperature threshold like Indycar has. Could we see a red flag due to the cold? My predictions follow.

Going into yesterday, I would have put Wayne Taylor Racing as the favorite for its fourth straight win here, but the dominance of the Cadillacs in Friday’s final practice makes me wonder if one of the Ganassi cars has an edge.

Watch for the Dragonspeed car number 81 in LMP2. The car has an Indycar all star squad of Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, and Devlin DeFrancesco. O’Ward had the fastest overall .lap in a Thursday practice session.

Andretti Autosport is my pick in LMP3. They dominated the qualifying race last Sunday. This class could be prone to a lot of attrition.

GTD Pro will go to the 63 Lamborghini. It is by far the class of this field. One of the Weather Tech Porsches should be the GTD champion. My pick is the 79.

Today’;s schedule and television times:

At the track:

10:30 AM – 11:15 AM IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Autograph Session – UNOH Fanzone

12:00 PM Crossover Gates Open for Pre-Race Access

12:00 PM Grid Opens for Fan Access to Pre-Race Ceremonies

1:15 PM – 1:40 PM Rolex 24 At DAYTONA Pre-Race Ceremonies

1:40 PM Start of the Rolex 24 Hours

I will report on the race progress when possible. If you are at the track, stay safe and warm.

Bourdais Leads Final Practice; Wickens Shines in Return

UPDATE: Mark Wilkins took over for To dry Wickens and finished third in the TCR class. Wickens gets a podium in his first race back.

Sebastien Bourdais led a Cadillac parade in the 01 for Chip Ganassi Racing with the fastest lap in this morning’s final practice. The session was run under cool, cloudy conditions and there was a brief light rain shower. The Cadillacs were ahead of the Acuras, the reverse of how practice has gone to date.

In LMP2 Phil Hanson led the way in the number 22 United Autosport Oreca. Rasmus Lindh was fastest in LMP3 in the Andretti Autosport number 36.

Mirko Bortolotti kept the number 63 Lamborghini (bottom photo) at the top of GTD Pro, and the 79 Porsche (top) driven by Julien Andlauer had the fastest GT. time.

Wickens Competitive in Return Race

Robert Wickens drove in his first competition since his accident at Pocono in 2018 in the BMW M Challenge for the Michelin Pilot Series. Wickens started seventh in the Hyundai Elantra, and moved fourth place early in the first hour of the four hour event. He ran as high as third. Near the end of his stint he had a spirited battle with a Bryan Herta Autosport teammate. Wickens drove for just a bit more than two hours. He showed that the talent which made him a star in Indycar is still there. This will be a fun series tom watch this year.

Wickens heads to turn four during the Michelin Pilot Challenge Race.

Rolex 24 Notes

Photo by Jake Galstad. You can’t miss this LMP2 car, driven by Indycar title contenders Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward along with rookie Devlin DeFrancesco.

Andy Blackmore has his Rolex 24 spotter’s guide. Andy does great work with these guides, and this one is one of his best. Right click the link to open it in a new tab.

Thursday’s Schedule

Thursday

8 AM GEICO Park West Tent & Infield Tent Camping Open

8:00 AM Parking Lot 4 Opens

8:30 AM UNOH Fanzone Gates Open

9:00 AM Parking Lot 1 Opens

9:00 AM – 8:00 PM Infield Midway Open

9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Motorsports Hall of Fame Open in DAYTONA Ticket and Tours Building

9:00 AM – 9:30 AM Mazda MX-5 Practice

9:45 AM – 10:45 AM IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Practice

11:05 AM – 12:35 PM IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge Practice

12:55 PM – 1:25 PM Mazda MX-5 Qualifying

2:25 PM – 3:00 PM IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Qualifying

3:20 PM – 5:05 PM IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge Practice

5:30 PM – 6:15 PM Mazda MX-5 Race #1

7:15 PM – 9:00 PM IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge Practice

The highlight of tomorrow is the IMSA Weather Tech night practice. This will probably be my only chance to see race cars under the lights this year since Indycar has no night races planned.

I will also be watching the Michelin Pilot Challenge qualifying to see where Robert Wickens starts Friday’s race. Friday’s four hour race begins at 1:35 and will be on Peacock.

Weather Watch

Thursday looks like day of off and on rain, but it will be the warmest day of the weekend. Friday appears to be a dry day with a high of 64. Saturday- sunny with a high of 47, which is the usual nighttime low for the Rolex, dropping to 32 at night. Sunday-sunny with a high of 53.

If you are coming to Daytona for the first time, bring every coat you have. The ocean breeze intensifies the chill.

Get Your Daytona Tickets Now- For Next Year?

Yesterday and today, Daytona International Speedway has called me twice and emailed me about renewing my Rolex tickets for 2023. Seriously? This year’s race doesn’t begin for 68 hours and they want renewals now? A little pushy, I think.

Taylor Holds Off Westbrook for Rolex Pole

Photo: Business as usual for Wayne Taylor Racing: winning at Daytona. IMSA image

Ricky Taylor won the qualifying race yesterday and will start the Role 24 Hour race from the pole next Saturday. Taylor’s Wayne Taylor Racing Acura took the lead after pit stops and held off persistent attacks from Richard Westbrook in the JDC -Miller Cadillac over the final 30 minutes of the race. Westbrook’s car started on the pole for the race. Felipe Albuquerque qualified the car second, but the number 10 started last in class because of a technical violation.

Taylor clinched the victory just after the start of the final lap. Westbrook saw an opening going into turn one which Taylor quickly closed. Westbrook bumped Taylor, then spun, giving the number 10 Konica- Minolta car a clear path to the checkered flag.

Traffic helped Taylor stay in front, but once the contenders were clear, Westbrook closed in quickly. It was a great half hour battle.

Ben Keating and Mikkel Jensen won in LMP2. Keating started on the pole, and he will drive the number 52 in this class and the number 5 DPi Cadillac in the race. Keating has a good shot at a double win.

Jarrett Andretti Wins LMP3 Pole

Jarrett Andretti, son of the late John Andretti, teamed with Josh Burdon to win the LMP3 class in the Andretti Autosport entry. Attrition was high in this group, and is likely to be a factor next weekend as well. The number 36 Ligier started third Sunday.

Close Finishes in GTD Classes

Both GTD Pro and GTD saw close finishes. While the DPi cars battled, the GTD classes each had duels for the lead for the final 30 minutes also. Peacock gave some coverage of the fights, but I wish they had shown more.

In GTD Pro, the Lamborghini driven by Andrea Caldarelli and Mirko Bortolotti took first place. Bortolotti passed the Porsche driven by Alessio Piccarielli with 14 minutes to go and won by 0.475 seconds.

While the GTD finish was close- Lucas Auer and Russell Ward’ Mercedes won by just 0.509 seconds over the McLaren- the team led all but three laps from their outside front row starting spot.

Vautier Puts Cadillac on Pole for Qualifying Race

Image from IMSA website

Race: 100 minutes. Green flag 2:05 pm EST Peacock

Acuras dominated the practices, but a Cadillac took the pole for today’s qualifying race. The 100 minute event will set the grid for next Saturday’s 60th Rolex 24 Hour race at Daytona international Speedway.

Tristan Vautier set the fastest lap in the JDC-Miller number 5 Mustang Sampling car. The number 10 Acura from Wayne Taylor Racing will start second. Felipe Albuquerque was just 0.122 seconds behind Vautier. The 01 Ganassi Cadillac driven by Renger van der Zande looked on track to take the pole, but crashed in turn five near the end of the session. The red flag cost him his best lap. The car will start 10th.

Ben Keating will start from pole in LMP2. Keating will drive the number 52 and the number 5 DPi in the race, so his rides have the pole in two classes. I don’t know when Keating sleeps during this race.

Cameron Shields is on pole in LMP3 in car 26.

In GTD Pro, Alex Imperiatori leads an all Porsche front row to the green, while Kenny Habul took pole for GTD in a Mercedes. Habul was third fastest in the GTD classes. Tghe slight difference in speed between the GTD Pro and GTD cars should make for some interesting racing.

Gidley Returns

Yesterday’s Prototype Challenge race marked the return to competition of Memo Gidley, who was injured in a horrific accident at Daytona in 2014. His car rammed a stalled car, then he was hit from behind. I didn’t think he would ever race again.

Memo Gidley

Not only did Gidley return to racing, but he won the pole. His car led the majority of the race, with rookie Alexander Korbei driving the final two hours. The team finished third.

This has been an inspirational weekend with Gidley and Robert Wickens returning to action.