Some Thoughts on the Rolex 24

Photo: Nigel Cook/News-Journal

It was an all star race and it lived up to tis billing. This was a very good 24 hour race. It seemed as if every class had battles going on, several for the entire race. 807 laps completed with 10 caution periods is a substatntial lap count.

Want to win the Rolex 24? Join Wayne Taylor Racing. Yesterday’s win was the team’s third straight and fourth in five years. Taylor switched from Cadillac to Acura, hired a new pair of drivers, and still won.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s return to IMSA fell seven minutes short. The Cadillac was strong the entire race and had little problem charging to the front after pit stops and a drive through penalty. A cut tire with seven minutes left derailed the whole race for the team. They finished fifth.

Spencer Pigot and Oliver Askew had to get a lot of satisfaction winning the LMP3 class. Both drivers lost their Indycar rides in 2020. I hope their victory enhances their opportunity for an Indianapolis 500 entry.

Disappointed for Rinus Veekay. The Dragonspeed entry dropped out of the race after just 53 laps. He didn’t even get in the car.

Zach Veach’s bid for a good showing did not go well. His GTD Lexus had a host of issues and finished 13th in class, 64 laps behind the class winner.

One of the best stories of the was the GTD winner.Winward Racing, is a new entry stepping up from the Michelin Pilot series . A tremendous effort to come into the class with the biggest car count and several long time teams and win.

It is sad to see the end of the GTLM class. The Rolex 24 probably marked the highest number of entries for the soon to be extinct group. The Corvettes are the only full time entries. Their 1-2 finish in the class is a hollow victory. This class usually is the most fun to watch at the Rolex with close racing in cars fans can identify with. I understand that economics probably forced the decision, but I will miss this group.

Indycar Drivers Have Mixed Results

Alexander rossi and Helio Castroneves drove for the winning Wayne Taylor Racing Acura. Castroneves follows his 2020 IMSA championship with his first win at the Rolex24.

Rossi and Castroneves become the 14th and 15th Indianapolis 500 winners to also win the Rolex24.

Other Indycar drivers results:

Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson (Ganassi DPi) 5th overall

Sebastien Bourdais (JDC Miller DPi) 7th in class

Simon Pagenaud, Jimmie Johnson (Action Express DPi) 2nd overall

Juan Pablo Monoya (Shank DPi) 4th overall

J. R. Hildebrand (Audi GTD) 15th in class

Colton Herta (BMW GTD) 6th in class

NBC Coverage- Meh

I hope race coverage on NBC doesn’t indicate the kind of coverage we can expect for Indycar this season. I thought it was not their best effort.

There were lots of interviews with Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott. To be fair, Indycar drivers were interviewed as well, but Johnson and Elliott got more screen time than all the Indycar drivers combined. I respect what Jimmie Johnson is doing after a successful NASCAR career, taking a huge leap to Indycar and sports cars, but the coverage of him was excessive. Even after the race, he was the only runner-up driver who got an interview.

I felt the extensive focus on him slighted the full time drivers in the series, who work hard for probably little reward.

I understand that the prototypes are the big stars, but a little more time could have been spent covering the other classes. There was a great story with the winners of GTD which got only passing mentions.

Rolex 24 is America’s True All Star Race

The Rolex 24 at Daytona kicks off the major league racing season in the United States. Stars from Indycar and NASCAR join the stars of the sports car world to make it the one true All Star race in North America. The entry list features drivers with a combined 12 Indycar titles, and seven Indianapolis 500 wins; drivers with a combined eight NASCAR Series titles, and of course several IMSA champions. When the regulations change to allow the LMDh car in a couple years, the stars from the European endurance circuit may also participate.

49 cars are slated to start the race. A 50th entry, Black Swan Racing withdrew due to COVID-19 issues. For 2021, a new class LMP 3 has been added. This is mainly an amateur class of prototypes. The GTLM class, which has been a fun group to watch, is fading from the series. Corvette is the only full time team. The six entries this weekend is likely the largest field this class will see this season. I’m sad toi see this clas disappear.

GTLM consisted of technology driven sports cars that looked like cars someone could buy if money were no object. Fans could identify with them. There will be a larger group of GTD cars next year, based on the European GT3 model.

New Teams; Same Drivers

Team Penske Acura is no more. Instead, the Acuras are split into teams, Meyer Shank Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing. Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, who drove for Penske, have stuck with Acura, although as endurance drivers only. Castroneves will drive for Taylor and Montoya for Shank.

Chip Ganassi Racing has assumed the Cadillac entry that Wayne Taylor Racing had last year. he has brought Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson from his Indycar team to serve as the endurance only drivers.

A Revised Schedule

The race gets under way at 3:40 pm Saturday, the second new start time in as many years. Sunset is around 6 pm Saturday, so there will be just about two and a half hours of daylight before the 13 hours of night racing begins. NBC will cover the entire race across its various platforms.

The weather forecast is great for the race. Mild temperatures with a low of 53 degree Saturday night. By Rolex standards, that is balmy. Highs are 67 degrees Saturday and 75 degrees Sunday. The race has moved back one week this year, which may be a factor in the improved forecast.

Indycar Drivers

Indycar drivers are in every category except GTLM. Here is a list by category and car number.

LMP1

01 Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson

5 Sebastien Bourdais

10 Alexander Rossi, Helio Castroneves

48 Simon Pagenaud, Jimmie Johnson

60 Juan Pablo Montoya

LMP2

81 Rinus VeeKay, Ben Hanley

LMP3

74 Oliver Askew, Spencer Pigot

GTD

12 Zach Veach

42 J. R. Hildebrand

96 Colton Herta ? (Herta was on the original entry list, but was not on yesterday’s final entry list; he is still on the spotter’s guide)

Entry List

Find the entry list at the following link:

https://www.motorsport.com/imsa/news/rolex-24-hours-entry-list/4995537/

Tracks Already Planning for Limited Fans in 2021

One of the lessons tracks learned in 2020 was to plan ahead for fan safety. With a COVID-19 vaccine soon to be available, some may have thought that tracks could operate as they used to. If tracks can return to their normal operations, it may not be until late in the season. The French Grand Prix, a June race yesterday announced that only 15,000 fans would be allowed to attend.

Daytona International Speedway yesterday announced that attendace at the Daytona 500 will be limited to those who have already bought tickets. Those fans’ seats will be reassigned to create social distance. Fans may turn in their tickets, I assume for credit, and those tickets will be sold to the general public until an unspecified attendance limit is reached. This is a procedure that many more venues may follow.

I received this somewhat cryptic message yesterday about the Rolex 24:

Rolex 24 logo Dear Mike,   Thank you for your continued support of Daytona International Speedway. As we look forward to the start of a new IMSA season and continue preparations for the Roar Before The Rolex 24 and Rolex 24 At DAYTONA Weekend, we are more grateful than ever to have the best fans in sports!

We continue to work with our local, state, and health officials regarding fan attendance during both IMSA event weekends. More specific information, such as event details, available fan experiences, and health and safety measures will shared in the upcoming weeks.   With the announcement that NASCAR’s reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott and 7-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson are joining us for this event, we look forward to carrying on the storied tradition of hosting the world’s best drivers for this grueling showcase of man and machine. The Rolex 24 At DAYTONA is sure to once again deliver the pageantry, thrills, and drama for all fans, especially those able to attend in person.   We hope each and every one of you is staying safe, and we look forward to seeing all of you back at the track, hopefully very soon.   Warm Regards, Alternate text

My attendance at the 2021 Rolex is doubtful. I did buy a ticket in order to retain my camping spot. Endurance races in general have many fans spread over a large area. What I saw on television from Sebring and Road Atlanta was a larger than safe number of fans at the track.

At the five tracks I went to this season, I felt safe for the most part. Each track seemed to be better prepared than the one before as far as fan safety and enforcement of protocols.

I think we will see fewer outright race cancellations this coming season, although races may still be postponed until later. Even as many people receive the vaccine, masks will likely still be required for another year. I don’t think pit or paddock access for fans will return in 2021.

The early events on the Indycar schedule may give us a clue to the state of fan limits. I know the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has several contingency plans for May in the works. I think the 500 will run as scheduled with a limited number of fans.

The main thing to keep in mind is that things should improve as 2021 goes on, but that 2022 may be the first completely normal racing season.

I will be back later this afternoon following a press conference at IMS regarding the Race for Equality and Change Program.

Rolex Race Recap and Photo Gallery

A new driver lineup didn’t affect Wayne Taylor Racing as the team kept its Rolex 24 title Sunday. Both of Taylor’s sons have moved to other teams, leaving only Renger Van der Zende as the sole holdover. Taylor signed Ryan Briscoe from Chip Ganassi’s defunct Ford GT program. Scott Dixon and Kamui Kobayashi joined the squad for the 24 hour race. The Cadillac took the lead for good in the early morning hours and ran away from the field. It was the third victory in four years for WTR.

The number 10 car completed a record 833 laps in a race that had less than two hours of caution periods. At one point the green flag stayed out for more than seven hours.  The long green flag stretches took a lot of dram out of the race as trailing cars had little chance to close up to the leaders.

As usual, the best racing through the night was in the GTLM class. The two Porsches had a great battle with the BMW from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The BMW eventually prevailed, solidifying its lead after sunrise. Drivers in the winning car were Johm Edwards, Augusto Farfus, Chaz Mostert, and Jesse Krohn. Rahal’s other car won the Rolex 24 in 2019.

In LMP2, Dragonspeed retained its Rolex title.  Drivers Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman, Colin Braun, and Harrison Newey. Dragonspeed is planning a six race Indycar program in addition to its sportscar plans. The team took the lead when the pole sitting Mathiasen Motorsports had an issue.

A Lamborghini was expected to win in GTD and the marque didn’t disappoint. Paul Miller Racing’s car went to Victory Circle. Drivers Madison Snow, Bryan Sellers,  Corey Lewis, and Andrew Caldarelli took home the watches.

Notes

Sebastien Bourdais finished third in his full time sports car debut. The Mustang Sampling team had reconfigured itself in the JDC-Mille stable after leaving Action Express.

Scott Dixon added to his legacy as one racing’s all time greats with his third Rolex24 overall win, tying him for second on the all time roster.

Perseverance award– The crew of the number 4 Corvette spent most of the night hours attempting to find an engine issue. The engine was in pieces in the early morning hours, and the car returned to the track after sunrise. The team spent six hours to complete the repair.

Keating Loves to Drive- Ben Keating drove the number 52 LMP2 car to the pole, then started the race. He also drove the Riley Motorsports Mercedes in GTD. Just doing the math to figure out how he could split his time between the cars and stay within driver time limits was impressive. Keating also drove in Friday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge race.

GEAR has Misfortune- The all female team of Katherine Legge, Christina Nielsen, Tatiana Calderon, and Rachel Frey had a difficult start to the season. The car slowed on the backstretch around 11:30 pm. It limped back to the pits. Early in the morning, the car caught fire with Nielsen behind the wheel. She was not injured, but their race was over.

The IMSA Weather Tech Championship Series next races at the 12 Hours of Sebring March 21. The WEC series will also be there for a 1,000 mile race on Friday.

Photo Gallery

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Rolex 24 Quick Thoughts

It was another Rolex 24 in which current and former Indycar drivers did well. Scot Dixon and Ryan Briscoe were on the overall winning team. Ben Hanley and Dragonspeed defended their 2019 LMP2 victory. Bobby Rahal’s BMW won the GTLM class for the second consecutive year.  Sebastien Bourdais finished third in his full time IMSA debut.

Attendance at the Rolex 24 seemed to be the best of the seven events I’ve attended.

The race didn’t have a lot of drama in any of the classes. A seven hour green flag stretch kept gaps between the cars steady. As usual, the GTLM group had the best race going on for a few hours.

The drive penalty that the 55 Mazda received for its collision with the 7 Acura was quite light. It’s a penalty which has no effect in a 24 hour race. The 7 never got back into contention.

The crew of the 4 Corvette has my respect. I saw the car in the garage around midnight just before they dismantled the entire engine. Six hours later, the Corvettte returned to the track.

I wondered how the new driver lineup would affect Wayne Taylor Racing. Looks as if there was nothing to worry about.  That team has a handle on this race.

Bourdais’ Mustang Sampling team appeared to be very strong in spite of the ownership and driver changes. They were at the rear of the class early in the race, but worked up to a podium finish.

Rahal now has Rolex 24 wins for both of his cars.

As much praise as I’ve heaped on Daytona International Speedway for the improvements in the facility this weekend, the post race traffic pattern needs a lot of work. I understand  there is not a lot of room for cars to move in the infield, but if someone were directing traffic there might be a smoother flow.

833 laps is an incredible race total. I’ve never seen an endurance race with less than two hours total time under caution.

With convergence looming in 2022, I’m wondering what the car count for next year’s Rolex will be.

Thanks for following along this weekend. I was impressed by those of you who were up watching all 24 hours and took time to read my in race posts.

I’ll be back in a day or two after I run the Serta 24.

Corvette, GEAR Have Issues at Halfway Point

The Rolex 24 just passed the mid point. There was one caution in the last six hours as the leaders continue to click off laps at a torrid pace.

The number 4 Corvette went to the garage with what appears to be an engine issue. Afew minutes later, the number 19 GTD of Grasser Racing slowed on the backstretch and li.ped back to the garage. The 19 is the all female team headed by Katherine Legge.

The current leaders as I write:

DPi.   Car 5 Cadillac Joao Barbosa

LMP2. Car 52. Nick Boule

GTLM. Car 24 BMW Chaz Mostert

GTD. Car 48 Lamborghini Bryan Sellers

Another new feature at Daytona this year is a large high definition television screen in the fan zone. Benches have been added to the area in front of the screen. The television is visible from the turn 3 grandstand.

Back after the race with a recap. So far it  has been a very predictable event.

UPDATE Mike Joachim of Pit Lane Parley sent this photo of the Corvette engine dismantled. Thanks Mike

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6 Hours In, WTR Cadillac Leads

The first four hours of the Rolex 24 were clean and without much change in the lead. An incident involving the 55 Mazda and the 7 Acura has put the Team Penske car out there f contention for a good finish. The Mazda received a stop and go penalty, meaningless in a 24 race.

Just before the 5 hour mark s pit incident brought out a full course yellow.

The current leaders:

DPi.  10 Wayne Taylor Racing

LMP 2.  52

GTLM  24 BMW

GTD. 44 Lamborghini

Pit stops are being made so the leader board may change by the time you read this.

It’s Rolex 24 Race Day

Photo: Oliver Jarvis in the 77 Mazda leads the field to the green flag at 1:40 today.

The 2020 racing season gets underway this afternoon as the 58th Rolex 24 begins.  A Mazda is on the pole and the question is can Mazda keep running for 24 hours.  I look for a strong challenge from Penske Acura. The 6 car looks especially strong. Wayne Taylor Racing, in their first race without either of t Taylor brothers driving, could be a factor also.

The weather looks to be dry with moderate temperatures. After last year’s deluge., dry and mild is very welcome.

In GTLM, it  could be a battle between the Porsches. They traded the lead back and forth in qualifying. A Lamborghini will win the GTLM class.

I hope  to report every six hours.

The NBC network group has 16 hours of coverage. NBC shows the start and finish. Coverage is also on NBCSN and the NBC app. The app costs $19.95 for the entire IMSA season.