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IMSA: Rolex 24 at Daytona, Free Practice 4, Drama For SMP Pole Sitter

Sun and clear blue skies was the order of the day for Friday. A field waterlogged from wet practice and qualifying eagerly looked forward to the final opportunity to prepare for the 24 Hour race.

The 60 minute session saw all runners take to pit lane except the #33 Riley/Viper (more on that below). The #16 Change Racing Lamborghini returned to the track after overnight repairs made by a busy crew to remedy damage to the corners at the front and rear of the car. Contact with the inside wall near pit entry in Thursday practice resulted in bent suspension pieces. The good news was that the chassis remained straight. The bad news was that the front suspension points were badly damaged and required significant welding to fix. Repairs were concluded at 2:30am and the team looked forward to using the Friday practice session to get some laps for the drivers, most of which had not gotten any seat time at all.

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An hour is not enough to get all drivers in all cars seat time, so some drivers will be making their first dry laps of the event in race conditions.

The track was still damp in places and wet in the grass as the #54 CORE prototype challenge car and the #37 SMP Ferrari found as both got sideways and took a detour through the grass at the exit of the bus stop to driver’s left in separate incidents. The #37 SMP Ferrari was among those that made repairs after an incident in Thursday practice. The car shows some new lower rear bodywork and racing tape on the left rear fender.

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Dry conditions quickly put the prototype class at the top of the charts again.

Drama for the pole sitting #37 BR01 prototype interrupted proceedings as there was smoke from the rear of the car as it came out of the west horseshoe 21 minutes into the session. Driver Kirill Ladygin pulled off the track and stopped in the infield with an apparent engine issue. A brief red flag to facilitate recovery gave way to green and the rest of the field resumed. The car was towed back to the garage.

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Another brief red waved to recover the #97 Turner BMW when it pulled off to drivers left before the bus stop 37 minutes into the session. It appeared to struggle to get up to speed as it left pit lane as well.

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The practice session was difficult for the Riley/ViperExchange team as both cars had issues. The #33 GasMonkey Viper spent the session in the garage with a clutch issue and the #93 “Don’t Mess with Texas” Viper was delayed with a brake issue at the front right likely resulting from an earlier brake change and spent much of the session on pit lane before getting out for six timed laps.

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Meantime, the DeltaWing in the hands of Sean Rayhall, Katherine Legge and Andy Meyrick spent most of the session at the top of the time sheets. The two Ligiers from Michael Shank and ESM joined the DeltaWing as the three rotated among the top three spots with times in the 1:38 range. At the end, it was the DeltaWing on top after running 22 laps. The #55 Mazda prototype was fourth fastest in the hands of Jonathan Barmarito. The Daytona Prototype models filled out the prototype class, but likely not pushing for outright speed so difficult to make any conclusions about race pace.

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Tom Kimber-Smith set the pace in prototype challenge for the #54 PR1/Mathiasen car in front of Kenton Koch in the #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports car and Martin Plowman in the #54 CORE following in third fastest. Times ranged in the 1:43-1:44 neighbourhood.

GTLM finally showed the close margins expected of the class. Tenths and hundredths separated all of the cars in the class in the 1:45 range. BMW claimed the top of the class with Bill Auberlen in the #25 BMW ahead of Lucas Luhr in the #100 anniversary car. The Scuderia Corsa #68 Ferrari 488 was third in the hands of Alessandro Pier Guidi. The laps were literally the first dry laps for the Risi Ferrari so the pace must be promising.

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Similarly, GTD times were tight. Pole sitter Norbert Siedler and Jorg Bergmeister were fastest in the #73 Park Place Porsche. Lamborghini entries were second and third with the #48 Paul Miller entry driven by Italian Mirko Bortolotti ahead of Townsend Bell in the #11 O’Gara Huracan. The bulk of the GTD field was separated by two seconds with times in the 1:47-1:48 range.
No further practice opportunities, so now the teams retreat to the garages and get ready for the green flag at 2:40pm local time on Saturday.

FREE PRACTICE 4 TIMES >>

Kevin Ehrlich