Delta Wing leads after hour one with the two Ligiers also showing speed. The SMP BR01 pole sitter falls to the rear of the prototype class and one Mazda stopped with transmission problems. Porsche led in GTLM with a close batter as expected. One Ford GT suffered shifting issues and the repair cost significant time and laps. A yellow flag with pit strategies and pit penalties mixed up the field. A Lamborghini leads GTD with the Porsches further back.
Dry and warm conditions and a large spectator crowd set the stage for the start of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. The first race of the IMSA season featured a 54 car field. The prototypes and prototype challenge cars started with a gap ahead of the GTLM and GTD field.
The #9 Stevenson Audi failed to make the start, but the team resumed and started the race with a 3 lap deficit.
The two Ligier prototypes took off and gapped the field with Pipo Derani in the ESM #2 black and green entry ahead of Oz Negri in the #60 Michael Shank car. The two put 15 seconds on the rest of the field with clear race track to work with. The Delta Wing in the hands of Katherine Legge moved up to fourth with the pole sitting SMP falling back.
The #67 Ford GT with Ryan Briscoe driving slowed at the exit of turn one, apparently stuck in sixth gear. The team had been working feverishly in the morning before the car went to the grid. Repairs were attempted on pit lane to resolve the issue, including changing steering wheels. The Ford GT was pushed back into the garage area after 10 minutes of work on pit lane.
Full course caution waved 20 minutes into the race as the Mazda team told Tom Long in the #70 prototype to stop. The Mazda was towed into the infield with a transmission problem. The full course caution gave the bulk of the field an opportunity to make an early pit stop. All refueled and some took fresh tires. The #3 Corvette and the #33 Viper took the opportunity to reduce their rear wing angle in a search for more speed. That Viper chased mechanical problems and didn’t get good practice laps to refine its set up.
The notable exception for pit stops was the leader. Derani in the ESM car elected not to pit. Several cars incurred penalties in the opening pit stops, including GTD pole sitter Norbert Siedler in the #73 Park Place Porsche and the #100 GTLM BMW. The number of cars with pit stop penalties perhaps was a sign of rust, the teams surely hoped to refine things given the number of stops to come throughout the race.
The green flag released the field 33 minutes into the race. With no gaps between the classes and a few cars having not pitted, the jumbled field somehow made it through the first corners without incident.
Legge in the Delta Wing kept pace with Negri in the #60 Ligier and made the pass for second. Further up the track, Derani lapped three quarters of a second to a seond or so per lap more quickly, resulting a lead of over 10 seconds.
In the GTLM class, a slim margin Nick Tandy in the Porsche and Joey Hand in the Ford GT. The Porsche led after the re-start and the Ford briefly made a pass for the lead before Tandy quickly re-passed to reclaim the lead. Gimmi Brunni in the #72 Ferrari 488 didn’t want to miss out on the fun and found his way ahead of Hand with the two Corvettes a fraction behind.
The #67 Ford GT reappeared on pit lane after a lengthy visit to the garage 16 laps down to the GTLM leader. Certainly a difficult way to start the 24 hour race, but the team refueled and rejoined to start their extended test session.
Derani finally pitted under green after completing 27 laps which yielded the lead to Katherine Legge in the Delta Wing. She enjoyed a lead of 8 seconds over Negri at one point before the margin closed slightly. Dane Cameron ran in third in the #31 Action Express Corvette. Cameron was the first of the Daytona prototype cars, but had Scott Dixon in the #02 Ganassi car and Ricky Taylor in the #10 right behind.
The prototype challenge class settled into a comfortable position just outside of the top 10, but with slim margins between the class competitors. Stephen Simpson in the #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports car set the early pace and the fastest lap in the class.
After an hour of running, Bryce Miller took the #48 Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan to the lead in front of the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrai The bright fluorescent yellow #11 O’Gara Lamborghini led GTD with a 10 second margin in the hands of Townsend Bell over James Davidson in the blue Aston Martin #007 and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the #93 Viper.
Early indications look good for a lot of very close running and the prospect of some ambitious passing moves given the difficulty of finding an advantage. Reliability troubled several cars but there were no crashes or incidents in the opening hour.
Kevin Ehrlich & Gary Horrocks