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IMSA: Rolex 24 at Daytona, Hours 5-8, In To The Night

In the 5-8 hours, the race entered into a typical endurance race pattern,  minor shuffling throughout the field, especially through pits stops but relatively consistent placings throughout the field.

Up front, the Michael Shank Racing Ligier has been the dominant car up front. Through the first part, it was Olivier Pla stretching the lead by over 30 seconds, only for it to be wiped out by yellow flag conditions.

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Among the challengers, the 55 Mazda pitted during caution 5, 5:48 into the race. In car footage had shown that the lighting on the steering wheel was inconsistent, so the team opted to swap wheels during the driver swap from Jonathan Bomarito to Spencer Pigot. Unfortunately the car would not fire, even after further wheels were swapped in. Eventually the team replaced the ECU and the car finally fired. The car lost 2 laps, but it could have been so much worse for them.

As far as casualties, the DeltaWing was officially retired, despite attempts by the team to bring the car back out. This was a stunning opening run by the team and they deserved so much more as far as results.

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Earlier in the week, it was noted that Jordan Taylor was not feeling well. While he did get into the car enough to score points, he did not feel well enough to continue. Nice to have a substitute as strong as Rubens Barrichello…

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The Ganassi Ford Rileys made up for the lackluster Ford GTs, with both the 01 and 02 running among the leaders. Brendan Hartley, who had a strong stint commented after his stint, “It went pretty well. This is my fourth time at Daytona, so I’m always happy to be here. It’s taken some adjusting from the car I’m used to, the Porsche 919 (prototype, FIA World Endurance Championship). It’s a bit of an adjustment, but I really, really enjoy it out there and the racing is so tough and the drivers are incredible. It’s a race that I’d love to come back and race every year. It’s gone pretty well. The car is feeling very, very strong. I might be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure we’re one of the quickest Daytona Prototypes out there. There’s a long, long way to go, but it’s all going according to plan.”

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When the track went green just before entering the 8th hour, there were 8 Prototypes on the lead lap, with Oz Negri having the MSR Ligier back into their so far customary leading position. Thanks to the yellow, the cars were tightly bunched with 1-8 all within just over seven seconds and the Mazda a further lap back. The pole winner, the SMP BR01 fell further back due to various issues, including contact with the pit exit wall, running 18 laps off the pace.

The less said about the PC class, the better. One of the cars that can usually be counted on to be competitive is the 54 CORE. Scratch that, the engine let go before completing 6 hours of run time. Leading the class, way back in 18th overall was the 52 PR1 Mathiasen Oreca, with Tom Kimber-Smith driving. They held a 2 lap lead over the JDC Miller and the 20 BAR1 Motorsports entries.

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GTLM was also a class that had a bit of a routine. Usually up front was a combination of the 911 and 912 Porsches, running in tandem and usually chased by either the 100 BMW or the two Corvettes. In the 6th hour, Olivier Beretta had the Risi Ferrari up to 3rd in class, but fell back under intense pressure first from Graham Rahal in the 100 BMW and then Marcel Fassler in the No. 4 Corvette and also the 72 SMP Ferrari with Gianmaria Bruni driving. Fassler, a “vacationing” Audi driver who has previous experience with Corvette Racing ran a strong stint to keep the 4 in contention said, “It’s really close and a ton of work, actually. But it’s also great fun because we had great battles in our class against BMW, the Porsches, the Ferraris and even the other Corvette. The restarts were quite tricky because we were not on old tires all of the time. In the middle of the field and going into the first corner, you didn’t know where to brake, what was going to happen in traffic and which hole to dive in going to the corner. It was quite tricky in the beginning but then everything sorted out quite well. There is also a lot of respect from the slower cars and the faster prototypes. We try to give each other plenty of space. I enjoyed these first couple of stints very much. Everything looks good for Corvette Racing so far. There’s still a long time to go though.”

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Helped by the caution, the top 8 in the class were tightly packed as the race reached 8 hours of run time, with the 912 Porsche leading the 3 Corvette and the 72 Ferrari.

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The Ford GTs are still running, turning competitive times but way, way back in the pack, out of reach of any feasible notable results. Now this turns into a long, long test for the Ganassi Ford team. Both the 76 and the 66 also were delayed by cut rear tires, which further dropped them back.

In GTD, the initial part of the race shows that the Lamborghini Huracans are a force to be reckoned with. The car leading the class for the majority of the 4-8 hours was the Paul Miller Lamborghini, led by very strong stints by both Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers.

As the 8th hour concluded, it was a Lambo 1-2 with the 16 Charge Racing Huracan running second. A strong, but conservative run by the 23 Alex Job Porsche was running 3rd. Despite falling back 2 laps early, the 23 got up towards the front, running 3rd in class. The veteran team is running their typical quiet race, setting themselves up for a run to the checkered flag.

In what is a spectacular battle and living up to all expectations, a total of 13 cars were still on the lead lap. Those that fell back are the 33 Viper, which had an incident to bring out the 6th yellow of the race. The Viper which had been running very strongly dropped back 9 laps from the incident.

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Gary Horrocks & Kevin Ehrlich