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Wrapping Up The 2018 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona

Class by class race notes

The lowest number of cautions since 1994 made a huge contribution to a record-breaking Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona which saw the records for both mileage, and number of laps completed, annihilated.

Four caution periods, and reduced pace for the short bout of rain on Saturday evening were the only confounding factors to a race that saw 15 cars (including the top four GTLM finishers, beat the previous mileage record that had stood since 1992.

The new mark held of course now by the race-winning #5 Mustang Sampling/ Action Express Cadillac DPi is a mighty 2876.48 miles beating a mark that has stood for 36 years.

Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Action Express all claim their third Rolex 24 Hours win, Barbosa and Action Express have always take their wins together, Fittipaldi took his first back in 2004 with Bell Motorsports.

Fittipaldi has now been an overall podium finisher at the race six times, Barbosa seven times plus a GT class win in a Perspective Racing Mosler back in 2003.

Albuquerque has a pair of overall podiums and a GT class win for Audi back in 2013.

The bottom six in the classified results were all DPis from the Prototype class with the pair of Mazda RT24-Ps, the Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Ligiers, and the Cadillacs from Spirit of Daytona and Wayne Taylor Racing all falling by the wayside. Both of the Cadillacs and the #22 ESM car had led at least once during the race.

The only two other retirements were the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari and the #59 Manthey Porsche from the GTD class.

All of the LMP2 spec Prototype entries made the finish, albeit several doing so with multiple issues during the race.

The controversy that rolled on through the meeting around the failure of Continental tires, in particular at the right rear should abate to some degree from Sebring onwards. Continental will introduce a new road course product for their IMSA efforts for the 12 Hours with lots of testing already in the books and a lot more still to come in the coming days.

Continental’s explanations over some of the contributing factors to the failures though led to colourful comments from several teams – particularly the European LMP2 teams who reacted with – we’ll call it surprise – to suggestions that they were using air and not nitrogen to fill the tires.

2017 Sunoco Whelen Daytona Challenge winner Stuart Middleton became what is believed to be the youngest overall podium finisher in the race at 18 years old. 

With ‘his’ #31 Whelen Action Express Cadillac DPi in the mix until the closing stages and managing a serious overheating issue (also suffered by the race winning #5 car) the team opted to run without the British GT GT4 reigning Champion for long periods of the race.

He was though tasked with finishing the race and comfortably exceeded his minimum driving hours. Second place is the best result yet for a Sunoco Challenge winner, beating the previous mark set by his 2018 team-mate Felipe Nasr in his prize drive year.

Already focused on the Championship Felipe Nasr enquired in the post race press conference whether he had scored the fastest lap of the race – he had, 1:37.475. “Great, that’s another point!” he observed.

It was an excellent and hard fought podium finish for the #54 Core Autosport crew, Jon Bennett, Colin Braun, Loic Duval and Romain Dumas leading home the LMP2 spec cars with an impressive run.

Fernando Alonso was full of praise for United Autosports and McLaren F1 team-mate Lando Norris after the first sportscar race for both men:

”The things he did were very impressive. The teamwork, the preparation, the focus.

“When we switched to wet tires for one stint, we were fifth, one minute behind the leader. Then we switched to slick tires again in damp conditions – all this with Lando driving – and we were 27 seconds behind the leaders.

“So even in wet conditions, his first time in a prototype, first time in Daytona, first time with Continental tires, he recovered 33 seconds in 20 laps or something like that. He is 18 years old, so that is quite impressive.”

GTLM saw Ford take an utterly dominant 1,2 result with a near faultless run from both cars – scoring, into the bargain, a 200th race win for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Whilst it was the #66 car that led for most of the race (c.20 hours) it was the #67 that took the win, the team opting to short fuel the car and take track position late in the race.

In contrast BMWs weekend was a character building one, on the positive side both cars came home, (“No other new BMW GT race car has ever been more reliable on its debut” said BMW later) on the M8 GTE’s debut, despite a huge front right blow out on the banking for the #25 after Bill Auberlen hit debris.

Against that though came a rather searching statement post race from BMW that made it clear the manufacturer was none too impressed with the BoP they were dealt. The statement was clearly intended to provoke a response and in that it succeeded, expect a substantial change in time for Sebring!

Corvette were in the mix initially but the Ford pace soon told, the opposition seemingly rather nonplussed in the wake of what became an impressive run at the front, but rather unusually in this class perhaps not too engaging as an overall spectacle.

Porsche too seemed simply outpaced, whilst the #911 led briefly again the attack could not be sustained.

Risi Competizione meanwhile did had some pace, James Calado scoring the class fastest lap 1:44.008 in the #62 car that needed a replacement door after a hinge failure.

GTD meanwhile had storylines galore during the race, and one or two afterwards too!

The win went to GRT and Lamborghini, the first ever 24 Hour race victory for the marque and for all four drivers of the #11 Huracan GT3

It was a 1,3 for Lamborghini too with the #48 Paul Miller Racing car defying the odds after a Friday full rear end rebuild and shakedown at nearby New Smyrna Speedway to run hard and fast all day (and all night!)

A great result too for the second placed Michael Shank Racing Acura, the #86 always in the mix for a podium finish.

The #33 Mercedes led late on but required a final fuel splash that sent the car tumbling back down the order to finish a still fine fourth.

Suffering an even more dramatic tumble though was the #29 Montaplast by Land Motorsports Audi, the car a dominant class leader in the first part of the race and holding a near two lap advantage courtesy of pace on track, a little luck in the first Full Course Caution period and stellar times in the pits.

It was the latter performance though that drew the attention of IMSA officials, the car receiving a crushing Stop and 5 Minutes Hold penalty for a ‘Balance of Performance’ breach. That saw a 2 lap advantage turn into a 2 lap deficit and with a later puncture the team dropped out of contention for the win immediately.

That later emerged as a judgement that the team had consistently and significantly bettered a fuel fill time window established by IMSA and had therefore profited on track.

So far, so unusual, but not ground breaking.

Analysis of the timing data did indeed show that the team had a significant and consistent advantage in the pits. However post race it emerged that the fuel rig and flow restrictor were both entirely legal and the Audi passed Post Race Tech – both elements of the potential, and it should be said alleged, infringement therefore had no questions to answer. Land Motorsport and Audi Customer Racing also added that they had not been informed of the target window for fuelling time by IMSA, and therefore had no opportunity to comply with it.

All this with a team that were already struggling to put together a part season in the Championship. The team are, quite correctly apoplectic, Audi too are unimpressed. The challenge is to IMSA – establish exactly what the offence was, or……….

Wright Motorsports had a terrible start to their season with Robert Renauer’s off at the Bus Stop on the formation lap costing the team over 2 hours of repairs at the start of the race. The car would eventually finish 19th, a disastrous opening to their season, finishing ahead of the two retired cars in the GTD class the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari and #59 Manthey Porsche.

Christina Nielsen though did have one bright moment post weekend as the wraps were taken off a special edition Lego version of her Championship winning Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 – the set including a Lego version of the double Championship winning Dane!

Rather less welcome news post weekend was the revelation from Townsend Bell that his home had been burgled during the race weekend, Bell’s 2014 Rolex 24 class winners watch and all of his Indy 500 participants rings amongst the items taken.