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rolex 2 at daytona coverage

Breakthrough Win for Acura, Historic Win for Wayne Taylor Racing
in 59th Rolex 24 At Daytona
Era Motorsport Wins in LMP2, Riley Motorsports Takes LMP3 Debut

Jan. 31, 2021
By Jeff Olson
IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Filipe Albuquerque suspected something was amiss with his closest competitor near the end of the race. He was right.
Albuquerque watched in his mirrors and heard his team’s reaction over the radio Sunday when Renger van der Zande was forced to pit with a flat right rear tire with 7 minutes, 50 seconds left in the race, allowing Albuquerque to sail to victory in the 59th Rolex 24 At Daytona. The historic race opened the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
Albuquerque drove the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 DPi to the finish line 4.704 seconds ahead of the No. 48 Action Express Racing/Ally Cadillac DPi-V.R driven by Kamui Kobayashi. It was Albuquerque’s second Rolex victory in the past four years and the third consecutive Rolex victory for Wayne Taylor Racing.

WTR joined Chip Ganassi Racing as the only teams to score three consecutive overall victories in the Rolex 24. The Ganassi team went back-to-back-to-back from 2006-2008.
As van der Zande filled his mirrors during their battle late in the 24-hour race, Albuquerque noticed him charging hard and occasionally getting his tires off track, especially in the Bus Stop, a left-right-left chicane that breaks up a portion of the backstretch on the Daytona International Speedway superspeedway oval, much of which is used on the 3.56-mile road course. 
“I was always looking in the mirrors,” Albuquerque said. “He was fast. He was faster than me, obviously. But I thought there must be tire trouble. Physics tells you that. When you push too hard, something happens. When you go off track as well, something goes bad. I was not expecting that to happen, obviously, but I was expecting some trouble with (van der Zande’s) performance.”
The No. 10’s victory, shared with co-drivers Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor and Alexander Rossi, was the first in the Rolex 24 for Acura, which moved from Team Penske to WTR and Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian during the offseason.
It also was the fifth overall Rolex 24 victory for Wayne Taylor Racing, which previously won in 2005, 2017, 2019 and 2020.
This one, though, was made more gratifying by the effort that went into it. During a short offseason, WTR changed manufacturers – moving from Cadillac to Acura – and revamped its driver lineup.
“So much went into this,” said Ricky Taylor, who scored the second overall Rolex victory of his career. “It was definitely a test of trust and a testament to preparation and sticking to a plan. … We skipped all of the offseason testing because the guys needed time to do everything properly. They know how to win this race. I feel like we were all lucky to be a part of it.”
Van der Zande – who drove and won the Rolex 24 for WTR the past two years – was pressuring Albuquerque and at times closing in sharply during the final minutes of the race, before the cut right rear tire on his No. 01 Cadillac Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in the last of 12 turns on the Daytona road course.
“He nearly passed me, but then he was kind of steady for four of five laps,” Albuquerque said. “He was not really getting in there. I was just counting. ‘One more lap. One more lap in the lead.’ When he blew, we were lucky. But there is nobody who has ever won Daytona or any championship without luck.”  
Following Kobayashi (who was also chasing a third straight Rolex 24 win) and the No. 48 Cadillac co-driven with Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller was the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda RT24-P shared by Oliver Jarvis, Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito. 
The Ganassi crew replaced the tire on the No. 01 car, but – without time to catch the field – van der Zande and his teammates had to settle for a fifth-place finish.
In the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class, Paul-Loup Chatin put the finishing touches on a 19.513-second victory by the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07 over the No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA co-driven by John Farano, Gabriel Aubry, Tim Buret and Matthieu Vaxiviere.
Chatin co-drove the No. 18 with Ryan Dalziel, Dwight Merriman and Kyle Tilley.
“It’s amazing,” Merriman said. “I’m really proud of the team. It really is a team effort to win in endurance racing, especially when you get to these super-long ones. It’s just so hard to win, even if you’re good. It requires all aspects of the program to be good.”
Spencer Pigot drove the final stint of a three-lap victory in the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class by the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 he shared with Gar Robinson, Scott Andrews and Oliver Askew. LMP3 was making its WeatherTech Championship debut and the cars were racing for 24 hours for the first time.
“It was a pretty smooth race, to be honest,” Pigot said. “We kind of stayed out of trouble and did our own thing. That was our plan all along. Nobody knew how reliable these LMP3 cars would be. I don’t think they’d ever run a race this long. One thing we knew is that we’d have the best-prepared car in the paddock, and I think we showed that today.”
The No. 33 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier co-driven by Joao Barbosa, Lance Willsey, Wayne Boyd and Yann Clairay finished second in the LMP3 class, followed by the No. 6 Muehlner Motorsports America Duqueine D08 shared by Moritz Kranz, Laurents Hoerr and Kenton Koch.
The No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura in DPi, the No. 8 Tower Motorsport entry in LMP2 and the No. 74 Riley Motorsports LMP3 scored the most points in IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup competition, which pays points at regular junctures of the WeatherTech championship’s four endurance races: the Rolex 24, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, and Motul Petit Le Mans.
The WeatherTech Championship season resumes March 17-20 with the Sebring 12 Hours at Sebring International Raceway.
Taylor Completes Rolex 24 Family Sweep with GTLM Triumph
Mercedes-AMG Scores First Rolex 24 Victory in GTD

Jan. 31, 2021
By Holly Cain
IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Driving his No. 3 Corvette C8.R across the Daytona International Speedway finish line to earn GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Sunday afternoon, Jordan Taylor completed a rare “family sweep” of this legendary event. Moments earlier, Taylor’s brother Ricky and father Wayne had secured their own winning Rolex watches.

“To see Jordan win in the GTLM class, we’re living a dream,’’ Ricky Taylor said of his younger brother, who helped the family team to a pair of prototype overall victories in 2017. Jordan Taylor, meanwhile, was elated but relieved.
“It was an amazing day, I think,” he said. “All 24 hours in this class are always intense, and I think every year you forget how intense it is until it starts again. All the cars were pretty much within 10 seconds all race long, so no one could make a mistake. Any little mistake would put you on your back foot.”
Certainly, Jordan Taylor drove an inspired final stint to rally from a slow pit stop hours earlier that dropped the car he shared with Antonio Garcia and Nicky Catsburg from contending for the win to fourth place at the time. The hard work and inspired drive through the field secured Corvette Racing’s first Rolex 24 victory in five years – by a 3.519-second margin over the team’s No. 4 Corvette. The No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE finished third. 
The last time Corvette won in class was 2016, sweeping the top two podium positions then as well. This was the first endurance win for the mid-engine C8.R that began competing last year. Corvette Racing also holds the top two positions in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup standings after Round 1 with the No. 4 squad sitting two points ahead of their teammates in the No. 3 by a count of 19-17.
“It’s great for Corvette to get their first endurance win with the C8.R,’’ Jordan Taylor said. “Last year, we obviously won six sprint races and the championship, but the one that was missing was the endurance win, so to start out 2021 with the Rolex 24 win is amazing, and to do it with Nicky and Antonio. It was our first win as a trio so that’s definitely special and definitely makes us more hungry to win Sebring 12 Hour next.’’
It was the third Rolex 24 win for Taylor, 29, who has two overall victories in the race in addition to his GTLM victory this weekend. Garcia, 40, has two previous class wins, in 2009 and in 2015 with Corvette. It was the first Daytona victory for Catsburg, 32, of the Netherlands. He finished runner-up in the GTD class in 2016.
Mercedes won in the GT Daytona (GTD) class with German Maro Engel taking the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a 16.329-second win over the No. 75 Sun Energy 1 Mercedes-AMG driven at the finish by Raffaelo Marciello. Andrea Calderelli brought the defending Rolex 24 class champion Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 home in third place.
It was a spirited battle in the GTD class including some physical racing with a little more than four hours remaining. The Winward Mercedes made hard contact with the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 while battling for the class lead. The Ferrari hobbled back to the pits for repairs and was taken out of contention, while the Mercedes raced on.
“We had been battling with the (No.) 21 car probably for a good 16 hours, probably the whole race we had been going at it with the guys,’’ said Philip Ellis, who was driving the No. 57 at the time. “It was always very hard racing but fair racing. That’s the way we like it and the way we want to see it, and we think the spectators want to see it as well.

“Both of us came out of the pits on cold tires just after pit stops, and I think he just saw an opportunity to make a move early and the tires weren’t quite there yet. And I think he just misjudged it, took a bit too much risk and squeezed me off a little bit which was enough to upset the car. Unfortunately, I hit him and corrected the car. It’s very unfortunate for the (No.) 21 car. You don’t want to see battles end this way. Unfortunately, it did this time.”
This was the inaugural Rolex 24 victory for all four drivers on the winning GTD team and first Rolex 24 win for Mercedes-AMG in five tries. In fact, it’s the first major victory by Mercedes at Daytona International Speedway.
Russell Ward, 31, the lone American on the Winward team, was making his Rolex 24 debut, as was Dutch driver Indy Doutje, 28. British driver Ellis, 28, had competed in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Daytona, but this was his first Rolex 24. Engel had competed in three previous Rolex 24 races with a best finish of seventh in 2016.
In addition to the GTD race victory, the No. 57 Winward team also claimed a three-point lead in the Michelin Endurance Cup standings, 16-13, over the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari tea,
Moments after the race ended, Corvette Racing issued a statement that Garcia had tested positive for COVID-19, a test he took at 9 a.m. ET Sunday in preparation to fly home to Spain after the race. Garcia drove three “double stints” before being isolated following the positive test.
"As part of international COVID travel protocols, all drivers and team members traveling in and out of the U.S. are required to take a COVID test before and after any race activities,’’ the Corvette Racing statement read. “While Antonio Garcia tested negative in preparation for his arrival for the Rolex 24, we have received notice that he has now tested positive in preparation to depart the country.
“He was immediately pulled from competition upon notification of the positive test result and, although he wasn’t experiencing any symptoms, will no longer participate in any additional race activities at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Upon consulting with IMSA and its Event Operations Protocols, the series determined Corvette Racing met all conditions under the IMSA event protocols that allowed it to compete in a safe and responsible manner.” 
IMSA issued its own statement in response. “Following the guidelines outlined in the Event Operations Protocols manual, Corvette Racing alerted IMSA that driver Antonio Garcia tested positive for COVID-19,” it said. “We wish Antonio well in his recovery.”
Both Taylor and Catsburg – who conducted their postrace Zoom media interview outside of victory lane – said they were comfortable that the team took enough precautions throughout the race and that they had only random, limited interaction with Garcia because of the COVID-19 protocol already in place. 
“For me, I saw Antonio before the race and that was the last time. And even then, we’re always social distancing and following protocols,’’ Taylor assured. “Definitely disappointing Antonio wasn’t there for the end, but he leads this (No.) 3 car.’’
Taylor added that he will continue to follow protocol, even though that means – in an abundance of caution – missing the traditional post-Rolex 24 pizza dinner his family has enjoyed through the years.
“I’m fine to just go sit at my house for as long as it takes and caress my Rolex (watch) for a while,’’ Taylor said. “I’ll get tested and make sure I’m safe.”
Then he added, “Better to be safe than sorry. ‘’


Rolex 24 18-Hour Notebook: Close Battles Continue
Throughout the Night

Jan. 31, 2021
By Jeff Olson
IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As darkness turned to light Sunday morning at Daytona International Speedway, little about the 59th Rolex 24 became clear.
The races in four of the five classes in the annual 24-hour race remained closely contested as the race moved past the 18-hour mark. At 10 a.m. ET, the leaders were:
DPi – The No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura ARX-05 shared by Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque, Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves led overall, but five of the seven cars in class remained on the lead lap.
LMP2 – The No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07 co-driven by John Farano, Gabriel Aubry, Tim Buret and Matthieu Vaxiviere had the class lead with the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA in pursuit.
GTLM – The two Corvette Racing entries continued to battle for the class lead, with the No. 4 shared by Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims holding the lead for the moment.
LMP3 – The No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 M co-driven by Gar Robinson, Spencer Pigot, Scott Andrews and Oliver Askew was the only class leader with a comfortable lead. The No. 74 was four laps ahead of the No. 33 Sean Creech Ligier.
GTD – The No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Russell Ward, Philip Ellis, Indy Dontje and Maro Engel led a hair-raising, back-and-forth fight with the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 for the class lead.
Castroneves, who took over the No. 10 car as day broke, started his stint with a dirty windshield.
“I was like, ‘Guys, guys. Always, when there’s a new driver in the car, you’ve got to get a new tear-off,’” Castroneves said with a laugh. “I was like completely blind. It was a restart. It was dark. I was like, ‘I need the tear-off. Right now I just need to see.’ We were able to finally get a pit stop and get a new one.”
The team closest to the No. 10 car at 10 a.m., the No. 01 Cadillac Chip Ganassi Cadillac DPi-V.R shared by Renger van der Zande, Kevin Magnussen and Scott Dixon, was within a few seconds of the lead.
“I’m all-out all the time,” van der Zande said after his morning stint. “I’m not holding back so far. This is about it for us, at least.”
Milner said the No. 4 Corvette managed to maintain the lead over the team’s sister car -- the No. 3 shared by Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg -- despite a persistent problem with the car’s gearbox.
“So far our run has been pretty clean,” Milner said. “Good pit stops, good strategy, staying out of trouble with the traffic and things like that. From that perspective, everything is good. We do have a small gearbox gremlin that we’ve had pretty much all race that isn’t getting any worse, which is a good thing.”
In the middle of the dark-to-dawn mayhem, some teams were able to make light of their situations. Bill Auberlen, who was doused with fuel during a pit mishap early in the race, became the butt of his team’s social media joke:
The remaining hours of the 59th Rolex can be seen live on NBCSN until 2 p.m. ET, when coverage moves to NBC for the conclusion.
Rolex 24 12-Hour Notebook: Wayne Taylor Racing Acura
Leads at Halfway Point

Jan. 31, 2021
By Holly Cain
IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As expected, the tight contest for the overall lead of the Rolex 24 At Daytona was as spirited 12 hours into the famed IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener as it was at the drop of the green flag. And at the midpoint of the race, a familiar name was showing the way.

Filipe Albuquerque had the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing/Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 DPi out front, holding the No. 48 Action Express/Ally Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R and Mike Rockenfeller off by less than a second with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kevin Magnussen and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, in the pole-winning No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac, giving chase. The top five Daytona Prototype international (DPi) were still on the lead lap – within 40 seconds of the lead in one of the most competitive runs in Rolex 24 history.

The midpoint of the Rolex 24 also served as the second juncture for points to be awarded for the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup that rewards top performers at designated stages of the four endurance races on the WeatherTech Championship schedule. The leaders after 12 hours were: the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura in the DPi class; the No. 47 Cetilar Racing Dallara in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2); the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 in the new Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class; the No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R in GT Le Mans (GTLM); and the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 in GT Daytona (GTD).

Flag-to-flag coverage of the iconic Rolex 24 continues throughout the night on the NBC Sports platforms. Tune in to the NBC Sports App until 6 a.m. ET. As daylight breaks in Daytona Beach, live coverage shifts to NBCSN from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. before the dramatic concluding hours are broadcast from 2-4 p.m. on NBC. The checkered flag will wave at about 3:40 p.m. The entire race streams on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

After a spate of early full-course cautions – four in the race’s opening three hours – the drivers settled in and there were but two yellow flags over the next nine hours. Only three of the 49 entries – all in LMP2 – had retired from the race.

The following are other highlight notes from Hours 6-12, by class:

Daytona Prototype international: Johnson’s Midnight Special
Jimmie Johnson pulled a double stint in the No. 48 Ally Racing Cadillac just after midnight. Taking over the car after co-driver Kamui Kobayashi pushed it into the overall lead, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion held the point over his first fuel run but fell behind Renger van der Zande in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac on his second stint.

No. 5 Cadillac’s Night Turns Dark
The No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac, with Tristan Vautier aboard, fell from contention after tangling with Patrick Long in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R GTD entry shortly before 1 a.m. The collision happened as the cars were about to head into the infield section of the road course.

The No. 5 had been on the lead lap all race long. Vautier immediately pulled the car behind the wall and into the garage, where it remained for nearly 90 minutes as the crew effected repairs. By then it was 47 laps off the pace.

Castroneves Savoring Short Championship Moment
It took Helio Castroneves more than two decades of professional racing to earn his first season title, coming in the 2020 WeatherTech Championship with Ricky Taylor. But now that he’s only slated to drive in one series race this year, the Rolex 24, the Brazilian is intent on enjoying the moment – no matter how short the duration.

“This is the first time that I come back as defending champ,” Castroneves said after his first race stint in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura he’s sharing with Taylor, Albuquerque and Alexander Rossi. “It was really cool. I was talking with Ricky about that. It’s a pretty good feeling.”

Taylor will carry that honor all year since he is a full-season driver in the No. 10. For Castroneves, this was his only opportunity since he returns to the IndyCar Series in April.

Le Mans Prototype 2: Cetilar Racing Sneaks into Class Lead
Cetilar Racing, fielding the only Dallara chassis in the LMP2 field, charged into the class lead following a restart from a full-course caution with 13.5 hours remaining. The No. 47 Cetilar entry, featuring four Italian drivers, lurked in the shadows in the earlier hours until shooting past the front-running No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07 and No. 11 WIN Autosport ORECA that had dominated to that point.

Le Mans Prototype 3: No. 6 Muehlner Motorsports America Charges Back to Lead
The comeback story of the first half of the race was the No. 6 Muehlner Motorsports America Duqueine M30-D08. After pitting with apparent suspension damage less than 20 minutes into the race, the No. 6 that started first in LMP3 dropped as many as four laps off the pace in class.

Co-drivers Moritz Kranz, Laurents Hoerr, Kenton Koch and Stevan McAleer methodically moved the No. 6 back into contention, taking the LMP3 lead by the seventh hour and contending with the No. 74 Ligier JS P320 for the class lead. After 12 hours, the No. 74 Ligier held the point over the No. 6 Muehlner Motorsports America entry. 

GT Le Mans: Corvettes Continue Setting the Pace
Five GTLM cars remained on the lead lap after 12 hours, but it was the Corvette Racing duo doing the leading. The team is trying to get back to Victory Lane at the Rolex 24 for the first time since 2016 and give the Corvette C8.R its first endurance race win.

At the race’s midpoint, the No. 4 Corvette driven by Nick Tandy held 5.894-second lead over the No. 3 Corvette being driven by Jordan Taylor.

“It’s going fairly well so far, I would say,” said Alexander Sims, co-driver of the No. 4 Corvette that’s led most of the laps. “I had my first two stints in the Corvette at Daytona, and I feel like I’m learning a lot still. Those were the first two full stints I’ve done, and I learned a lot about the evolution of the car over that stint. 
“So we’re at the front of the field. It may look like it’s all under control, but we’re pushing hard and not leaving much on the table. We’re in the right position at the moment.”

GT Daytona: Night Time Is Right Time for Mercedes-AMG
The long periods of green-flag running proved most beneficial for the Mercedes-AMG and Ferrari runners in GTD. The No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 held strong to the class lead for a lengthy stretch, until the full-course caution with 13.5 hours to go.

On the restart, however, Maro Engel in the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Mikael Grenier in the No. 75 Sun Energy 1 Mercedes quickly pulled ahead of the Ferrari and into the top two GTD spots. The battle for position remained tight between the two makes and Ferrari driver Daniel Serra was able to split the two Mercedes and move into second place just before the race’s midpoint.
Rolex 24 Six-Hour Notebook: No. 5 Cadillac Leads after Six Hours
Johnson Revels Being in Car when Green Flag Waves; Magnussen’s Rookie Radio Mistake; Defending LMP2 Champion DragonSpeed First out of Race; Not the Way to Start a Race in GTLM

Jan. 30, 2021
By Mark Robinson
IMSA Wire Service
No. 5 Cadillac Leads after Six Hours

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – If the first quarter of the Rolex 24 At Daytona is any indication of the rest of the race and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, it’s going to be a year to remember.

The opening six hours of the famous endurance race Saturday featured no-holds-barred competition from the drop of the green flag. Instead of biding their time and patiently waiting for the final hours, drivers and teams in all five classes turned up the wick early and often as day turned to night.

Five of the seven entries in the top class, Daytona Prototype international (DPi), took a turn at the front. The six-hour mark represented the first juncture where points were awarded in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup. The leaders at the time were: the No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R in DPi; the No. 11 WIN Autosport ORECA LMP2 07 in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2); the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 in the new Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class; the No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R in GT Le Mans (GTLM); and the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R in GT Daytona (GTD).

Flag-to-flag coverage of the iconic Rolex 24 continues throughout the night on the array of NBC Sports platforms. Tune in to the NBC Sports App until 11 p.m. ET. Coverage then moves to NBCSN from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. before returning to the NBC Sports App from 3-6 a.m.

As daylight breaks in Daytona Beach, live coverage shifts to NBCSN from 6 a.m.- 2 p.m. before the dramatic concluding hours are broadcast from 2-4 p.m. on NBC. The checkered flag will wave at about 3:40 p.m. The entire race streams on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

DPi Highlights: Johnson Revels Being in Car when Green Flag Waves
By Holly Cain

For the first time in his heralded career, NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was tabbed as the driver to start the Rolex 24, in his eighth appearance. Johnson started the No. 48 Ally Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi from the sixth position and was running second when he pitted for the team’s first driver change a little less than two hours later. 

Even with his face was covered by a mask for his post-stint Zoom news conference, the joy was apparent in Johnson’s face. His eyes revealed it had been an exciting start to his race.

“It’s just so much fun to be back in this race and to have an opportunity to drive for Action Express and to have my former sponsor with Ally on board and (former NASCAR crew chief) Chad Knaus is here and Jeff Gordon,’’ Johnson said.

“The prerace, although I did miss the fans not being there, there was just a great energy to be standing there knowing I was getting ready to start this amazing event. I’ve never had the honor to start in this race before, so a lot of really cool emotions, memories and thoughts I’ll never forget.’’

Johnson conceded to having “butterflies” in his stomach walking to the grid but was pleased with his opening effort in the car.

“Nerves were probably a little higher than I wanted them to be, but at the same time I did look around and realize what I was getting ready to do and tried to savor as much as possible,’’ Johnson said. 

The race start wasn’t as kind to the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi, which suffered a double whammy of bad luck in the opening hour. First, the car would not start when the command was given. Once it was fired, driver Oliver Jarvis had to take the green flag from the back of the field. When Jarvis made his first pit stop some 40 minutes into the 24-hour race, he was cited for a pit-lane speeding violation and assessed a drive-through penalty. Still, the Mazda remained in contention at the six-hour mark, a single lap back.

Albuquerque Awed by Intense Early Action
By Jeff Olson
During the opening hours of the race, Filipe Albuquerque considered asking engineer Brian Pillar for some popcorn. The view of the wild racing in front of him was that good.

“They were banging doors,” Albuquerque said. “I was like, ‘This is early.’ They were going wide. It was tough. … I had a little contact, unfortunately, with GTDs and LMP3s. They don’t know really where to go sometimes because there are so many cars. But the car is fine.”

Albuquerque started fifth in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R and was fourth when he was replaced by Ricky Taylor some two hours and 25 minutes into the race. Taylor quickly put the No. 10 car, which Taylor and Albuquerque share with Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves, into the lead.

After the harrowing beginning, Albuquerque made a prediction.

“It’s going to be about who makes the least mistakes,” he said.

Opening Stint Has Pagenaud Pumped
By Jeff Olson

Simon Pagenaud had one thought when he got out of the car.

“I’ll tell you what, I’m jacked right now,” he said. “I’m just jacked! I had an awesome time at the wheel. The adrenaline went up. It was non-stop concentration. It was really, really fun.”

Pagenaud handled the second driver stint in the No. 48 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, handing over the car to teammate Mike Rockenfeller in fourth place in the DPi class shortly before the four-hour mark.

Throughout his stint, Pagenaud, who also shares the car with Jimmie Johnson and Kamui Kobayashi, raced closely with the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac, the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac and the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura.

“We were battling in traffic, passing each other,” Pagenaud said. “Honestly, you’ve got to be on your toes. Every single braking zone, every single corner, you’re passing traffic. Unbelievable. You really have to be sharp on your reflexes. If you don’t see well at night, you’re going to be in trouble.”

Magnussen’s Rookie Radio Mistake
By Jeff Olson
Kevin Magnussen made one mistake during his first stint in the race: He forgot to plug in his radio.

Magnussen got situated and belted into the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R after replacing Renger van der Zande, but forgot to insert the radio wire attached to his helmet to its place in the car.

The result was silence.  

“I made a rookie mistake,” Magnussen said. “I didn’t plug in my radio, so I was waiting for them to tell me to go, but my radio wasn’t in. I didn’t realize it until it was a couple of seconds too late. I plugged it in, but then I had to wait for them again to tell me to go. We lost, I don’t know, five seconds, so I lost the lead and went from P1 to P3.”

Once on track, Magnussen worked back into second place before being replaced by Scott Dixon. The radio won’t be forgotten again.

“That’s now out of the way,” Magnussen said. “It won’t happen again. I’ll plug the radio in immediately next time."

Le Mans Prototype 2: Defending Champion DragonSpeed First out of Race
The No. 81 DragonSpeed USA ORECA LMP2 07 will not defend its Rolex 24 class win. The car retired three hours into the race after a pair of early off-course excursions with Rob Hodes at the wheel. Hodes went off course at the famous Bus Stop chicane 40 minutes into the race and again at Turn 2 about a half-hour later. The car spent extensive time in the garage for repairs, attempted to return with Ben Hanley driving but ended its run after completing just 53 laps.

Two other LMP2 entries were among the early retirees as well. The No. 20 High Class Racing ORECA that started second in class was out of the race after 56 laps. Ex-Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica was among the driver lineup but was unable to turn any race laps.

The No. 29 Racing Team Nederland ORECA ran in the top three early but was damaged when Fritz Van Eerd had contact with the wall in Turn 7 about two hours into the race. Van Eerd was treated and released from the infield medical center. The car was taken to the garage for repairs shortly after and didn’t return, completing 65 laps.
Those retirements helped open the door for the No. 11 WIN Autosport ORECA, with Steven Thomas, Tristan Nunez, Thomas Merrill and Matthew Bell sharing driving duties, to stake their claim at the front.

“My first three stints, we were able to get up there and at least stay around the leaders,” Thomas said. “Then we put Tristan in the car, and he just drove it straight to the front.”

Nunez, the former Mazda DPi driver, was pleased with how the new team was progressing in a packed LMP2 field.

“The WIN Autosport machine is on rails right now so it was a lot of fun out there,” Nunez said. “It’s great to have a different perspective now. The class numbers are insane. Ten LMP2 cars is insane. The racing’s close, lots of top-notch drivers. Steven did a great job the first stint so really excited to see where it goes from here.”

Le Mans Prototype 3: Issues Hamper Top Starters in Class
The top two starters in LMP3 suffered damage to their cars at almost the same time less than 20 minutes into the race. The No. 6 Muehlner Motorsports America Duqueine M30-D08, the class pole sitter with Moritz Kranz at the wheel, slowed with apparent suspension damage and limped back to pit lane for repairs. At the same time, Ryan Norman spun in the No. 7 Forty7 Motorsports Duqueine and, following reports of fluids leaking from the car, drove directly to the garage.

The No. 6 was fighting its way back into contention at the six-hour mark, sitting third in class, two laps behind the leading No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier. The No 7 was soldiering along sixth in class, 35 laps off the pace.

GT Le Mans: Not the Way to Start a Race
It was an inauspicious race start for the GT Le Mans class. As the GT cars came to the green flag, Bruno Spengler (No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE) ran into the back of Kevin Estre (No. 79 WeatherTech Porsche 911 RSR-19). The contact turned Estre into Alessandro Pier Guidi beside him in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE.

While the others were able to continue with minimal damage, the No. 79 Porsche was wounded in the front and rear. When a large piece of rear bodywork shook free minutes later, its resulted in the first full-course caution of the race. The No. 79 spent 14 minutes on pit lane for repairs. Spengler was assessed a drive-through penalty for incident responsibility.

“It was quite an emotional start,” No. 62 Ferrari driver Pier Guidi said. “It was quite tricky. You don’t expect something like this for the start of a 24-hour (race), but we were lucky honestly. I was hit hard but the car is fine. I managed to stay with the Corvette and the car was OK. The race is still on for a long time, so we’ll keep going.”

Not unexpectedly, the two Corvette Racing Corvette C8.Rs set the pace in class, with the Nos. 3 and 4 dominating up front. Still, the top five in class remained on the lead lap, with the No. 79 Porsche still 12 laps back.

GT Daytona: Time to Wright the Ship
As expected, the GT Daytona class saw a wide variety of leaders and front-runners through the first quarter of the race. When the six-hour mark was reached, it was the No. 16 Wright Motorsport Porsche in front. Quite the achievement considering what the team has gone through in the past week.

First, the team’s primary car was crashed in Roar Before the Rolex 24 testing and team owner John Wright worked with Black Swan Motorsport to acquire a new chassis. Then driver Ryan Hardwick crashed again, this time in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge practice as the team was working to make its debut in that series. Hardwick suffered a concussion in the later incident, which sidelined the 2020 Bob Akin Award recipient from competing in the Rolex 24.

The team added Trent Hindman, GTD champion in 2019, to replace Hardwick. The drama didn’t stop the No. 16 from leading the class at the six-hour mark and picking up invaluable IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup points.

“We’re all really happy to be here, given the lead-up to the race,” said Jan Heylen, the team’s endurance race driver who opened in the car. “I’m happy that Ryan’s doing well and recovering well. I know he really wanted to be here and do this with us.

“Like any long-distance race, we’re just trying to look after the brakes, the car, and be there at the end at the 20-hour mark and hopefully have a good car to go race.”


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