Rolex 24 Recap: Drama at Daytona
Two trips around the clock, 5 racing classes and a weekend full of thrilling racing is now over. This past weekend IMSA hosted the 61st Annual Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway and the experience was nothing short of epic. This past weekend marked the rebirth of the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with IMSA and the cars certainly did not disappoint. IMSA also saw a record breaking crowd for the Rolex 24 which is a testament to the growth of motorsport racing in the US.
2023 Rolex 24 Race Results (Unofficial)
The reborn GTP class came into the 2023 Rolex 24 with many question marks. With new sleek designs and mostly untested power units the GTP class created a lot of uncertainty regarding expectations for car performance in a 24 hour endurance race. However, all doubts were cast aside when the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura ARX-06 finished P1 logging 783 laps in what was a battle that came down to the wire. In the last 26 minutes of the 24 a late caution saw Tom Blomqvist just 0.233 seconds ahead of rival Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 from Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport. However, Blomqvist was on a mission and by the end of the race he extended this gap to 4.190 seconds leaving his competition in the dust and skyrocketing Meyer Shank Racing to their second consecutive Rolex 24 win.
The Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars from Chip Ganassi Racing finished third with driver Renger van der Zande in the No. 01 and fourth with driver Earl Bamber in the No. 02. The top four cars were separated by 11.176 seconds after 24 hours of racing at Daytona International Speedway road course. Despite leading mostly through the night the Cadillacs started to fall off pace in the final 30 minutes of the race. This left the door wide open for Meyer Shank Racing and they seized the moment.
After 24 hours of racing the LMP2 class had the most dramatic finish of the weekend. The gap between P1 and P2 was just 0.016 seconds. 26 year old driver James Allen found grip where not one else could on the final lap of the race. Coming into the final turn Allen launched his Proton Competition ORECA LMP2 07 to first place with a powerful double draft and dramatic photo finish after 761 laps. This was an eye opening finish and proves that every fraction of a second matters in endurance racing.
Ben Hanley who was leading the final lap was the victim of what seemed to be late drafting and possibly a loss of grip due to tire fall off. It was a heartbreaker for Crowdstrike Racing with the win slipping from their grasp in the final seconds of the race.
Competition was not as close in the LMP3 class. This was mostly due to some early failures, lost time due to track traffic and cautions the pack split up substantially. AWA Racing didn’t see a big threat in the final 25% of the race. This win surprised many but this is the spirit of racing. Teams show up and put down everything they have and at the end of the day where you qualify doesn’t matter. Its all about where you finish. The AWA racing driver lineup of Nico Varrone, Thomas Merrill, Anthony Mantella and Wayne Boyd finished 15th overall in the Rolex 24 and 12 laps ahead of the second-place LMP3 car.
In its second year of competition the GTD Pro class has been one of the more level playing field classes in IMSA. This year the WeatherTech Racing No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 demonstrated their grit on the track and fought through a variety of early paint trading and a couple of time penalties to claim their spot and add one of the most coveted awards in motorsport racings; the Rolex Daytona watch to their trophy cases. Drivers Cooper MacNeil (Hinsdale, Ill.), Jules Gounon (France), Daniel Juncadella (Spain), and Maro Engel (Germany) drove the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Mercedes-Benz of Billings, Montana support to a near perfect win.
“Wow! Just wow,” MacNeil said in a press release by WeatherTech. “Before this race, my greatest accomplishment in racing was finishing second at Le Mans last year. To finish my career in IMSA with a win at Daytona, you can’t ask for more. I couldn’t have done it without my dad (David MacNeil), WeatherTech and Christian Ried and his Proton team. Mercedes gave us three of their best drivers. They build a great car that was fast and fair today. It was us, Corvette, and Lexus for the last fourth of the race. You have to have all of the elements to win here, car, drivers, support, teamwork and fast drivers. We had all of that today.””To win for David and Cooper and WeatherTech is a privilege,” Gounon said. “I think it was Cooper’s last race in IMSA, so this is a proper send off. You need to be the best on the track and in the pits to win this race and we were over the 24 hours. Cooper, Maro, and Dani all drove great, and I had a good day myself. I think tonight we can celebrate with something nice on our wrist.”
This marks the second win for the WeatherTech team in the last 10 years and they will savor every second of it as it kicks things off in the best fashion to the 2023 IMSA season.
The Heart of Racing Team and Aston Martin secured their first victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Defending GTD champion Roman De Angelis returned to the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3, joining Marco Sorenson, Darren Turner and Ian James. The team led 176 laps in the class. HOR provides some driver statements on the race in their post-race press release.
Ian James: “There is so much luck involved in winning here. Marco just finished the race and it’s a lot to sink in really. It’s an honor to be the first win for Aston Martin here at Daytona. It was an awesome job done by The Heart of Racing crew. I’m really proud of everyone here on the team. It’s been a real pleasure to share a car this weekend with Darren, Roman, and Marco. That was a wild last hour or so of the race, but now we can sit back and enjoy it. It was fantastic to watch the way Marco handled the pressure, he did it perfectly.”
Roman De Angelis: “I’m just so happy to be here with this team in victory lane. The whole Heart of Racing family is great, they executed pit stops perfectly. The 24 hour race in Daytona is the one I have always wanted to win since I was a kid so this feels pretty unreal. I first raced at Daytona with Ian five years ago so that winning this alongside him makes this even more special. I’m just going to embrace it. Every year we climb the success ladder a little more, Sebring is next so we will see what we can do there.”
Darren Turner: “It is absolutely incredible to win here in Daytona! The performance of the team has been absolutely amazing and honestly the Aston Martins have been the fastest thing out there on the track. I have been here a few times now, but this is the most fun I have ever had. Marco took the pressure at the end of the race, but he really kept it together. ” Marco Sorensen: “Being the winner of all GTD and GTD PRO cars feels very special. Obviously we went for the victory in our class, but when you win it all it is pretty surreal. It really is a testament to how hard the team worked throughout the race. We kept it clean for the entire 24 hours and I am so proud of everyone. The race was hard on us, but we kept it together and it paid off”
All in all the 2023 Rolex 24 was filled with some triumphs and some heartbreaks but in the spirit of motorsport this is what keeps the racing alive. In March the teams travel to Sebring international Raceway for the MOBIL 1 12 hours of Sebring. The Rolex 24 winners they will all be looking to solidify their place at the top of the table. Stay tuned for our upcoming prerace report.