Joao Barbosa

Did final half-hour ruin an otherwise great Rolex 24? (UPDATED)


IMSA officials were surely hoping this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway would be an awesome debut for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and a new era of North American sports car racing.

And outside of the horrific crash yesterday that sent drivers Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli to the hospital, it was looking like just that going into the final hour of the race today, with tight battles for victory ensuing in nearly all of the classes.

But instead of being hailed as an out-and-out classic, this year’s Rolex (won by Action Express Racing) will likely be remembered by some for its chaotic finish, which evolved over the final half-hour and transformed the race into something more akin to a NASCAR-style “green-white-checkered” rush.

With about 22 minutes to go, Leh Keen had just taken the No. 22 Alex Job Racing Porsche out of the pits but then slid off the track at Turn 2, and bounced into the nearby tire barriers.

The impact inflicted some front-end damage, but Keen was able to keep the car going out of that and almost immediately came back onto the track. However, that didn’t stop IMSA from throwing a full-course yellow in surprisingly quick fashion – bunching up the field for what would turn out to be a final, eight-minute dash when the green returned.

In hindsight, Keen’s incident meriting a full-course yellow was iffy at best, considering how fast he was able to get his wounded Porsche on course again. But while that may have caused an eye-roll or two, the conclusion to the GTD duel between Level 5 Motorsports’ Alessandro Pier Guidi and Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Markus Winkelhock would prove more stunning.

After the two had made contact in the bus stop chicane shortly following the green flag, Pier Guidi overshot the same corner on the penultimate lap but took the lead back from Winkelhock as the white flag came out. Then in the infield, Winkelhock and his Audi came up to battle side-by-side with Pier Guidi in his Ferrari.

The two gave no quarter to the other but didn’t appear to make contact before Winkelhock went off-course, allowing Pier Guidi to pull away for the win. Instead, IMSA chose to give Pier Guidi and the No. 555 team a time penalty for avoidable contact, which meant Winkelhock and his No. 45 squad were dubbed GTD class winners.

The decision was met with surprise and shock, and MotorSportsTalk’s man on the ground, Tony DiZinno, confirmed that IMSA officials were discussing the final outcome in GTD. Several hours after the finish, IMSA announced that they would reverse their original decision and declare the No. 555 team as GTD class winners after a review of the last-lap incident.

Article 48, Section 3 of IMSA’s TUDOR Series rulebook says that any driver who is found by the Race Director to have caused “avoidable contact with another competitor, whether or not such contact interrupts the other competitor’s lap times, track position or damages other competitor’s Cars, and whether or not such actions result in actual contact, may be warned or penalized.”

So, IMSA was within its right to issue the original penalty, even if you may think the rule is misguided because their was no contact on the final lap.

But it begs the question of why that penalty wasn’t issued right after the two had come together in the bus stop. So, even though IMSA officials have decided to overturn their call on Pier Guidi and give the No. 555 the class victory, they still appeared to have missed one.

It’s a shame we’ve had to focus on this, because outside of this and the Gidley-Malucelli crash, the 2014 Rolex was really fun to watch. And the fact that there was a very sizable crowd to attend the festivities bodes well for the new TUDOR Championship. They have several positives to build upon as they continue deeper into their inaugural season.

But one can’t help but wonder if today’s finish has put a damper on an otherwise great event.

Sainz keen to race in Russia; decision to be made on Sunday

xxxx during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Carlos Sainz Jr. has been discharged from hospital in Sochi following his practice accident, and is now hoping to take part in tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix.

Sainz crashed at turn 13 with considerable force during final practice on Saturday, pitching underneath the TecPro barrier that made extracting him from the car difficult.

After 20 minutes, the rescue staff on site were able to remove Sainz from the car before transporting him in an ambulance to the medical centre.

Sainz gave a thumbs up to fans on the way there, and tweeted from hospital that he was unharmed after undergoing a number of checks.

In a statement issued by Toro Rosso after qualifying on Saturday, it was confirmed that Sainz had been discharged from hospital. The Spaniard has now set his sights on starting tomorrow’s race.

“My back and my neck are just a bit sore from the accident, but I’m totally ready,” Sainz said. “Hopefully tomorrow I will wake up in a good shape and maybe I can try and race – this is definitely the intention!

“Obviously we need to be cautious. I’ve always been conscious. As soon as the accident happened I tried to talk to the team on the radio, but it wasn’t working and those must have been some scary moments.

“I’d like to thank everyone for their support, it’s really nice to receive all your messages at a moment like this one! I hope to see you all tomorrow out there!”

Team principal Franz Tost confirmed that a decision will be made on Sainz’s participation following further medical checks on Sunday before clarifying the suspected cause of the accident.

“I’m very happy that Carlos is okay and out of hospital, this is the most important thing for us,” Tost said. “I hope he will have a good night’s sleep and tomorrow morning he will have to go through the FIA medical checks to decide if he will be able to take part in tomorrow’s race.

“Now, just to clarify what happened. Prior to the accident, Carlos had completed a long-run on the option tire, before changing to the prime to do two further laps. On primes the grip level is lower.

“In addition he had changed the brake shape on the steering wheel, which meant he had more braking rearwards. A combination of these two factors might have been the cause of the rears locking, which made the car uncontrollable.”

Should Sainz be deemed fit by the FIA medical delegate, he will have to start the race from the pit lane.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton unsure about Mercedes’ race pace in Russia

xxxx during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Lewis Hamilton remains unsure about Mercedes’ race pace after losing the majority of practice running to a number of incidents on Friday and Saturday.

The entire field was limited to just one hour of dry running on Friday when a diesel spillage caused the session to be shortened.

Heavy rain washed out FP2, and FP3 was red flagged after 35 minutes when Carlos Sainz Jr. crashed hard at turn 13.

Mercedes showed few signs of weakness in qualifying, though, as it locked out the front row of the grid with Nico Rosberg scoring his third pole position of the season.

Hamilton admitted that he made a mistake on his final lap in Q3, but is unsure how Mercedes will shape up in the race compared to the rest of the field.

“Everyone was in the same position today with the limited practice,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t get a hooked-up lap together but Nico did, so well done to him.

“It’s going to be a long race tomorrow though, so hopefully I might have a chance. There’s a long run down to turn two, so we’ll both be studying the line to take tonight. Maybe I can get a good start, we’ll see.

“We haven’t done a lot of laps, so I’m not really sure what our pace is like compared to the others. Our goal in the race as always is to finish well for the team, so we’ll be trying to do that.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday.