TUSC: Rolex 24 Race Updates, Hours 1-12

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UPDATE (2:15 a.m. ET): We’ll start this update with further news on GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing driver Memo Gidley. The team recently tweeted that he’s undergone surgery on his left arm and left leg and remains under observation at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach.

As for the other driver involved in today’s violent third-hour accident, Risi Competizione’s Matteo Malucelli, no further word has been given on his condition outside of IMSA’s previous confirmation that he, along with Gidley, was “awake and communicating.” Of course, when we do receive an update, we’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, the Rolex 24 has crossed the halfway point with the twin Action Express Racing Corvette DP machines fighting it out with the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley/Ford Ecoboost for overall supremacy.

Ganassi’s sister car, the No. 01, has fallen 32 laps off the pace following repairs for damage to the right-front portion of the car. MRN Radio reported that driver Scott Pruett had something break on the car and then slammed into the outside wall while he was exiting the backstretch “bus stop” chicane.

Pruett was seeking to earn a record sixth Rolex 24 triumph, but it appears he’ll have to wait until 2015 to break that tie with fellow sports car legend Hurley Haywood.

Christian Fittipaldi, driving the No. 5 Action Express machine, gave up the lead to pit under green just before the 12-hour mark, handing the lead to Scott Dixon in the Ganassi No. 02. Tony Kanaan is slated to take over for Dixon at the next opportunity. The other Action Express machine, the No. 9 of Burt Frisselle, was second.

Also leading at 12 hours were Porsche North America’s No. 911 and 912 in GTLM, CORE autosport’s No. 54 in PC, and Level 5 Motorsports’ No. 555 Ferrari in GTD.

UPDATE (12:45 a.m. ET): It’s past midnight, but it’s not quite the 12-hour mark yet. Since we last checked in…

Sebastien Bourdais called some of the gentlemen drivers “terrorists” when it came to lapping them.

Scott Dixon is hunting down Joao Barbosa like a scalded cat.

Both SRT Vipers had issues that took them out of contention.

And RSR Racing’s No. 09 and Starworks Motorsport’s No. 78 have reached the end of the road.

Otherwise, it’s still rolling here in Daytona.

UPDATE (10:10 p.m. ET): It’s 10:10 p.m. in Daytona, and the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP leads overall. It’s in the hands of the young man with the mullet, Jordan Taylor.

Other class leaders are the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR (GTLM), No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA FLM09 (PC) and No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 (GTD).

More than eight hours are in the books, officially one third of the 24-hour race. It’s dark, it’s cool, there’s been a number of contact incidents and a handful of yellow flags.

The top eight overall and prototypes and top seven in GTLM are all still on the same lap. The PC and GTD classes are a little more spread out.

UPDATE (9:02 p.m. ET): James Sofronas has been released from the infield care center after having the entire front end of his No. 32 GMG Racing Audi R8 ripped off in a multi-car incident that also caused then-race leader Max Angelelli to spin while avoiding the debris.

Sofronas appeared to be turned into the wall that separates pit road from the track in the infield section. Shortly after safety teams arrived on the scene, he climbed out of the wrecked Audi under his own power.

Angelelli managed to come through unscathed despite his spin, but wound up losing the lead. He has now been replaced in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP by Jordan Taylor, his 2013 GRAND-AM championship partner.

Mike Rockenfeller currently leads overall in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP. Other class leaders are the No. 3 Corvette (GTLM), No. 8 Starworks ORECA (PC), and No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Audi (GTD).

UPDATE (8:42 p.m. ET): IMSA has confirmed that Memo Gidley and Matteo Matucelli, the two drivers involved in this afternoon’s horrific accident during the third hour, are “awake and communicating and undergoing further observation” according to a tweet from its official account. IMSA adds that they will have more updates as they become available.

UPDATE (8:24 p.m. ET): NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson and four-time Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais have taken control of two of the top contending cars in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. However, Larson has had an inauspicious start to his sports car racing debut in the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley/Ford Ecoboost.

Before the six-hour mark, Larson took over for 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, who had been running second overall. But right after getting into the car, Larson got popped for speeding on pit road and had to come back to serve a stop-and-go penalty.

Shortly after that episode, the caution came out for debris with Larson having fallen to eighth while Bourdais was up to second in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP behind new leader Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP. Before the yellow had come out, Angelelli had leapfrogged the AXR No. 5 in the pits while Christian Fittipaldi was making way for Bourdais.

After the green flag came out with 17 hours, 57 minutes remaining, Bourdais was dispatched by another IndyCar driver, Justin Wilson, now the current runner-up in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Riley/Ford Ecoboost.

Another NASCAR driver, veteran Jamie McMurray, has entered Ganassi’s No. 01 sister car to take over for Memo Rojas. Fox Sports reported that McMurray will be in the No. 01 for a triple stint.

Other class leaders include the No. 93 SRT Viper in GTLM, the No. 8 Starworks ORECA in PC, and the No. 555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari.

UPDATE (7:15 p.m. ET): Back under yellow past the five-hour mark for an incident involving the No. 09 RSR Racing PC car, which stopped off course. The former class-leading No. 08, in the hands of Alex Tagliani, Conor Daly, Chris Cumming and Rusty Mitchell, was assessed a controversial three-and-a-half minute penalty for what was deemed an illegal pass-around. Wayne Taylor’s done his stint aboard his own No. 10 Corvette DP; Max Angelelli has climbed aboard that car. Class leaders are Action Express Racing (No. 5, Corvette DP, P); SRT Motorsports (No. 91, SRT Viper GTS-R, GTLM); Starworks Motorsport (No. 7, ORECA FLM09, PC); and Level 5 Motorsports (No. 555, Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, GTD).

UPDATE (6:27 p.m. ET): Green-flag conditions have resumed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona after a short period of running under the yellow flag. An official update has not yet come in on Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli, both confirmed by IMSA to have been transported to Halifax.

UPDATE (5:34 p.m. ET): Multiple reports from Daytona state that both Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli are being transferred to nearby Halifax Health Medical Center, skipping the at-track medical center. Their conditions remain undisclosed at this time.

UPDATE (5:17 p.m. ET): A vicious accident involving the oncoming Memo Gidley in the pole-sitting No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP and a slowing Matteo Malucelli in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia has marred the third hour of racing at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The incident took place near the kink in the infield section of the road course and has brought out the red flag, stopping the race.

Safety crews are now on the scene at this time, with Fox Sports reporting that Malucelli has been removed from his car and put into an ambulance. Fox also relayed word of a conversation between Malucelli and a Risi Competizione team member, in which Malucelli said he had lost all engine power and was slowing down.

No word has been given on the condition of either Malucelli or Gidley. As soon as we get it, we’ll pass it along to you.

START, 3:30 p.m. ET: The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is officially underway. One accident, for the GTD class No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsport Audi R8 driven by Charlie Putman, brought out the first yellow flag. Despite heavy contact from an apparent tire issue, Putman emerged out of his car OK.

GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing’s polesitting No. 99 Corvette DP, started by Alex Gurney, led the majority of the opening hour overall. Other class leaders included RSR Racing (No. 09) and Starworks Motorsport (No. 8) in PC, the SRT Vipers (No. 93 and 91) in GTLM and a Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 (No. 48) and SMP/ESM Racing Ferrari 458 GT3 (No. 72) in GTD.

But at the one-hour mark, Action Express Racing (No. 5 Corvette DP) led overall with Joao Barbosa driving before the car needed to serve a drive-through penalty. SRT’s No. 93 (GTLM), Starworks’ sister No. 7 PC and the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT America (GTD) were other class leaders.

The big mover was Starworks’ DP driver Brendon Hartley, who advanced as high as second overall in the No. 78 Dinan Riley after starting 64th overall.

IndyCar: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Recap

Photo: IndyCar
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After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.

Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.

A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…

Mother Nature was ever present on Sunday and Monday, dropping a lot of rain on Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.

The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.

And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.

While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.

While very unfortunate, postponing the finish of the race to Monday was the right decision, as several drivers explained.

“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”

Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.

“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.

Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.

Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun

Josef Newgarden in Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.

And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.

Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.

Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.

Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.

“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.

Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.

“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”

The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
  • While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
  • Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
  • Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
  • He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.

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