Action Express Racing took home the glory of the overall Rolex 24 at Daytona win, and Level 5 Motorsports was the leading headline at the end of Sunday after winning the GT Daytona class following an IMSA review.
CORE autosport and Porsche were left in the middle as the other two class winners (PC, GT Le Mans) after nearly flawless runs that should not go unrecognized.
Jon Bennett’s team, run by Morgan Brady, has expanded from running in IMSA Prototype Lites just a few years ago to advancing into the American Le Mans Series’ PC class, where it won the last three team championships.
In 2013, CORE was announced as an official partner to Porsche’s factory; the team ran an ALMS GT class-911 GT3 RSR for the last eight races in the 2013 season, and would additionally serve as the U.S. arm of support for Porsche’s factory-run program for its pair of new 911 RSRs in 2014.
The new 911 had one prior 24-hour race under its belt, last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, where the team finished 1-2 in the GTE Pro class. Meanwhile the tried-and-tested PC car was competing in its first ever 24-hour race; the longest PC race before was 12 hours.
The No. 911 911 ran consistently in GTLM throughout the night, leading most of the race and expanding its gap when some of its other challengers ran into issues. Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet were the winning co-drivers.
“We came into this race treating it as an old-fashioned endurance race,” said Tandy. “So many of the races we do are really now sprint races and you have to go flat out for the duration of the race to have a chance but we said this weekend we have to take care of the equipment, the tires, the engine and not make any mistakes. There were times when we knew we could just cruise around and pick off laps but there were also times we had to push really at maximum. It shows we had the best team overall for the full 24 hours.”
Tandy is now on a three-race winning streak in North America, in three different Porsches, in three different classes.
The Brit won the GTC class at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last May with MOMO NGT Motorsport, and also the ALMS GT class in the series finale at Petit Le Mans with the privateer Team Falken Tire squad in a 2010-spec 911 GT3 RSR.
Meanwhile the polesitting CORE PC car was spun on the opening lap of the 24-hour race, with team principal Jon Bennett driving. But pit strategy executed by new engineer Tom Brown, who rejoined the team after an IndyCar stint, saw Bennett’s full-season co-driver Colin Braun back in the lead after five hours.
Braun, Bennett and co-drivers Mark Wilkins and James Gue were consistent from there, before Braun held off 8Star Motorsports’ (and former CORE driver) Tom Kimber-Smith in the waning stages.
Braun, who’s only 25, was already competing in his 10th Rolex 24 and now has his first class victory.
“It’s great to win it obviously that’s what we’ve all tried to accomplish,” said one of North America’s top young sports car drivers. “This is my 10th time competing here, so to win it is really special. I’ve tried, and I know how hard it is to win, and how many crazy things can happen and you can get stripped of it. I’m really proud of these guys; they did an awesome job.”
The third trip to the Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix comes slightly earlier in 2018 for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Contested in June each of its first two years, the event was moved to April for 2018.
Although the circuit was initially criticized for its close quarters, its mix of tight corners and high-speed sections has produced quite a lot of action.
Last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was particularly eventful. Sebastian Vettel intentionally hit Lewis Hamilton under a Safety Car after he thought Hamilton brake-checked him, and Vettel was given a 10-second stop and go penalty. Later, the headrest of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG Petronas W08 came loose, forcing him to make a late pit stop.
The Sahara Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon saw their budding rivalry come to blows, as they made contact while battling inside the Top 5.
Valtteri Bottas finished second after early-race contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and Bottas pipped Lance Stroll for second at the finish line. Stroll, for his part, scored his first career podium.
And, Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from an unscheduled pit stop early in the race – Red Bull Racing had to clear debris out of the brake scoops due to overheating – to take a stunning victory that featured a remarkable three-wide pass on Stroll, Felipe Massa, and Nico Hulkenberg. Highlights of last year’s race can be seen here.
Will this year’s race produce as many thrills? Talking points ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix are below.
Hamilton Seeks First Baku Podium, and First Win of 2018
The first two trips to Baku have not been kind to four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. His 2016 outing was fairly unremarkable by his standards, as he finished fifth after qualifying tenth.
The 2017 event might have been a victory for him if not for the aforementioned problems with Vettel and a loose headrest. Alas, he again finished fifth.
It’s hard to believe that Hamilton does not have a victory through the first three races of 2018. Combine that with his desire to erase the bad memories of Baku from 2016 and 2017, and the Briton will be extra motivated to stand on the top step of the podium.
Red Bull Looks to Keep Momentum
Red Bull Racing is riding high after the Chinese Grand Prix, when Daniel Ricciardo took a shock win due to tire strategy following a Safety Car.
And the Baku circuit is one that Ricciardo likes, and not just because of last year’s victory, but also because it presents a lot of chances for overtaking.
“Baku is different to other street circuits – because there are places where you can pass,” Ricciardo asserted in a preview on Formula1.com. “Actually, lots of places where you can pass. As opposed to Monaco and Singapore where there’s not many places to overtake really.”
He added that the track’s combination of high-speeds and tight corners put a premium on getting your braking points exactly right, otherwise the track will bite you.
“The trickiest thing in Baku is braking. There’s so many braking points where you have to commit and you have to brake as late as you can – but there’s no room for error,” he detailed. “Once you’ve committed to that braking point, if you’ve locked a wheel, you’re in the wall. I’d say the hardest part about Baku is finding the limit with braking, and just having that confidence.”
Teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, looks to rebound after again catching the ire of many rivals and onlookers for his contact with Sebastian Vettel in China. Further, Verstappen looks to avenge last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which he dropped out following a power unit failure.
“Last year was a very unfortunate weekend for me. It was a shame because the car felt really good but I encountered a lot of problems which ultimately meant I missed out on a potential podium, perhaps even a win. I’m hoping this year I can make up for that lost opportunity,” said Verstappen in the aforementioned preview piece.
Ferrari Looks to Reclaim Dominance After China Hiccup
After winning the opening rounds at Australia and Bahrain with Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari had their first hiccup of 2018 in China, when a Safety Car butchered their tire strategy and left them vulnerable when others, chiefly Ricciardo and Verstappen, pitted for new tires.
Vettel was relegated to eighth after spinning following contact with Verstappen, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished third, his second podium in three races to start 2018.
Baku was one of the races from 2017 in which Vettel drew criticism for his on-track antics – see the aforementioned collision with Hamilton – and he’ll hope to get back on the podium to avenge both his struggles from China and from last year’s Baku outing.
Raikkonen, meanwhile, will look to get back to his winning ways for the first time since 2013.
McLaren F1 Team sits a much-improved fourth in the constructor’s championship on the strength of two double-points finishes, with Fernando Alonso leading the way. Alonso has finishes of fifth, seventh, and seventh after three races, while Stoffel Vandoorne has points finishes of ninth and eighth to his name so far.
Sahara Force India still only has one points finish in 2018 – Esteban Ocon’s tenth in Bahrain. It’s hard to believe how far this team has fallen, even if the midfield is jammed with ultra competitive teams. That they have been off the pace to start 2018 is genuinely surprising.
Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team have been the strongest of the midfield teams so far, along with McLaren, and they should contend once again for points this weekend.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix rolls off at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.