Photo courtesy of IMSA

2017 Rolex 24 rolling updates

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – We’ll have updates as they come from the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona, below.

12:30 a.m. ET (Hour 22); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here). We have 22 hours down and just two more to go to determine the winners in the 55th Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona:

  • Just three minutes into the hour, the No. 81 DragonSpeed Oreca LMP2 driven by Ben Hanley slams into the frontstretch wall and loses its full rear wing. The car has gone to the garage. This was the second time the team has been involved in a wreck, having crashed hard during practice on Thursday and then needing to build up a new chassis.
  • In a phone interview with Fox Sports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he wouldn’t mind again racing in the Rolex 24. He did so twice previously, finishing second in 2001 and third in 2004. He’s been tweeting during the race.
  • With about 2 hours, 30 minutes left in the race, the rain appears to have completely moved out and the track continues to dry out.
  • Scott Pruett on the phone to Fox Sports about his early race crash that ended his day just after it began: “Wrong place, wrong time,” Pruett said of the crash. “It’s really disappointing. That’s the second shortest race I’ve done here.” … Pruett also said he has earned 14 Rolex watches for 10 wins and four championships in his career in the Rolex 24.
  • While his No. 10 car has been the class of the field, team owner Wayne Taylor said the Cadillac DPI Prototype is still experiencing a venting issue in the fueling system. With Ricky Taylor scheduled to drive the final segments of the race, it does not appear Jeff Gordon will drive one final segment, but if the No. 10 team wins, Gordon would join A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Jamie McMurray as the only drivers to win both the Rolex 24 and Daytona 500 in their respective careers.
  • Just as the hour came to a close, Sam Bird’s No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, which was leading the GTD division, suddenly came to a stop. It appears its day is done, as it is waiting for a tow back to the garage area. This is heartbreaking for Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan, Matteo Cressoni and Bird.
  • Class Leaders:
  • Prototype: Jordan Taylor, No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI
  • Prototype Challenge: Kyle Masson, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTD: Jules Gounon, No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport, Audi R8 LMS
  • GTLM: Joey Hand, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT

11;30 a.m. ET (Hour 21); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here). The countdown to the checkered flag continues. We’re just three hours away from the conclusion of the 55th Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona. Here are the highlights of Hour 21:

  • A few minutes into the 21st hour and Jordan Taylor has regained the lead with the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI Prototype.
  • In an interview with Fox Sports, Jeff Gordon says he isn’t sure if he’ll get one more segment behind the wheel, but relishes the opportunity he’s had with Wayne Taylor Racing and teammates Max Angelelli, Ricky Taylor and Jordan Taylor. However, team owner Wayne Taylor told Fox Sports that the plan is to have Jordan drive one or two more stints before Ricky Taylor finishes the race.
  • In GTLM, with about 3:32 left in the race, Joey Hand in the 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT has roared back to retake the lead from the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F488 GTE. But as the hour came to a close, Hand regained the lead, while the No. 62 slips back to second place again.
  • Class Leaders:
  • Prototype: Jordan Taylor, No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI
  • Prototype Challenge: James French, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTD: Mario Farnbacher, No. 33 Riley Motorsports Team AMG Mercedes AMG GT3
  • GTLM: James Calado, No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F488 GTE

10:30 a.m. ET (Hour 20); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here). We’ve started the homestretch:

  • When the race got back to green conditions following a long caution about midway through the hour, Max Angelelli wasted little time in going for the jugular. The No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI Prototype driver went to the outside of Joao Barbosa exiting Turn 4 and his tires managed to maintain grip, allowing Angelelli to grab the lead once again. Remember, this is the final sports car race of Angelelli’s long career. The 50-year-old Italian driver is retiring from competition after this race. You know he’s looking to go out a winner and is really trying to put some distance between himself and Barbosa.
  • Also, the rain has slowed down, if not completely stopped, and cars are picking up speed as the track slowly begins self-drying. Look for drivers – especially those that have fallen behind due to the weather over the last 10-plus hours – to start efforts to make up the time they’ve lost up to now. At the same time, when that happens, we’ll likely see more intense action and a higher potential for mishaps/crashes.
  • At 19:42, Max Angelelli hit the wet curb and spun heading into the bus stop. He was leading Joao Barbosa by 13 seconds at that point. While Angelelli was able to recover and get going in quick fashion, his lead over Barbosa was cut to 0.286 seconds. As the rest of the hour goes on, Angelelli has built his advantage back up to over four seconds.
  • Rain has appeared to have stopped. Numerous teams are making pit stops to switch from wet tires to slicks. The reason is simple: while there are still slick spots and puddles, putting on dry-racing tires, which can pick up several seconds quicker per lap.
  • Also, with about six minutes left in the hour, Angelelli comes to pit road for service and for the final time of his career, relegates his spot to teammate Jordan Taylor, who is running third.
  • When he got out of the car, Angelelli made it very clear that this is the end of the road for him racing-wise. “This is it, I’m done, I’m finished,” Angelelli told Fox Sports. “What can I ask for that I haven’t accomplished? I just wanted to have the best race of my life and I think I did pretty well. Hopefully, I just don’t want to finish second again for the eighth time. I hope that isn’t going to happen?
  • Just before the hour ended, the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPI, with Spencer Pigot behind the wheel, caught fire coming into the pits. The blaze, which apparently was an oil fire, was quickly extinguished, but the damage was done.
  • Class Leaders:
  • Prototype: Jordan Taylor, No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI
  • Prototype Challenge: James French, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTD: Andy Lally, No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3
  • GTLM: James Calado, No. 62 Risi Competizione, Ferrari 488 GTE

9:30 a.m. ET (Hour 19); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): We start the final quarter – the last six laps – of the 24-hour marathon. Rain continues to fall and varies between light and heavy spurts. The rain has been falling for nearly half of the first 19 hours.

  • Minutes after Hour 19 began, the Prototype race leader – the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI – pitted for tires, fuel and a driver change, with Max Angelelli back behind the wheel in place of Ricky Taylor. Jeff Gordon has not returned for a third stint. It’s looking like Angelelli will run the next 2-3 segments and then Jordan Taylor will run the anchor section in the closing segments.
  • At 18:17, the No. 88 Starworks Motorsports Oreca FLM09 Prototype Challenge, driven by James Dayson, spins out twice in the same place and on consecutive laps. The 88 continues to have a very rough race, sitting -84 laps from the leader at this point, the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 PC driven by Patricio O’Ward.
  • As we close in on the end of Hour 19, rain has slowed down but the track is still very slippery.
  • Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI regains the lead in Prototype from the No. 5 of Joao Barbosa in the closing minutes of the 19th hour.
  • Leaders at end of Hour 19:
  • Prototype: Max Angelelli No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI.
  • Prototype Challenge: Patricio O’Ward, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTD: Ryan Hunter Reay, No. 86 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3
  • GTLM: Sebastien Bourdais, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT

8:30 a.m. ET (Hour 18): Naps are good, and I banked a four-hour one from about 3:15 to 7:30 a.m., which was admittedly two hours more than I wanted to. But alas, we roll on.

Three-quarters of the 24-hour race are left, but there’s still a standard six-hour race at Watkins Glen or in the FIA World Endurance Championship still to race. Conditions remain overcast and rainy, with ambient temperatures in the mid-40s and track temperatures not much better.

A number of cars have been assessed penalties for straight-lining the Bus Stop chicane too much.

Usually the overnight causes a number of retirements but the only new adds to the six out in the first 12 hours are the No. 50 Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG-GT3 and No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R, both in GT Daytona.

The race is under its 14th full-course caution following bodywork flying off David Cheng’s BAR1 entry, the second of Brian Alder’s cars to hit trouble within a couple hours.

Two long cautions came in overnight for heavy rain, and the field circulated behind the safety car.

At the Hour 18 mark, here’s the class leaders and overall distances, and additional leaders from Hours 13-17:

  • Hour 18: No. 10 Cadillac (P), No. 911 Porsche (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 86 Acura (GTD)
  • Hour 17: No. 5 Cadillac (P), No. 912 Porsche (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 33 Mercedes-AMG (GTD)
  • Hour 16: No. 10 Cadillac (P), No. 66 Ford (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 86 Acura (GTD)
  • Hour 15: No. 10 Cadillac (P), No. 62 Ferrari (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 33 Mercedes-AMG (GTD)
  • Hour 14: No. 10 Cadillac (P), No. 912 Porsche (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 57 Audi (GTD)
  • Hour 13: No. 90 Riley (P), No. 912 Porsche (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 33 Mercedes-AMG (GTD)

2:30 a.m. ET (Hour 12): We’re halfway home. Here’s the halfway report as it stands.

12:30 a.m. ET (Into Hour 11) (Tony back on): Restocked with coffee and ready to take us to the end of the first half of the race… when then means there’s still 12 hours to go.

It’d been a solid drive for Brendon Hartley in the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi, but contact from Wolf Henzler in the No. 991 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 R helped push Hartley, who was fighting a seemingly ill-handling car, into the wall. Hartley’s car has been brought back to the garage on a flatbed.

All the IndyCar drivers in the race have had their first stints, with Graham Rahal leading in his Acura, Conor Daly calling the track “frozen” to IMSA Radio and Tony Kanaan back into his Ford for his second run during the overnight portion.

11:40 p.m. ET (Past Hour 9); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): We’ve moved into the second-third of the race, Hours 9 through 16. As we begin the long climb into the overnight, here’s some of the highlights.

  • Jeff Gordon started the second of three segments of the Rolex 24 before handing off the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta to teammate Ricky Taylor, who is holding a comfortable lead over the rest of the Prototype class. Gordon has driven the two-hour minimum required for his team to get full points, but with 15 hours still to go, will we see the four-time NASCAR Cup champ come back for another segment or more?
  • Sebastien Bourdais is in his third segment and continues to dominate GTLM in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GT.
  • James French continues to pull away from the rest of the Prototype Challenge class. French, who took over the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 during Hour 8, has a four lap lead over his next closest challenger.
  • While Connor De Phillippi was leading for Land Motorsport in his Audi, a flat right rear tire delayed him a bit. Meanwhile there was another caution when Brett Sandberg crashed at the Bus Stop in the Change Lamborghini, that car’s second hit of the race.
  • Leaders at the end of Hour 9:
  • Prototype: Brendon Hartley, No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi
  • Prototype Challenge: James French, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09.
  • GTLM: Sebastien Bourdais, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GT.
  • GTD: Colin Braun, No. 54 CORE Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R.

10:30 p.m. ET (End of Hour 8); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): We are one-third of the way through the 55th annual Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona. As Hour 8 began, rain becoming heavier.

  • With 16 hours, 41 minutes left, four-time NASCAR Cup champ Jeff Gordon – making only his second career appearance in the Rolex 24 and his first in 10 years – is back behind the wheel of the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Cadillac DPI Prototype. Gordon replaces Jordan Taylor, who handed over the Prototype lead to Gordon, driving in his second stint of the race. But Gordon could not hold on to the lead as Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPI takes the lead about three minutes later. Gordon would take the lead back and hold on through the remainder of Hour 8 as we head into the second-third of the Rolex 24.
  • Also, at some point early on in Hour 8, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPI driven by Michael Conway has been pushed back to the garage to repair a steering and suspension issue that likely occurred earlier in the event during Hour 5 when it made contact with the No. 88 of Starworks Motorsports, driven by James Dayson.
  • At 16:17 left, the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team GTD Lamborghini Huracan GT3 had a single-car spin but did not make any contact and was able to continue. However, Lamborghini as a whole has really had struggles in the GTD class thus far. At the end of Hour 8, seven of the eight Lambo’s are running 14th or lower in GTD.
  • The hopes for NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell have taken a hit in the eighth hour, with his No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS assessed a stop plus four minute, 18 second penalty for an improper wave by. Bell explained what happened to IMSA Radio: “Our radio is challenged right now. We thought we had the data right. I got the call to do a pass around. Multiple instructions, do what you’re told. That’s a brutal penalty in this race. Hopefully we can get clever to get back the time. We got a lap back and got back to third earlier, but this’ll be tough from here.”
  • Leaders at the end of Hour 8:
  • Prototype: Jeff Gordon, No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Cadillac DPI
  • Prototype Challenge: James French, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09.
  • GTLM: Sebastien Bourdais, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GT.
  • GTD: Colin Braun, No. 54 CORE Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R.

9:30 p.m. ET (End of Hour 7); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): Seven hours down, 17 more to go:

  • With approximately 17:55 remaining, the No. 70 Mazda, driven by IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe, is being pushed into the garage with an apparent clutch issue. James Hinchcliffe has exited the driver’s cockpit. “We started losing the clutch,” Hinchcliffe told Fox Sports. “We have zero clutch engagement so we can’t start the car in first gear. We’re hoping to get it back out there.” The team is replacing the gearbox and hopes to get Hinchcliffe back on-track soon.
  • With 17:48 to go, the No. 50 Riley Motorsports WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 driven by Cooper MacNeil was leading when, after exiting the pits, appeared to suffer a flat tire that resulted in damage to the right front wheel suspension componentry and was forced to return to pit road for repairs and a driver change. At the same time, the No. 991 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 R suffered a flat rear tire and also had to stop for service.
  • With 17:38 left, the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 PC driven by Kyle Masson was leading its class when it spun in Turn 6 and then had trouble restarting, bringing out a full-course caution.
  • The race goes back to green with 17:21 left and IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais has taken the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GT to the top spot in GTLM, while Filipe Albuquerque has the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPI at the front of the pack in Prototypes.
  • Leaders at the end of Hour 7:
  • Prototype: Filipe Albuquerque, No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPI.
  • Prototype Challenge: Kyle Masson, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTLM: Toni Vilander, No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE.
  • GTD: Connor De Phillippi, No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3

8:30 p.m. ET (End of Hour 6; (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): We’re one-quarter of the way through the 24-hour race:

  • With 18 hours, 44 minutes left, Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI has bided his time long enough. After running second for more than 20 minutes, Angelelli muscles his way past Eric Curran in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPI to regain the Prototype lead.
  • With about 18 hours, 35 minutes left, the No. 4 Prototype of defending race champion Marcel Fassler and Corvette Racing suffered a complete power shutdown coming off Turn 2, bringing out a full-course caution.
  • The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPI driven by Michael Conway was pushed behind the pit wall and then had to be pushed to restart it for the second time in the race. The team was also reportedly experiencing some stalling or potential starter issues that could be a big problem going forward.
  • At about 5 hours, 40 minutes into the race, teams began pulling into the pits to switch to wet weather tires as rain began to fall. Weather radar shows a large swath of rain reaching all the way across the central part of Florida. But Daytona Beach is at the southern edge of the front, so conditions could change.
  • During the long full-course caution following the Fassler incident, two cars suffered problems. The No. 81 Dragon Speed Oreca 07 of Nicolas Lapierre slowed on track, while the No. 61 GRT Grasser Racing Team GTD went behind the pit wall.
  • Closing in with about 10 minutes to go in Hour 6, the No. 70 Mazda Motorsports GTD, driven by IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe, is in the pits and on jacks.
  • Leaders at the end of Hour 6:
  • Prototype: Filipe Albuquerque, No. 5 Mustang Cadillac DPI Prototype takes over the lead when Jordan Taylor, No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI, goes to pit road for service.
  • Prototype Challenge: Kyle Masson, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09.
  • GTLM: Patrick Pilet, No. 911 Porsche GT Team RSR.
  • GTD: Shane Van Gisbergen, No. 50 Riley Motorsports WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3.

7:30 p.m. ET (End of Hour 5; Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): As the Rolex 24 passes the five-hour mark, veteran Italian driver Max Angelelli is looking to go out in style. The third driver thus far in the No. 10 Cadillac DPI of Wayne Taylor Racing, Angelelli has completed nearly two hours behind the wheel and is second in the Prototype class. That’s quite fitting as this weekend marks Angelelli’s final time in the Rolex 24. Angelelli had been the top Prototype driver for much of his stint, replacing Jeff Gordon around one hour, 48 minutes into the event.

  • With about 19 hours, 19 minutes remaining, the No. 88 of Starworks Motorsports, driven by James Dayson, was running second in the Prototype Challenge class when he made contact with the No. 31 of Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPI driven by Eric Curran. The resulting impact broke the right side suspension of Dayson’s Oreca FLM09 and it limped into the infield to be towed into the garage area. Curran was able to continue on with minimal damage. Ironically, Curran climbed into the Prototype lead when Angelelli pitted under the full-field caution from the incident between Dayson and Curran. Just before the race resumed to green flag conditions, Angelelli slipped to third behind Curran and Filipe Albuquerque before regaining the second spot.
  • Leaders of other classes at the five-hour mark are:
  • PC: Kyle Masson in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTLM: Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford.
  • GTD: Mark Wilkins in the No. 93 Michael Shank with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3

6:30 p.m. ET (End of Hour 4): Leaders at the four-hour mark are Max Angelelli (P), Dirk Mueller (GTLM), Sean Rayhall (PC) and Matteo Cressoni (GTD). Other notes:

  • An improper wave-by penalty (3 minutes, 18 seconds) and mechanical black flag has been assessed to the No. 55 Mazda, which has dropped that car down the order.
  • Contact between John Falb’s No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09 and Matt McMurry’s No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R at the Bus Stop knocked McMurry’s car out of the race, and triggered a penalty assessed to Falb. Falb limped the car home to the pits and keeps the pink car in the race.
  • A couple quick issues to the pair of Action Express Racing Cadillacs. The No. 31 car briefly was pushed behind the wall with the engine misfiring before Seb Morris got out of the car and handed over to Eric Curran. Meanwhile, with brake lights not working on the No. 5 car, the engine cover briefly came back off.
  • Renger van der Zande, who shares the No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson with Rene Rast and Marc Goossens, posted this interesting tweet in reference to the DPi cars – particularly the Cadillacs – outright speed.

5:10 p.m. ET (Prior to end of Hour 3): Notes here involve Jeff Gordon and a number of cars that have encountered mechanical issues:

  • Contact between Jeff Gordon and Tom Long occurred at the International Horseshoe. Long was exiting the pit lane but was judged by IMSA to have blown the pit lane exit light. Gordon locked up and contacted Long’s Mazda, but didn’t receive a penalty. A fuller breakout is linked here.
  • Issues have abounded: The No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM has retired, the No. 13 Rebellion Oreca has been delayed (electronic/throttle issue), the No. 26 BAR1 car has had fuel pickup issues, the No. 59 Manthey Porsche (broken oil line) and the No. 98 Aston Martin (power steering) have also gone behind the wall. Konrad’s No. 21 Lamborghini and the PR1/Mathiasen Ligier have returned to the track after earlier garage stints, and Sage Karam confirmed Lexus is working to fix Pruett’s car. The No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 has also been delayed: They’ve been assessed a penalty stop plus 3m36s hold for improper wave-by.
  • Neither Sean Heckman nor Ryan Eversley are here, but their “Dinner with Racers” podcast is – courtesy of stickers from Tim Pappas adorning Pappas’ No. 991 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 R. This makes me hungry for something… maybe even a chicken sandwich.

4:20 p.m. ET (Prior to end of Hour 2): Two big notes:

  • Scott Pruett’s No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 has crashed exiting Turn 2 to bring out the second full-course caution of the race. Pruett has got out of the car OK. A breakout link is here.
  • Jeff Gordon has taken over the control of the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, from Ricky Taylor who started. Gordon has one prior Rolex 24 start with Wayne Taylor Racing’s team, in 2007.

3:30 p.m. ET (1 hour in): The first hour is complete. Here’s some quick notes:

  • Class leaders at the one-hour mark are Dane Cameron (P), James French (PC), Joey Hand (GTLM) and Christina Nielsen (GTD).
  • Acura has led in the debut of the new NSX GT3 with Andy Lally out front in the No. 93 car ahead of teammate Jeff Segal in the No. 86 car, both cars running a bit longer on their first stint before pitting.
  • Four cars hit trouble. The No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 crashed at the West Horsehoe, with race and team debutante Jeroen Mul dropping wheels on the right side of the course and going off to the left. That caused the first full-course caution of the race, a short yellow at the eight-minute mark. The No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson started by Tom Kimber-Smith went behind the wall with shifting issues, and the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM (John Edwards driving) and No. 21 Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini also went behind the wall. Edwards’ car briefly stopped on pit lane and was assisted behind the wall by IMSA officials.
  • Another Lamborghini had an issue, the Dream Racing No. 27 car with a fire on its first stop.
  • Dane Cameron passed Joao Barbosa in the pair of Action Express Racing Cadillacs for the first lead change of the new season.
  • The field is through its first round of pit stops.

1:30 p.m. ET (One hour until race start): This year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona has a number of interesting things to consider, as we’re one hour before the green flag. A full race preview is linked here. The first three hours of coverage from 2 p.m. ET until 5 p.m. ET are live on FOX network before coverage shifts to a mix of FS2 and FS1 the rest of the way. Only the 10 to 11 p.m. stint is off air and all 24 hours, plus pre and post-race coverage, will air live on IMSA Radio.

As the kickoff event to the new season of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, here’s some of the things that could play an impact on this year’s race.

  • New cars, and their potential reliability pitfalls. Just under 33 percent of the 55-car grid – 18 cars – will make their race competition debuts. All 12 Prototype class cars join the two new mid-rear-engined Porsche 911 RSRs and the pair of Acura NSX GT3s and Lexus RC F GT3s, respectively. Who survives and who hits the garage area? As one colleague told me, this race will be won or lost in the garage.
  • The battle of stars vs. breakout drivers. Jeff Gordon has garnered a wealth of attention and the batch of full-season Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also merit a lot of interest. But whether one of the established sports car stars break through to win their first Rolex 24 or a driver that’s been under the radar suddenly emerges – as Pipo Derani did here last year – will be interesting to watch.
  • The changing weather conditions. It’s gonna be cold, and it’s gonna rain. Per, it’s going to rain overnight and into the morning. So how that affects the race will be interesting.

More to follow as the race goes on.

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”

Hamilton buoyed by sixth Australia F1 pole, ready for tight race

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was buoyed by his charge to pole position in Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday, but is braced for a tight race at the front of the pack.

Hamilton saw off a challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to capture his sixth pole at Albert Park, and the 62nd of his F1 career.

Hamilton had doubts over Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari heading into the new year, making his charge to pole all the more meaningful as he paid tribute to the team members after qualifying.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. It’s quite amazing to come here for I think the 11th time, and it feels like it was only yesterday that I came here and had my first race here in 2007,” Hamilton said.

“I’m just incredibly proud of my team. This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone. The guys have just worked so hard to make this car what it is today.”

Despite taking pole by almost three-tenths of a second in Q3, Hamilton is braced for a close fight on Sunday with Vettel and Bottas, the latter starting his first race for Mercedes from third on the grid.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job given it’s his first qualifying session with the team. He did a great job and it’s great for Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“Looking forward to the race, it’s close between us all. As you can see, there’s going to be a tight race this year I think.

“I think tomorrow is about putting all the work that’s gone in over the winter, all the work that’s gone through testing and this whole weekend and really put it to work tomorrow.

“I’ll make sure I get a good night’s sleep and come back tomorrow stronger than ever.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton sees off Vettel challenge to take Australian GP pole

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Lewis Hamilton saw off challenges from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to pick up the first Formula 1 pole position of the year in Australian Grand Prix qualifying.

Hamilton topped the timesheets on Friday to give Mercedes hope of continuing its impressive qualifying form from 2016, when it took 20 poles from 21 races.

However, Ferrari looked poised to strike and take its first pole position since Singapore 2015 as Vettel led final practice, setting up a close battle in qualifying.

Hamilton took provisional pole with his first Q3 run, going three-tenths faster than Vettel, and was able to find a further three-tenths on his second run to make pole all but his.

Vettel refused to back down, producing a rapid final sector to gain plenty of time on Hamilton, but it was not enough to deny the Briton his 62nd F1 pole.

On his Mercedes debut, Bottas put in an impressive display to take third on the grid, finishing three-tenths off Hamilton’s time. Fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen ended the session fourth in the second Ferrari.

Max Verstappen led Red Bull’s charge in fifth, while Haas driver Romain Grosjean put in a stellar display to take sixth on the grid. Felipe Massa will start his comeback race from seventh ahead of the Toro Rosso pair of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat.

Local favorite Daniel Ricciardo’s difficult home race weekend continued as he crashed out at Turn 14, wrecking the rear of his Red Bull RB13. While Ricciardo was physically unharmed, the Australian’s ego was left bruised as he was resigned to starting the race from 10th on the grid.

Sporting is bright pink livery, Force India failed to light up the gloomy conditions in Melbourne as it suffered a double-elimination in Q2. Sergio Perez qualified 11th, while rookie teammate Esteban Ocon will make his first start in Australia from 14th on the grid. Nico Hulkenberg saw his 13-race streak of Q3 appearances ended as he could only qualify P12.

One of the biggest talking points from the early part of qualifying was Fernando Alonso’s titanic effort to put his McLaren-Honda 13th on the grid. Following a tough winter marred by reliability issues, Alonso dragged his car through to Q2 and did “all he could”, yet the issues faced by the team meant no Q3 berth was forthcoming.

Sauber enjoyed an impressive start to the year as Marcus Ericsson made it through to Q2, eventually qualifying 15th. Last-minute substitute Antonio Giovinazzi was poised to also get out of Q1 on debut, only for a mistake on his final lap to leave him 16th overall.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen failed to get in a late lap, leaving him 17th on the grid for his first race with the American team, while a fuel flow issue meant Stoffel Vandoorne could only qualify 18th for McLaren.

Lance Stroll’s baptism of fire in F1 continued as he finished 2.9 seconds off the pace in P19 for Williams, while Renault’s Jolyon Palmer was made to pay for his lack of track time, rounding out the grid in P20.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Lance Stroll set for Australia grid penalty after gearbox change

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Formula 1 rookie Lance Stroll has been forced into a gearbox change ahead of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix following a crash in final practice at Albert Park.

Stroll lost the back-end of his Williams FW40 car coming out of Turn 10, hitting the wall and causing damage to the right-hand side and rear of his chassis in the process.

The crash brought out a red flag that ultimately caused FP3 to end early, with Stroll returning to the pit lane on the back of a marshal’s moped.

After bringing the car back to the pit lane, Williams confirmed that it would have to change Stroll’s gearbox ahead of qualifying, which will trigger a five-place grid penalty for the Canadian.

Stroll’s crash comes after a mixed pre-season program that saw him suffer three shunts in the opening week in Barcelona, raising concerns about his readiness for F1.

Stroll bounced back in the second week of running, racking up plenty of mileage in Williams’ 2017 car to back up his extensive private test program in the team’s 2014-spec F1 car last year.

At just 18 years old, Stroll is set to become the second-youngest F1 driver on Sunday, trailing only Red Bull’s Max Verstappen whose first start came at the age of 17 in 2015.