Photo courtesy of IMSA

Taylors dominant before surviving dramatic finish for Rolex 24 win

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R dominated nearly all of the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona, but the race came down to the final 20 minutes and saw a head-to-head battle between Ricky Taylor in his car and Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac.

While battling for the lead in the final 10 minutes of the race, Albuquerque came down while Taylor went for a gap into Turn 1 to try to attempt to take the lead. In the moments between Lap 647 and 654, the gap between the two ranged from 0.248 of a second (the lowest on Lap 654) and 0.803 of a second (on Lap 647).

Once the two cars collided, IMSA officials immediately reviewed the incident, and determined no further action need be taken.

It gives Wayne Taylor Racing its first win at the Rolex 24 since 2005, and sees Taylor and brother Jordan Taylor finally secure their first wins in the race. Meanwhile Max Angelelli wins in his final start and Jeff Gordon wins in his Rolex 24 return.

Action Express’ No. 5 car, driven by Albuquerque, Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, finished just 0.671 of a second behind.

The finish enlivened an otherwise straightforward race where the No. 10 Cadillac led the majority of it, although with the No. 5 Cadillac occasionally getting ahead during pit stops.

The fact Ricky Taylor even had a chance in the dying stages came after an earlier restart around the one-hour to go mark. He’d pitted with an hour and eight minutes remaining for his second-to-last stop, but a caution came out when the hood on the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 of Andy Lally became dislodged on the track.

The No. 5 Cadillac moved to the front on this sequence, having pitted just before the yellow, and had a several-car gap on the ensuing restart. Albuquerque launched cleanly but teammate Mike Conway drove somewhat aggressively in the sister AXR car, the No. 31 entry, which balked Taylor’s progress as he tried to pass the lapped Conway and a few other cars. IMSA reviewed that restart and took no further action.

Ricky Taylor was undoubtedly the lead driver on the quartet this week. He qualified, started and finished the race, and additionally, he’d made an earlier move for the lead going into the Bus Stop that was shaping up as the key moment of the race before the debris caution with one hour to go.

In third, again on the podium with a new car, a new lineup and a new team manager, was the No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson entry of Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens and two-time Rolex 24 winner Rene Rast. That car avoided any major delays despite a handful of niggling issues throughout the week, and despite a pace deficit, made it onto the podium.

Other class winners were Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (GT Le Mans), Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R (GT Daytona) and Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 (Prototype Challenge).

Ford emerged at the head of a thrilling scrap in GTLM with three other manufacturers, Ferrari, Corvette and Porsche, to score the new Ford GT its first Rolex 24 at Daytona win and second on-the-trot in 24-hour races.

The same trio of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais won this race in the No. 66 Ford as they did at Le Mans last summer. Mueller was the driver that brought it home on this occasion, seeing off challenges from Patrick Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR and James Calado in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, all of which took shots at the lead in the waning stages but didn’t quite have enough to get past.

Pilet’s aggression coupled with an otherwise clean, reliable debut of the new mid-engined 911 RSR saw that car move into win contention. He shared the car with Dirk Werner in his first start as a Porsche factory driver, and Fred Makowiecki. Calado led the charge for Risi in the later stages, while Toni Vilander impressed throughout the race and Giancarlo Fisichella – usually known for his aggression – was actually the Risi driver who flew under-the-radar.

Corvette was unlucky to podium despite outstanding pit work from the Corvette Racing crew to its No. 3 Corvette C7.R, driven by past Rolex 24 winners Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Audi veteran Mike Rockenfeller. A straight-line speed deficit was simply too much to overcome despite Garcia’s best efforts, and there’d be no encore of last year’s photo finish with the sister Corvette, or a third straight win in this race for the manufacturer.

GT Daytona saw seven of the nine manufacturers entered lead at some point during the race, as the class lived up to the hype entering the race.

At any point, it seemed full-time series entrants No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3, No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 or either of the Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3s would win the race. But instead, it went to the two part-time entrants from Alegra and Montaplast by Land Motorsport that emerged at the front of the queue in a dramatic final few hours, once the rain stopped and the track conditions went back to requriing dry weather slick tires.

The window for the Nos. 28, 29 and 33 cars opened when apparent engine issues struck Sam Bird, who was leading in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, in the final three hours. Bird, Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen and Matteo Cressoni drove an otherwise great race, with Bird standing out in his battle with Shane van Gisbergen’s Mercedes in the overnight hours.

Once the polesitting car and apparent class pace-setter fell off the map, Alegra moved into contention once Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen took over for the finish to the race.

Christensen stealthily took the No. 28 Porsche up the order before closing on the Land Audi, driven at the time by American Connor De Phillippi, and worldwide GT ace Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Mercedes.

Alegra leapfrogged to the lead on pit strategy and from there, Christensen pulled out of enough of a gap to see off the challenges elsewhere in class.

The win will be a popular one for IMSA’s Development and Single-Make Series, because besides Christensen the car features three IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup class champions in Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare and Michael de Quesada. De Quesada’s father Carlos, who along with Alegra won this race in 2007 in class, got to share the car on this occasion for the opportunity.

Land’s Audi was second with De Phillippi, full-time teammate in ADAC GT Master Christopher Mies, Jules Gounon (who impressed throughout) and Jeffrey Schmidt. Bleekemolen came home third in the Mercedes with Ben Keating, Adam Christodoulou and Mario Farnbacher.

Stevenson’s Audi of Lawson Aschenbach, Matt Bell, Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell was fourth with Acura finishing in the top-five on debut for Michael Shank Racing. Jeff Segal, Ozz Negri, Tom Dyer and IndyCar champion/Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay doing the business in the team’s No. 86 NSX GT3.

NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell was unlucky to lose over four minutes earlier in the race due to an improper wave by, but along with teammates Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo and Pierre Kaffer rallied to sixth in the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi. The top Lamborghini and BMW were seventh and eighth.

PC didn’t have much going for it all race other than a number of spins and garage trips. The one car that didn’t, Performance Tech Motorsports’ Oreca FLM09, proceeded to walk away with the easiest class win of the race.

Despite all four drivers being 27 years of age or younger, the quartet of James French, Pato O’Ward, Kyle Masson and Nick Boulle all drove beyond their years as they captured the final PC class win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and the watches that go with them.

BAR1 Motorsports got both its cars home and as a result, made the podium. Starworks Motorsport’s pair of cars endured a miserable race with multiple spins, collisions and mechanical issues, and perhaps for the mercy of the crew who’d spent hours repairing them, were retired with a couple hours remaining.

Results: 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.