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

NHRA shocker: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.
In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.
It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since the Charlotte race in 2008, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent and consecutive 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.
“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.
“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans.”

As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):

Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.
Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.
“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”
Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.
Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.
“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”
Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.
Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.
“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”
Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.
Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.
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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:
TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2.
Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703,
322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926,
313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.