Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona after 23 hours — one hour left to checkered flag

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Our next update will be after the conclusion of the race at 2:30 p.m. ET. Please check back then.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona has less than one hour to go, and excitement and anticipation is building to see who the winners will be in the three classes.

Here’s the leaders for Prototype, GTLM and GTD:

Prototype

No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi, Felipe Albuquerque

No. 54 Core Autosport, Oreca LMP2, Colin Braun

No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing DPi, Mike Conway

GTLM

No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford GT, Ryan Briscoe

No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, Joey Hand

No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R, Antonio Garcia

GTD

No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team, Lamborghini Huracan GT3, Mirko Bortolotti

No. 86 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian, Acura NSX GT3, Alvaro Parente

No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3, Jeroen Bleekemolen

Of note, one thing that could impact the final hour of the race is rain. It began to rain lightly with about five minutes left in Hour 23. The weather forecast/radar indicates a large storm to the west of Daytona.

Below is a report on notable happenings from Hours 21 through 23:

IT’S A NEW RECORD

Given that there have only been four full-course cautions (for 28 laps) thus far in the first 23 hours, a new record for most laps and longest distance run in the Rolex 24 appears very likely.

By comparison, last year’s race had 21 full-course cautions that impacted nearly half the race (298 laps).

ACTION EXPRESS NO. 5 BOUNCING BACK FROM OVERHEATING ISSUES

The No. 5 Action Express Mustang Sampling Cadillac Dpi came into the final four hours of the race hopefully having overcome what had been a troubling overheating issue between Hours 17 and 20.

“It seems to be under control,” one of the three co-drivers, Christian Fittipaldi, said on FS1. “We’re trying to make it as much as we can. … After we came into the garage, we think we found the solution and now we’re just working according to our expectations.

“If you look at it historically, this race has a lot of yellows. But for one reason or other, we’ve had, what, 2-3 yellows? This thing has turned into a 24-hour sprint.

“At some point, the machinery is going to give because we’re used to having a lot more yellows than what we’ve had. At the end of the day, it’s the same for everyone and we just need to make the best of what we have.”

ALONSO GOAL GOES FROM WINNING TO JUST FINISHING

With the No. 23 United Autosports Ligier LMP2 Prototype suffering a number of issues during the first 20 hours, two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso has had to adjust his hopes and expectations for the remainder of the race.

“I think now the goal has shifted to just finish the race, my first 24-hour endurance race,” Alonso told FS1. “We have too many issues to have any possibility to fight for a top position. The puncture, the brakes then the throttle, a little bit of everything.

“The pace was there. We didn’t have the pace in practice and qualifying, but today we were very competitive. We were second-third fastest. At least a podium was a possibility.

“It was a shame but nevertheless, I’m having fun. I’m sad when there’s a driving change, I don’t want to get out of the car because when I’m driving it, I’m enjoying it. It’s been a nice experience. Hopefully, now we’ll see the checkered flag. That’s the goal.”

Alonso put to rest speculation about whether he’ll be back to try the Rolex again.

“It’s been a good learning experience and I can’t wait to have another go-round in the 24 Hours,” he told FS1.

PAUL TRACY TALKS ALLMENDINGER, CASTRONEVES

Former IndyCar driver and current NBC Sports IndyCar analyst Paul Tracy had a number of interesting things to say during an interview on FS1.

Among the topics he discussed:

* On A.J. Allmendinger: “This is no slight to A.J., but I think if he had not been stuck in mediocre Cup programs the last five, six years, I think he could have done amazing things in road racing, IndyCar, maybe even get to Formula One. But he went the Red Bull route and kind of got stuck in this no-man’s land of NASCAR. I think, his career, with so much more results, I think he could have had had he not gone in that direction.”

* On Helio Castroneves switching from IndyCar to IMSA: “Obviously, those guys are in their 40s now, so it’s not going to go on forever in IndyCar. The talent level now in the younger guys that are coming up like (Josef) Newgarden, those guys are the best of the best. No doubt that Castroneves still has as much speed as anyone out there, he was almost on the pole for this race. So, changing from one type of car to another and then immediately almost being on the pole the first race, he’ll continue to run in this until whenever he wants to stop driving. Until he tells Roger (Penske) one day, ‘Hey, I’m going to hang up my helmet,’ he’s got a ride.”

SCOTT PRUETT PREPARES TO SAY GOODBYE FOR THE FINAL TIME

Scott Pruett is in the final hour of his 50-year racing career.

Pruett will retire after today’s checkered flag drops. He looks loose and relaxed and even with how key this race is to him, he’s still the quintessential teammate.

“It’s been business as usual,” Pruett told FS1. “We’ve had just an up-and-down time, coming out of the box Lexus was running real strong, running top 2 and top 3 with both cars, had some issues, stayed in the top 5, had some other issues. But it’s been great. You never know what’s going to happen in this race.”

While trying to put his retirement aside until the race is over, Pruett still did get a little wistful talking about being at Daytona one last time for one last Rolex 24.

“The memories here, the experiences here, the fans here, are second to none,” he told FS1. “I’m so proud to be a part of it. For my last race, I couldn’t think of any better place to be.”

Pruett isn’t scheduled to have one final stint in the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3, but that could change. He knows the significance of finishing for teammates David Heinermeier Hansson, Dominik Farnbacher and Jack Hawksworth for the overall IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship points.

While it would be a great way to finish his career driving the last laps of today’s race, Pruett is still the consummate teammate.

“It kind of depends on how things unfold,” he told FS1. “They wanted to (have him drive) but because of rotations and some other stuff, and these guys are with Lexus and 3GT focus and doing the best they can in the championship for the whole year, we’ll see how it goes.

“I’m ready to go in if they need me.”

PENSKE ON ACURA TEAM DEBUT

It won’t be the finish that Roger Penske and everyone associated with the new two-car Acura Team Penske wanted, but he’s looking to going forward.

“I think the race has been amazing, fast cars, everybody’s been racing hard the whole day and night,” Penske told FS1 “We had an alternator go out on one of the cars and Helio got hit, but for us, if we can finish the 24 Hours and we know we have some speed in our cars, we’re looking forward to get to Sebring (next race on the IMSA schedule).

“But this is a great test for us, endurance, our pit crews and for Acura to have something as good as they’ve given us is terrific.”

NHRA shocker in Houston: 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 Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 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. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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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.