Perez scores first top-five of year, but Force India still with much to analyze (VIDEO)

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Coming out of the first sector on the first lap, the graphic read: 1: PER.

As, at Sector 1, Sergio Perez in the Force India-Mercedes led the Belgian Grand Prix. Perez got a monster run coming out of Eau Rouge after Lewis Hamilton didn’t fully hit his marks, and he moved to the outside of the Mercedes driver down the Kemmel Straight, but was unable to fully complete the pass around the outside into Les Combes.

He didn’t get to complete the lap in the lead, but it still marked the best moment of the season for the improving team with its updated chassis, as Perez was scored second at the end of the first lap.

An early pit stop was required to cover Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, with the two ultimately set to battle over the final podium position behind the outright quicker pair of Mercedes W06s, who would later streak off into the distance. Perez pitted at that point and switched from Pirelli’s softs to softs, then pitted a second time for new mediums for the final 23 laps of what became a 43-lap race.

Perez would later drop back and it was with some disappointment that he ended fifth at the end of the race, even though it is still both his and the team’s best result of the year by a somewhat decent margin (previous best had been seventh on three occasions, twice by Nico Hulkenberg and once by Perez).

Perez described his race afterwards, as this was in theory the closest he has come to a podium result since coming third at the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix.

“Fifth place and ten points is a good result, but we just lacked the pace to really fight for the podium today,” Perez said.

“My start was very strong and I was close to taking the lead on lap one when I was alongside Lewis [Hamilton] after Eau Rouge.

“I settled into a good rhythm, but we had very high degradation on the soft tires in the first two stints. It was a bit better on the medium, although we struggled in the middle sector with our low downforce set-up and that hurt my pace.

“We were racing some quick cars and it was hard to fight off Grosjean and Kvyat, so it’s clear we need to analyze our performance and see where we can improve. I’m already looking forward to the next race in Monza, which is another track where I think we can be competitive.”

While Perez banked the needed 10 points to keep Force India firmly in the fight for fifth in the Constructor’s Championship, they lost a spot to Lotus, who scored 15 points by way of Romain Grosjean’s first podium since Austin 2013.

Hulkenberg’s race however ended before it even had the chance to begin. The German was sidelined off the grid with a loss of power.

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.