Rolex recap: New Ferrari, Ford rides go in different directions

Photo: IMSA
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Even though they’ve been longtime rivals, about the only things Ford and Ferrari have in common is their respective names both start with an F.

But both manufacturers were kind of in the same boat at this past weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, shaking down newly developed turbocharged sports cars.

Ferrari debuted its highly anticipated 488 GTE with two strong performances, finishing 10th and 12th overall and fourth and sixth, respectively, in the GT Le Mans class.

The No. 68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE, driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi, Alexandre Premat, Memo Rojas and Daniel Serra, overcame both a pit lane penalty and falling behind several laps early on to rebound, regain the lead lap, led the race at its midpoint and ultimately finished fourth in class.

The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari led GTLM early on before contact with another car in the second half of the event caused damage, relegating it to its eventual sixth-place showing.

The third 488, the No. 72 SMP Racing Ferrari, was forced to retire during the 18th hour and finished 10th in GTLM and 41st overall out of the 54 entries in the 54th running of the Rolex.

Another strong point about the new 488 is all three teams that competed in the Rolex led laps at one point.

The 488 ushers in a new era and says goodbye to the old era of the 458 Italia in North American endurance racing. According to a Ferrari media release, the 458 Italia accounted for 12 wins since its debut in 2011, including the 2014 GT Daytona triumph in the Rolex.

This weekend was the last race for the 458 in the GT Daytona class. The No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia rebounded from contact just before the race’s midpoint to finish seventh in the GTD class and 21st overall.

The final Ferrari entry, the No. 51 Spirit of Race 458 Italia, finished 11th in GTD and 26th overall.

As for Ford, high hopes for its new GT didn’t quite work as well as planned. The No. 66 finished seventh in GTLM and 31st overall, while it’s twin, the No. 67, finished ninth in GTLM and 40th overall.

Both cars, part of the two-car effort of last year’s Rolex championship team, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, suffered gearbox issues that caused them to fall behind and never recover.

“We certainly had our share of reliability issues, and that is not uncommon in a brand new car’s debut,” Raj Nair, Ford Motor Company executive vice president, Global Product Development, and chief technical officer said in a media release. “As we have said, the first time these two particular cars hit the road was literally at the Roar (Before the Rolex 24) test here a couple weeks ago.

“Aspects of our total testing program had gone very well, so I think we’re a little surprised at some of the reliability issues we have had.

“The good thing about it all, and the thing we are pleased about, is the car is showing some pace, it is showing some opportunity, and overall we are happy that we have a fast car and we need to work on reliability. That’s a lot better than having a slow car that’s reliable, but you don’t know how to get speed out of it. Overall, this is racing and this is what can happen in racing. If we don’t win every race, we are disappointed, but at the same time we know how to fix our issues and we’ll be better the next time we come out.”

However, Ford enjoyed respectable finishes from its No. 01 and No. 02 Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley Daytona Prototypes.

The No. 01 was Ford’s highest finisher, placing fifth both overall and in class, while the No. 02 finished seventh in class and 13th overall. The latter Ford suffered brake problems three times in the race, the last time putting Kyle Larson into a tire wall and ending its day with less than three hours left in the race.

Dave Pericak, Global Director for Ford Performance, put the overall effort into perspective in a Ford media release.

“I don’t think anyone should think of this race as a failure,” Pericak said. “It’s not the Cinderella story we were hoping for, but this is racing. I’d rather work the bugs out now, then later.

“We will re-group, we will fix it, and then we will go out at Sebring and show what we can do. That’s what this is all about.”

Here are some select quotes from Ford drivers on their Rolex experience this weekend:

SCOTT DIXON: “It was the last ride for this car. I hope Chip has some plans for Prototypes next year or at least being in something next year. This is something I’ve been involved in since 2004. Twelve years doing this racing and it’s a lot of fun.”

TONY KANAAN: “It was a tough race for us. That’s typically a 24-hour problem, right? It’s very unpredictable. The one thing I should say is that I’m proud of this team. The mentality that we have. We were 28 laps down and still setting fast laps after fast laps. We don’t give up. This is how we win – this is how we lose. We don’t know any other way to go racing. All I have to say, I told Chip we have to come back again.”

JAMIE McMURRAY: “It seems like it was a really long weekend for all of our cars. … I had a really good time getting to be part of the race again and driving with Scott (Dixon), Kyle (Larson) and Tony (Kanaan). I hope we get to do it again. Chip always puts together a great program for this race and it’s one of my favorite events each year with the team. You really have to have everything go right for you and we just didn’t catch the breaks we needed this weekend unfortunately.”

RYAN BRISCOE: “It was a pretty tough race for us, but it was the first true test for the Ford GT. We showed awesome speed and competitiveness, so I think there are a lot of positives to take from the race. Obviously, we have a list of items to go through post-race, you know, work on our reliability, but for me, driving the car was so much fun. It’s an awesome race car. It was really comfortable to drive and really racy, so from that standpoint, it was really promising and I’m sure the team and Ford and everyone involved will be able to work out the kinks that we got in our first-ever race with the Ford GT.”

RICHARD WESTBROOK: “It was an amazing start for both the No. 67 and 66 (Ford GTs) and a helluva achievement. To be thrown a 24-hour race as our debut and then to finish with both cars, and to be able to run so competitively at the front as well and for long periods of the night. Obviously there were a few issues during the race with both cars, but that’s to be expected. Everything’s new and it’s only going to be better.”

JOEY HAND: “For me, it was a pretty awesome day. I got to take the first start in this Ford GT. I got to lead the first laps with the Ford GT. The car drove well. We had a couple of little problems that set us back a few laps, but ultimately, the car was good and quick and had a good balance. I think what we take away from this is we have a good race car, we have a good starting point, we finish these little issues and we’ll be major contenders in the long run.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: “It’s a brand new program, so we didn’t expect to run free, but at the end of the day, the car showed some pace and we’ve been able to reach the checkered flag. There’s been a few issues, but one that’s been happening a few times which obviously took us out of contention. That had never happened before. We will just try to understand and fix it and come back stronger.”

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Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.