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

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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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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”