Sean Rayhall’s international journey: From Sebring to Paul Ricard

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Sean Rayhall, one of America’s rising driving talents, will file a series of blogs throughout the year chronicling his dual season in both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the Panoz DeltaWing Racing team and in the European Le Mans Series, with Graff Racing in its Ligier JS P3 Nissan. His first looks at the run from the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida to the ELMS official preseason test at Paul Ricard. -Ed.

Hello everyone! This is a quick recap about my past few weeks, and what it takes to be an American sports car driver racing internationally.

So, the Sebring 12-hour week started early for me. I got in Sunday night, so it opened my Monday to be able to golf with some of my team members, and do some cycling with others. With a long week ahead, you want to take the chance when you can to soak up some Florida sun, and spend quality team with the guys and gals who work tirelessly to prepare and run our Panoz DeltaWing race car! On Tuesday and Wednesday, I coached my Mazda Prototype Lites driver, Todd Slusher, who races for ONE Motorsports. He actually went on to get his first win in the Masters class that Friday, in the second race!

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Once it came to Thursday and Friday, we got down to business with the Panoz DeltaWing going on track for the first time for practice and qualifying. The conditions were completely different versus when we tested here in February, which meant we had a lot of work to do before race time on Saturday.

This year’s Sebring 12-hour was quite challenging, especially as I had missed the race last year. We had mixed conditions, and also, some ECU issues caused our A/C system to fail in the car – that made it extremely hot during the race. After the rain delay (two hour, 15-minute red flag), it basically shook out we were each going to do three hours straight at a time. Physically, I was absolutely beat afterwards!

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Sebring International Raceway isn’t a track that really suits our race car, so we were super proud of the job we’d done all race. We were on the lead lap, fighting for sixth place overall, until a problem with the steering rack developed with 15 minutes left. I was gutted for my team, because they worked so hard and we had made so many gains the past few months. Still, that’s racing! My next race with them will be at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May, and I know we’ll be back stronger.

It wasn’t all bad, though. That day, my girlfriend Danielle won the Miss Sebring Bikini contest, so we did a bit of celebrating that night before I was straight onto Dr. (Don) Panoz’s plane at 9 a.m. the next morning. Dr. Panoz helped make this logistical situation happen – he ensured I could be back to Atlanta to catch a flight straight to France for the European Le Mans Series Prologue.

My sweet mother helped a ton with this, too. Not gonna lie! She picked me up from the airport and drove me to my parents’ house; within a couple hours I’d showered while she threw my clothes in the wash, made me some food, repacked my bag, and then took me straight back to another airport. Yeah, OK, “momma’s boy” or not, I’ll take it… she was awesome!!

My Delta flight connected in Amsterdam to go to Marseille, but there’d been a delay in Amsterdam due to a strike the French were having with air control. I didn’t fully understand what was going on, but in a few hours they got us on the plane and I wasn’t going to be too late this Monday afternoon. As it turned my co-drivers John (Falb) and Enzo (Potolicchio) were delayed a bit longer than I was, so by the time they landed and we all did an hour trek to the track, it was about 7 p.m.

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We had to prepare that night for the test ahead – we had to do a seat fit that evening. So it was about 11 by the time we got back to the hotel, and the chef was leaving… so we had to beg and ask to get him back in the kitchen, so we didn’t have to starve! This wasn’t a basic American-type hotel with vending machines – there’s nothing for miles outside of this place! So that’s part of the learning process.

The next day of testing was pretty difficult, because we had braking issues until the night session. By then, we got it straightened away and were able to end on top of the timesheets. Even better, the team had made huge steps with the car even though our lap times didn’t show it, due to the traffic!

So the trip back home went alright, other than the fact John and I were sharing a rental car, but his flight was at 7:30 a.m. and mine wasn’t until 10. We got up around 4 a.m. to make sure security wasn’t too busy for him – and we also had to be cognizant of the recent tragedy in Belgium, where we had our thoughts and prayers.

You do wonder about booking a 7:30 a.m. flight when you’re staying an hour away, though… and we discussed this at length on the trip to the airport. I did at least find a bench to sleep on for two hours before my flight.

Once home, there was no rest either. I got back to the home land around 6 p.m., and it’s been followed by moving into a new place here in Atlanta at 9 a.m. the next day!

What a crazy few weeks of highs and lows, but I’m so fortunate to be able to have this crazy schedule and get to do it with great people around me! Until next time…

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, points

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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

POINTS: Standings after Rolex 24 at Daytona l Michelin Endurance Cup standings l Daytona endurance points

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.