Photo courtesy of IMSA

Taylors dominant before surviving dramatic finish for Rolex 24 win

Leave a comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R dominated nearly all of the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona, but the race came down to the final 20 minutes and saw a head-to-head battle between Ricky Taylor in his car and Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac.

While battling for the lead in the final 10 minutes of the race, Albuquerque came down while Taylor went for a gap into Turn 1 to try to attempt to take the lead. In the moments between Lap 647 and 654, the gap between the two ranged from 0.248 of a second (the lowest on Lap 654) and 0.803 of a second (on Lap 647).

Once the two cars collided, IMSA officials immediately reviewed the incident, and determined no further action need be taken.

It gives Wayne Taylor Racing its first win at the Rolex 24 since 2005, and sees Taylor and brother Jordan Taylor finally secure their first wins in the race. Meanwhile Max Angelelli wins in his final start and Jeff Gordon wins in his Rolex 24 return.

Action Express’ No. 5 car, driven by Albuquerque, Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, finished just 0.671 of a second behind.

The finish enlivened an otherwise straightforward race where the No. 10 Cadillac led the majority of it, although with the No. 5 Cadillac occasionally getting ahead during pit stops.

The fact Ricky Taylor even had a chance in the dying stages came after an earlier restart around the one-hour to go mark. He’d pitted with an hour and eight minutes remaining for his second-to-last stop, but a caution came out when the hood on the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 of Andy Lally became dislodged on the track.

The No. 5 Cadillac moved to the front on this sequence, having pitted just before the yellow, and had a several-car gap on the ensuing restart. Albuquerque launched cleanly but teammate Mike Conway drove somewhat aggressively in the sister AXR car, the No. 31 entry, which balked Taylor’s progress as he tried to pass the lapped Conway and a few other cars. IMSA reviewed that restart and took no further action.

Ricky Taylor was undoubtedly the lead driver on the quartet this week. He qualified, started and finished the race, and additionally, he’d made an earlier move for the lead going into the Bus Stop that was shaping up as the key moment of the race before the debris caution with one hour to go.

In third, again on the podium with a new car, a new lineup and a new team manager, was the No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson entry of Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens and two-time Rolex 24 winner Rene Rast. That car avoided any major delays despite a handful of niggling issues throughout the week, and despite a pace deficit, made it onto the podium.

Other class winners were Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (GT Le Mans), Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R (GT Daytona) and Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 (Prototype Challenge).

Ford emerged at the head of a thrilling scrap in GTLM with three other manufacturers, Ferrari, Corvette and Porsche, to score the new Ford GT its first Rolex 24 at Daytona win and second on-the-trot in 24-hour races.

The same trio of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais won this race in the No. 66 Ford as they did at Le Mans last summer. Mueller was the driver that brought it home on this occasion, seeing off challenges from Patrick Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR and James Calado in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, all of which took shots at the lead in the waning stages but didn’t quite have enough to get past.

Pilet’s aggression coupled with an otherwise clean, reliable debut of the new mid-engined 911 RSR saw that car move into win contention. He shared the car with Dirk Werner in his first start as a Porsche factory driver, and Fred Makowiecki. Calado led the charge for Risi in the later stages, while Toni Vilander impressed throughout the race and Giancarlo Fisichella – usually known for his aggression – was actually the Risi driver who flew under-the-radar.

Corvette was unlucky to podium despite outstanding pit work from the Corvette Racing crew to its No. 3 Corvette C7.R, driven by past Rolex 24 winners Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Audi veteran Mike Rockenfeller. A straight-line speed deficit was simply too much to overcome despite Garcia’s best efforts, and there’d be no encore of last year’s photo finish with the sister Corvette, or a third straight win in this race for the manufacturer.

GT Daytona saw seven of the nine manufacturers entered lead at some point during the race, as the class lived up to the hype entering the race.

At any point, it seemed full-time series entrants No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3, No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 or either of the Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3s would win the race. But instead, it went to the two part-time entrants from Alegra and Montaplast by Land Motorsport that emerged at the front of the queue in a dramatic final few hours, once the rain stopped and the track conditions went back to requriing dry weather slick tires.

The window for the Nos. 28, 29 and 33 cars opened when apparent engine issues struck Sam Bird, who was leading in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, in the final three hours. Bird, Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen and Matteo Cressoni drove an otherwise great race, with Bird standing out in his battle with Shane van Gisbergen’s Mercedes in the overnight hours.

Once the polesitting car and apparent class pace-setter fell off the map, Alegra moved into contention once Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen took over for the finish to the race.

Christensen stealthily took the No. 28 Porsche up the order before closing on the Land Audi, driven at the time by American Connor De Phillippi, and worldwide GT ace Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Mercedes.

Alegra leapfrogged to the lead on pit strategy and from there, Christensen pulled out of enough of a gap to see off the challenges elsewhere in class.

The win will be a popular one for IMSA’s Development and Single-Make Series, because besides Christensen the car features three IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup class champions in Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare and Michael de Quesada. De Quesada’s father Carlos, who along with Alegra won this race in 2007 in class, got to share the car on this occasion for the opportunity.

Land’s Audi was second with De Phillippi, full-time teammate in ADAC GT Master Christopher Mies, Jules Gounon (who impressed throughout) and Jeffrey Schmidt. Bleekemolen came home third in the Mercedes with Ben Keating, Adam Christodoulou and Mario Farnbacher.

Stevenson’s Audi of Lawson Aschenbach, Matt Bell, Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell was fourth with Acura finishing in the top-five on debut for Michael Shank Racing. Jeff Segal, Ozz Negri, Tom Dyer and IndyCar champion/Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay doing the business in the team’s No. 86 NSX GT3.

NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell was unlucky to lose over four minutes earlier in the race due to an improper wave by, but along with teammates Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo and Pierre Kaffer rallied to sixth in the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi. The top Lamborghini and BMW were seventh and eighth.

PC didn’t have much going for it all race other than a number of spins and garage trips. The one car that didn’t, Performance Tech Motorsports’ Oreca FLM09, proceeded to walk away with the easiest class win of the race.

Despite all four drivers being 27 years of age or younger, the quartet of James French, Pato O’Ward, Kyle Masson and Nick Boulle all drove beyond their years as they captured the final PC class win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and the watches that go with them.

BAR1 Motorsports got both its cars home and as a result, made the podium. Starworks Motorsport’s pair of cars endured a miserable race with multiple spins, collisions and mechanical issues, and perhaps for the mercy of the crew who’d spent hours repairing them, were retired with a couple hours remaining.

Results: 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona

3-time NHRA champ Larry Dixon gives back to save lives on the streets

Photo courtesy Larry Dixon Racing
Leave a comment

Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon is a man on a new mission: to save lives on the streets and highways as perhaps the fastest driving instructor in the world.

Because he’s not currently hurtling down a dragstrip at 330 mph on the NHRA national tour, Dixon is at a point where it was time for him to give back and help youngsters the way so many individuals helped him in his own life and career.

Much like when he became the protege of mentor Don “Snake” Prudhomme – first as a crew member and then as Prudhomme’s hand-picked choice to replace him when he retired as a driver – Dixon is now imparting some of his vast knowledge behind the wheel upon thousands of impressionable teens and young adults around the country.

Dixon recently signed on as an instructor with fellow former Top Fuel champ Doug Herbert’s nationally renowned B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe) driver safety training program. Since Herbert formed the free, non-profit program in 2008 to honor the memory of sons Jon and James, who were both killed in a tragic car crash, B.R.A.K.E.S. has trained over 35,000 students across the U.S. and five countries to be better and safer drivers.

MORE: Drag racer Doug Herbert turns son’s deaths into program that has helped over 35,000 teens

After putting two of his own teen children through Herbert’s program (with a third child to go through the program soon), Dixon was so impressed with the training that his kids received that he told his old buddy he wanted to become involved with B.R.A.K.E.S.

“I’ve known Doug since we were in high school,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “We both worked at a chain of speed shops in Southern California, Doug at one in Orange County and me at one in the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys. We came up together racing Alcohol cars and Top Fuel cars kind of along the same lines. That’s how long I’ve known Doug.

Photo: Larry Dixon Racing

“I ran my son through the course a couple years ago when it came through Indianapolis (where Dixon and his family now live), and then my daughter signed up for a class a couple months ago, and that kind of got the talk going because I’m not on the (NHRA national event) tour now and I’ve got more time and the conversation just snowballed and here I am.

“I obviously believe in the deal if I ran my own kids through the system. The program is very methodical but still personal. When you put the kids in the car, you’ve got one instructor and three students, so they’re getting taught one-on-one almost.”

Even though he’s been driving for nearly 40 years, Dixon, 52, readily admits with a chuckle, “I’ve even learned things from the program already, which shows you’re never too old to learn.”

In a more serious vein, Dixon said from his perspective as both an instructor and a parent of two of the program’s graduates is how parents are so vital to the program’s impact.

“It’s mandatory that when you’re running a student through the program that at least one parent or guardian is also there, so the message you’re teaching the teens, you have to rely on the parent to not only be on the same page as what we’re teaching, but to also drive that message home for the rest of their lives.”

Dixon isn’t teaching students to drive 330 mph or to become aspiring drag racers. On the contrary. Dixon is right at home giving instructions on how students can avoid incidents or accidents on streets and highways at speeds typically between 30 and 50 mph.

“It’s more impactful as far as your legacy,” Dixon said of his motivation to teach. “Obviously, I’ve won a lot of races, but what I have to show for those wins are trophies but they’re in the basement, and if you don’t dust them, they get dusty.

“What I’m doing with B.R.A.K.E.S., you’re making a difference for people hopefully for the rest of their lives, and that’s bigger. I remember when I first got my own racing license. The first day I had my license, I was a race car driver but I wasn’t a great race car driver right away, I just had a license. It took a lot of years and a lot of runs and laps down the racetrack to be able to be good.

“It’s the same thing with a driver’s license. You go through the driver’s education course and such and they hand you your license, but that doesn’t make you a great driver. It takes a lot of road time to be able to get that experience. And the great thing about this course is you’re trying to ramp up that experience and put the teens in situations ahead of time so that when they’re in the real world, they’ll know how to react to them.

Larry Dixon is interviewed recently during his debut as a driving instructor for B.R.A.K.E.S. Photo courtesy B.R.A.K.E.S.

“These cars nowadays have so many safety features on them, but they don’t get taught. When you go through a basic driver’s education course, they don’t teach you that you can slam on the brakes and if you have an ABS (anti-lock) brake system, let alone how to use it, so that’s part of what we’re running the kids through. It lets them speed up and then slam on the brakes and feeling what ABS does and that a car isn’t going to spin out or flip over like you might see in a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie. Most people don’t know what you can do with a car and how great cars will take care of you as long as they use the tools you’re supplied with.”

Dixon has already taught three different classes in the last month, with five more sessions scheduled primarily in the Midwest in the coming months. You can immediately hear the passion and self-satisfaction he’s getting from being a teacher.

“I really do enjoy it,” Dixon said. “You get to see the difference you can make in someone’s lives. When you get them on a skid course and they’re learning how to get out of a spin or slide, they’re having fun but also learning a valuable lesson.

“After they’ve taken the course, they have a bounce in their step and know and understand cars better and have a good time doing it. That’s what Doug has done, out of his tragedy, he’s really making a difference in other people’s lives. We’re not trying to turn the kids into Mario Andretti or anything like that … just to be better and safer drivers.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski