IMSA: Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona after 6 hours — 18 hours remain

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Our next update will be after 9 hours (12:30 a.m. ET).

We’re one-fourth of the way through the 56th annual Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

After six hours, the leaders are:

PROTOTYPE:

  • No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing, Cadillac Dpi, Mike Conway
  • No. 7 Acura Team Penske, Acura Dpi, Helio Castroneves
  • No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing, Cadillac Dpi, Christian Fittipaldi

GTLM:

  • No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford GT, Sebastien Bourdais
  • No. 911 Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911-RSR, Patrick Pilet
  • No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford GT, Scott Dixon

GTD:

  • No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport, Audi R8 LMS GT3, Kelvin van der Linde
  • No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, Mercedes-AMG GT3, Jeroen Bleekemolen
  • No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian, Acura NSX GT3, Mario Farnbacher

There’s still another 18 hours remaining in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway.

Since our last report after the first two hours, a number of things have transpired. Here are some of the most notable events:

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY:

Rain wasn’t expected to impact the race until the overnight hours heading into Sunday’s early-morning hours.

But everyone was caught off-guard when a light rain began to fall around 7:15 p.m. ET, followed by a heavy downpour around 7:30 p.m. ET.

Several cars spun out in the rain, including the No. 48 GTD Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Paul Miller Racing, as well as the No. 14 GTD Lexus RC F GT3 of 3GT Racing.

The weather also impacted the No. 63 GTD Ferrari 486 GT3, which suffered shifting problems as the rain. Repairs were made, but the car got back on-track 8 laps down.

Also, just about the same time, the No. 25 GTLM BMW M8 of BMW Team RLL, blew a right front tire and suffered significant suspension damage. The team took the car to the garage for repairs, but it appeared it could be a lengthy fix time.

Thankfully, the rain stopped after about 40 minutes of both light and heavy downfalls.

And the No. 25 team was able to repair its damage and brought the car back out on-track.

FUEL ISSUE BRINGS OUT FIRST FULL-FIELD CAUTION

The first full-field caution of the race came out with 21:30:37 left in the 24-hour event.

The No. 38 Oreca LMP2 appeared to have a fuel issue heading into Turn 1 on Daytona’s high banks, bringing out the yellow.

The caution lasted nearly 16 minutes until racing went back to green flag conditions with 21:14:54 remaining.

WHAT’S UP WITH DOOR LATCHES?

It’s rare when teams have door latching issues, yet two teams had issues early on.

First, Ricky Taylor had just taken over from Helio Castroneves when the door would not shut on the No. 7 Acura Team Penske prototype, prompting Taylor to take the car back to pit road for repairs.

The car dropped a lap down as a result, but Graham Rahal was able to get the car back on the lead lap during his stint behind the wheel.

Then the No. 62 GTLM Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE suffered a door latch issue that caused it to drop off the lead lap in the race’s third hour, as well.

TEQUILA PATRON STRUGGLES WITH TIRE ISSUES

Something appeared out of whack on the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM. It suffered a punctured tire early in the race and then again in the third hour.

The second incident was worse, as the car had to limp much of the front stretch before being able to get to pit road for repairs.

The car suffered significant damage to the right rear firewall as the tire continued to fall apart, taking much of the fender with it.

The car fell three laps down as a result.

Even worse, the radiator suffered some damage, prompting team engineers to be concerned whether the car will be able to make it to the finish.

“It blew up in the kink in the middle of the track before Turn 5,” driver Pipo Derani told FS2. “Unfortunately, the tire is completely destroyed and I had to come back in.

“It’s a real pity because I’m not sure if the car is okay. The tire was hitting the radiator so we’re just hoping we can fight back.”

RICKY TAYLOR FEELING BETTER

After three days in bed with a bad case of the flu, Ricky Taylor was back and in much better health as the race kicked off.

“I think the race car is the best medicine,” Taylor told FS2. “I feel great. Helio (Castroneves) and Graham (Rahal) did all the work and let me rest for three days to get healthy.”

As for the door latch issue on the No. 7 Acura Team Penske prototype, Taylor was disappointed but took it in stride.

“It’s so awkward when everything is going good and you’re in a rhythm and then the door opens,” Taylor told FS2. “You hear all different noises coming out of the exhaust and it throws you off.

“I wish the series would have let us run because I was just getting used to it. I was pulling on it as much as I could, but unfortunately we had to pit for it. The good news is Graham (relief driver Graham Rahal) is back on the lead lap. I think we’re P8 and we’ll try to hold on to the lead lap till about 4-5 hours to go.”

NOTES:

* Scott Pruett, competing in the last race of his career and hoping to become the Rolex 24 all-time winner (he currently is tied for first with five wins), is preparing to go out in the No. 15 3GT Racing GTD in Hour No. 7. He’s expected to run three segments in the remaining part of the race.

* The lights at both Daytona International Speedway and on most of the cars came on around 5:25 p.m. ET and will likely remain on until Hour 17 of the race.

* The No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R GTLM of Corvette Racing went roughly the first three hours of the race with radio and telemetry issues.

Drivers and team engineers could not communicate with each other, leaving the drivers to run the race by their own devices.

Finally, after a pit stop near the end of the third hour, the team was able to repair the radio and telemetry issues and things were back to normal.

* Stewart Middleton got aggressive and spun Simon Pagenaud in the No. 6 Acura Team Penske prototype late in the third hour.

Middleton was forced to take a stop-and-go penalty.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.