Photo courtesy of IMSA

Rolex 24: Action Express hang on for victory, Ganassi gets 200th win

Leave a comment

Although the finish of the 56th running of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona did not produce the same no-holds-barred fight we’ve seen in recent years, there was plenty of drama as overall and class leaders battled either mechanical problems or varying fuel strategies that kept the results uncertain right to the very end.

But, at the checkered flag, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi for Action Express, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, and the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 all claimed victories.

For Action Express, it is their third overall victory at the Rolex 24, while Ford Chip Ganassi Racing claimed its second consecutive GT Le Mans crown and gave team owner Chip Ganassi his 200th win as a team owner across all of his racing organizations. Meanwhile, GRT Grasser Racing Team took its maiden class victory, taking home GT Daytona honors.

Below are quick reports on all three classes:

Prototype

The final hours of the Rolex 24 were incredibly tense as Action Express Racing continued to battle overheating problems, notably on their leading No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac. In the hands of Filipe Albuquerque, the team asked him to back off considerably, at times shutting the car off on the banking while running lap times anywhere from three to six seconds slower than its closest challengers.

As a result, both the sister No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, in the hands of Stuart Middleton, and the No. 54 CORE Autosport Oreca 07 Gibson, in the hands of Colin Braun, decreased the gap dramatically, with both Middleton and Braun even getting back on the lead lap in the final minutes.

However, Albuquerque was able to nurse the car home to take the win and avenge last year’s disappointment, when the team ended up second after late contact with Ricky Taylor.

Albuquerque was joined in Victory Lane by co-drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, and also gives Action Express its third win at the Rolex 24.

The No. 31 experienced drama of its own, with Middleton needing to get back in the car near the end of the race to meet his minimum drive time quota. The team thought he had met the minimum, but IMSA officials informed team officials that Middleton was just short, forcing them to call an audible and put Middleton back in the car.

Despite being the youngest and least experienced driver of the lineup, Middleton ran a clean race to the checkered flag to finish second with co-drivers Mike Conway, Felipe Nasr, and Eric Curran.

Colin Braun managed to finish third, with co-drivers Jon Bennet, Romain Dumas, and Loic Duval.

GTLM

A dominant performance by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing produced a 1-2 finish for the team that spent nearly the entire race in the GTLM lead.

After trading the lead back and forth several times between them, it was the No. 67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, and Scott Dixon taking the victory over the No. 66 of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, and Sebastien Bourdais.

It is the second consecutive team victory for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, with the No. 66 team taking the win last year. It is also the 200th victory for Chip Ganassi Racing as an organization and their eighth Rolex 24 victory (six in Prototype, two in GTLM).

The No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R finished third with Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, and Mike Rockenfeller.

GTD

A closely fought battle that saw three marques and four teams fight tooth and nail in the final hours saw GRT Grasser Racing Team bring home the GTD victory with Mirko Bortolotti, Rolf Ineichen, Franck Perera, and Rik Breuker.

Bortolotti held the the lead for GRT Grasser in the waning minutes and appeared to face a challenge from Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 for Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, but a late stop for fuel put an end to their chances for victory.

The win gives Lamborghini its first ever class win at the Rolex 24, and the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 was consistently one of quickest cars going back to the Roar Before the 24 test on the first weekend of January.

The No. 86 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 finished second with Alvaro Parente, Katherine Legge, AJ Allmendinger, and Trent Hindman.

Third went to the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing, Lamborghini, with Andrea Caldarelli, Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, and Bryce Miller.

The race, which featured only four full-course cautions, also shattered the records for total laps and total distance covered. The winning No. 5 Action Express Cadillac covered 808 laps and over 3,070 miles, shattering the previous records of 762 laps 2,760 miles

 

Full results

Follow@KyleMLavigne

Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

IndyCar
1 Comment

With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

Follow @JerryBonkowski