Rolex 24 restarts after 98-minute red flag

COURTESY OF IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Because of persistent rain and standing water around the course, officials put out the red flag at 7:22 a.m. on the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

There were just more than 7 hours remaining when the 24-hour race was stopped during an intensifying downpour. The clock continues to run during the red flag.

The red flag was lifted at 9 a.m. for the yellow. The green flag flew again at 9:07 a.m. with just more than 5 hours and 30 minutes left.

Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso was leading in the No. 10 Cadillac DPI at the red flag.

“I mean, conditions are certainly bad,” Alonso said in an NBCSN interview. “Now it’s raining a little bit heavier. I don’t know. For me, it’s maybe OK for the cars in front. Fifth or sixth onwards, it’s probably going to be a problem with the standing water. It’s not easy to fix.

“Now it’s raining heavier. Let’s see. As long as we’re not doing laps behind the safety car, which I guess looks bad for spectators, it’s better to stop and then when it’s ready, let’s go racing.”

Alonso’s car owner, Wayne Taylor, had been lobbying IMSA officials for the red flag after the race was under a yellow for nearly an hour. “Anyone can look at the radar and see this is getting worse,” Taylor told Parker Kligerman on NBCSN. “Someone sitting in an office looking at the track needs to take the advice of drivers on the track. It’s just silly. I’m not even mad. It’s just, ‘What are they doing?’ ”

In a social media video, race director Beaux Barfield said IMSA decided to stop because of the unrelenting rain.

“We made our best efforts; there was no way to get the track back,” he said. “We decided to sit for a while and get a break and let the daylight happen and go back with the cleaning and drying program.”

Alex Zanardi, whose BMW M8 was last among the GTLM cars, also agreed with the decision to stop the cars.

“It’s difficult to stay in line” under yellow, Zanardi said. “Right now, obviously, it’s raining too much. Some corners it’s incredibly slippier. Very difficult to keep control of the car. Can’t imagine if we had gone back racing.

“That was the right call from the race director. As everybody, I hope the rain will fade a little and we can race again.”

The rain was still coming down heavily at 8:20 a.m. with just more than 6 hours left in the time allotment, which left many driver and teams demoralized.

“We’re all looking at the radar, and it doesn’t look like there’s any end in sight,” Chip Ganassi Racing driver Joey Hand said.

Ganassi managing director Mike Hull said the team was “prepared to race this way if we have to” in the rain.

Ben Keating, an amateur driver with the Mercedes-AMG No. 33 team, was hoping the race would be green-flagged after his team pitted from the GTD class lead shortly before the red flag was thrown.

“I’m loud when it comes to giving opinions to IMSA,” Keating, who was part of the winning team in the 2015 GTD class at the Rolex 24, said in an NBCSN interview with Krista Voda, Steve Letarte and Dale Earnhardt Jr. “I’m already texting, emailing. I’m scared to death they caused us to pit from the lead and we won’t get lead the back. I want another watch.

“We’ve raced in worse conditions than this. The Michelin tire is really strong in the wet. Absolutely amazing the times we can do in the wet, even in puddles. It’s baffling to me we’re not green-flag racing.”

Eric Curran, driver for the Welen Engineering DPI Cadillac, said a lack of drainage in sectors of the infield course made drying the track difficult.

“The Bus Stop is just puddles,” Curran said in an NBCSN interview. “Coming back up the banking, it’s a big challenge. This is tough.”