March 31 in Motorsports History: Jimmy Vasser wins Surfers Paradise

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Jimmy Vasser was the driver to beat in 1996.

Entering the season, Vasser was on the cusp of winning his first race in IndyCar competition, having finished second twice in 1995. The season also had change for Chip Ganassi Racing, which made the transition from Goodyear to Firestone tires and from Ford to Honda engines.

Those moves already had paid off in the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as Vasser led 32 laps en route to his first career victory.

Jimmy Vasser celebrates his win with second-place Scott Pruett (R) and third-place Greg Moore (L). Photo: Getty Images

Two races later, on March 31, Vasser won again in an even more dominant fashion.

The Indy cars were in Australia for their annual event in Surfers Paradise, and in qualifying, Vasser set a new track record to clinch the first pole position of his career.

In the race itself, Vasser was hardly unchallenged. Despite five cautions, the Californian led 60 of 65 laps and won by a margin of 7.748 seconds over Scott Pruett.

“It feels great. I owe it all to the team,” Vasser told ABC Sports. “It was the most beautiful race car I’ve driven in my life. It didn’t do anything wrong. I was just hoping I wouldn’t, and fortunately, I didn’t and we won the race.”

By winning the race, Vasser also took the overall points lead from Pruett. Vasser stayed atop the standings for the remainder of the season and won twice more (Long Beach and Michigan) en route to winning the series championship.

Also on this date:

1968: Bobby Unser won the Stardust 150 at Stardust International Raceway near Las Vegas. Opened in 1965 and owned by the former casino of the same name, Stardust featured a 13-turn, 3-mile road course and a quarter-mile dragstrip. The 1968 race was the lone visit by USAC’s Champ Car Series, and the facility closed three years later.

2012: The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP of Antonio Garcia and Richard Westbrook won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park. The team won by a margin of 2.147 seconds over the No. 99 Bob Stallings Racing Corvette of Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney

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Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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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

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.