IMSA drivers hunker down together in Florida awaiting season restart

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They’re playing golf and video games, cycling hundreds of miles in the Florida heat and sampling each other’s cuisine.

It’s a good thing that IMSA drivers, whose full slate of sports car endurance racing ensures they already spend an ample amount of time together in close proximity at the track, seem to enjoy each other’s company.

Because several are making the most of being stuck with sharing living quarters while waiting for the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series to restart its season. With a few dozen drivers who are from or based outside the United States, it made sense for many to be here well ahead of the series’ restart  (which was announced May 15 but has been tweaked a few times since) because of potential travel and visa complications from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that had sidelined the series.

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DAYTONA NEWSEntry list for the returnwhich will include a limited crowd

Corvette Racing drivers Oliver Gavin and Antonio Garcia arrived June 18 from Europe and have been sharing a place on the Gulf Coast in Clearwater, Florida, while preparing and training for Saturday’s race at Daytona International Speedway

Antonio Garcia of Corvette Racing (IMSA).

They are planning to keep the arrangement through the July 31-Aug. 2 race weekend at Road America (after Daytona, IMSA will head to Sebring International Raceway in two weeks).

“It’s another new experience,” Garcia, who has roomed in a house with Gavin before at the 12 Hours of Sebring, said before adding playfully, “So far it is going OK. We don’t hate each other yet.”

There are many ways to stay occupied for the drivers, who are working out daily to adapt to the summer heat (Gavin bikes; Garcia runs).

Though they aren’t under quarantine restrictions, they also have observed isolation (aside from exercise and trips to the store) during the pandemic. So it helps that Garcia also bought a PlayStation that has allowed them to race the virtual versions of the Corvette C7.R (the team switched to the mid-engine C8.R this season).

“Antoino has some pretty good skills with his cooking, which is good,” Gavin said. “I’m not so hot at that, so I’m doing some shopping, tidying up, doing the dishes. Just filling the days and trying to get acclimated.”

Similar scenes are playing out around the Sunshine State. The GTLM championship duo of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor are sharing a place in nearby Dunedin, which is a longtime favorite vacation spot and “second home” for Vanthoor (Bamber jokes that he has enrolled in his Porsche teammate’s cycling academy).

It’s an even fuller house for Mazda drivers Tristan Nunez, Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell, who also have been waiting out the layoff together while training for the race the past few weeks. Fourth Mazda driver Jonathan Bomarito has been working on pit stops for the DPi team at its facility in Charlotte, North Carolina, and eyeing his teammates’ setup with some envy.

“These guys have it so good, it’s crazy,” Bomarito said with a laugh on a recent Zoom conference call with reporters. “They live like rock stars over there. We’re all jealous. Everybody should be jealous.”

Mazda driver Harry Tincknell (IMSA).

Tincknell, a Brit who describes himself as “golf-obsessed,” admits it’s been nice having a couple of dozen courses nearby.

“I’m not making as many birdies as I’d like, unfortunately, but a few popped in every now and again,” Tincknell said. “But it’s been fun. We’ve been real lucky to be out on the farm in central Florida. It’s been really good for me. To be out here two to three weeks has been great. We’ve been going on runs every morning. We’ve been doing some circuits together.

“I was cooking for everyone last night and so far so good. No one seems to have come down with any illnesses. It’s not been a bad life considering what the weather can be like in the U.K. at the moment. … We’ve been making the most of it, but at the same time, we’re in a quite isolated area that we’re not having too much exposure to other people or anything like that. Just trying to stay as healthy as we can while still training and having fun.”

It still can be taxing for the international drivers who could end up being away from their families indefinitely.

Corvette Racing driver Oliver Gavin (IMSA).

While Gavin, a native of England, and Garcia, who hails from Spain, are committed to staying in the United States through at least the end of July, the uncertainty around travel restrictions could keep them from returning home beyond that.

“It is going to be a difficult period and something my wife and I spoke about, and also my kids,” Gavin said. “There are going to be lots of things that not a lot of us really want to do, but we have to in order to fulfill our jobs to get back racing and do the thing we love. We know there will be some sacrifices. My wife has been supportive 100 percent, and my kids have been as well.

“We’ve had a fantastic time together these last three months. It’s three months at home with my wife and my kids that I just have never had before. So that side of it has been a huge positive.”

The Corvette C8.R made its debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January and will be racing again Saturday at Daytona International Speedway (David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

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.