DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Wayne Taylor Racing won its third consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona, tying the record held by Chip Ganassi Racing, its chief challenger for the victory Sunday.
Filipe Albuquerque brought the No. 10 Acura of WTR to the checkered flag ahead of Kamui Kobayashi in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac, followed by Harry Tincknell in the No. 55 Mazda and Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 60 Acura of Meyer Shank Racing.
It was the fourth Rolex 24 victory in five years and fifth overall for Wayne Taylor Racing which is one shy of Ganassi’s record of six overall victories. Ganassi was the first team to win three consecutive in 2006-08. It also was Acura’s first Rolex 24 victory.
Team owner Wayne Taylor, whose son, Ricky, is part of the team and whose younger son, Jordan, won in GTLM, said it was “probably one of the best days I’ve ever had.
“Jordan won, Ricky won, my team won,” team owner Wayne Taylor said. “It’s like (expletive) awesome.”
After mounting a serious challenge on Albuquerque for the victory during the final stint, Renger van der Zande finished fifth in the No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac because of a blown right-rear tire with 8 minutes remaining, the second tire failure for the car in the last three hours on the 3.56-mile road course.
Albuquerque’s lead was closed to less than a 10th of a second on a furious charge with 15 minutes remaining by van der Zande, who won the past two Rolex 24s with Wayne Taylor Racing but was fired after the 2021 season as the team switched from Cadillac to Acura.
“I could almost see his eyes on my mirrors,” Albuquerque told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “He was so hungry for this, especially the whole story leaving Wayne Taylor, went to another team. He was fast initially but one thing is to catch, another is to pass.
“He was really pushing hard. I was lucky they had a puncture. He was really pushing hard in the Bus Stop. Still congratulations to Chip Ganassi, Renger and everyone. I think it was a hell of a show. Probably the hardest race of my life.”
Albuquerque, a native of Portugal, took over the wheel with about 90 minutes remaining from Ricky Taylor. Indianapolis 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi were the team’s other co-drivers.
Taylor, Castroneves and Rossi came to WTR after being teamed the last three seasons on the Acura of Team Penske (which closed its team after 2020), making Albuquerque a newcomer who acquitted himself well.
“He’s a superstar,” Taylor said of Albuquerque. “We always knew he was the one we wanted in our car, along with Alex, Helio and I. He had all the pressure in the world on him, and he took it like a champion. You have to send love to the Chip Ganassi guys. They did such a great job all day, and to have that misfortune at the end, they didn’t deserve it.”
Kobayahsi, who was teamed with seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, was trying to become the first driver in Rolex 24 history to win the overall title in each of his first three starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.
It was the third runner-up overall finish in the Rolex 24 for Johnson, who also finished second in 2005 and ’08.
The race turned into a dogfight with two and a half hours remaining when Scott Dixon had a right-rear tire failure exiting Turn 6 (but was fortunate to avoid any damage). The yellow flag stacked up the field for a frenzied restart with the top four cars still running within a second for five laps after the green.
The lead changed hands several times over the final two hours as Albuquerque and van der Zande took turns at the front with Tincknell and Kobayashi in hot pursuit.
“At some point, we had the race won, but unfortunately it just wasn’t our day,” Dixon said. “Just proud of everyone.”
In his Rolex 24 debut, defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott finished ninth overall (sixth in the DPi class) as part of the No. 31 team, which lost 22 laps after suffering a broken gear with about five hours remaining.
Elliott figured he was done at that point after taking taken two turns in the car, but he got back in after the repairs were made. He was pleased to finish strong after a disappointing opening run Saturday night.
“We’re obviously out of the race at this point, but I feel like my progression has been a lot better than that first one,” Elliott told NBC Sports pit reporter Kelli Stavast. “I got back in about 3 o’clock this morning and feel like I made a lot of gains. I’m not (at his teammates’) pace by any means but a lot closer to the point where I didn’t feel like I put us in a huge hole like I did that first run.
“So just really appreciate these guys letting me be here. It’s been a lot of fun. This is quite the event. What an amazing race this is. Honor to be a part of it. I hope I get to come back and apply some of the things I’ve learned and be able to be more of a help next time around. Just really enjoyed my time.”
So did Johnson – at least until the seven-time Cup Series champion had to watch his team fight to the finish. After starting the race in the No. 48, Johnson said he performed well during a middle-of-the-night stint when he led and managed the pace. He was smiling broadly when he sat down with NBC Sports analysts Steve Letarte and Kyle Petty with just under 90 minutes remaining in the race but said his “stomach was in a knot” watching the finish.
“There’s plenty of nerves that come with this smile,” said Johnson, who was making his first Rolex 24 start in a decade. “As we’ve been talking, this DPi category is so stacked from top to bottom. When I ran this race 10 years ago, a NASCAR guy could make his way through and not give up too much, and it was fine. What’s required now and the effort these guys put in and how good these guys are, it is so impressive. I’ve had a lot of fun. I had some good stints, and I had a bad stint.
“I’m just to a point in life that I have these opportunities that I can create and my passion to drive, my passion to experience different series, different cars, different tracks, is higher than it’s ever been. It was tough to make a decision to walk away from NASCAR, but the excitement about these experiences really spoke to me, and I’m making the most of it now and really enjoying it.”
Johnson promised he also would return to the Rolex 24. “We laid it all out there on the table and just got outperformed by that 10 car,” he said.
Other class winners:
—LMP2: The No. 18 of Era Motorsport
—GTLM: The No. 3 C8.R of Corvette Racing (which won on the 20-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sharing the same car in the Rolex 24). In a postrace statement, Corvette announced that winning driver Antonio Garcia had tested positive for COVID-19 after driving for nearly eight hours in the event.
—GTD: The No. 57 Mercedes of Winward Racing
—LMP3: The No. 74 Riley Motorsports, which includes IndyCar veterans Spencer Pigot and Oliver Askew