It was a record pace set in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, as the Action Express prototype operation led the field to a 1-2 finish with their No. 5 and No. 31 entries, while multiple-discipline owner Chip Ganassi recorded his organization’s 200th professional victory with his No. 67 and No. 66 entries finishing a respective 1-2 in the GT Le Mans class.
In a surprising finish, the Michael Shank Racing team led by former IndyCar drivers A.J. Allmendinger and Katherine Legge finished an inspiring 2nd place in the GT Daytona class and more than left their mark on the Daytona International Speedway road course.
With those headlines and more, check out our IndyCar review of the biggest stories from the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Ford Chip Ganassi dominates GT Le Mans class for 200th team victory
In another remarkable performance from the Ford Chip Ganassi GT program, the No. 66 and No. 67 entries dominated the GT Le Mans class in this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona en route to their 200th victory as a racing organization.
Led by IndyCar stars Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais, the Ganassi sportscar operation led the GTLM class for much of the event despite some competition from the Corvette racing entries. While they remained neighbors on-track for a large portion of the 24-hour event, team boss Chip Ganassi had no issue in letting his men duke it out for the class win – granted they both finished the race 1-2.
A late-race driver switch in the No. 67 entry put former IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe in the chute for Richard Westbrook as the No. 66 entry piloted by Joey Hand was breathing down his neck with just over one hour remaining. Hand was able to close the gap while Briscoe broke in some fresh tires, though the gap reached two seconds and began to rise again.
Upon exiting his worn Ford GT, Briscoe was visibly exhaused while explaining the tense final moments of the race while the team make a late-race driver switch. “It is a bit of pressure, it was a close fight,” said the experienced driver. “We needed a driver change of about 2o seconds or less and we got it done. I’m just blown away, the race was perfect.”
Acura Team Penske strong before nighttime issues
After qualifying their No. 6 and No. 7 entries 2nd and 10th respectively, Acura Team Penske had an impressive showing through this weekend’s 24-hour race in Daytona.
As late as the halfway point of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the two Penske cars were running 1-2 in the overall and class standings with commanding performances from IndyCar drivers Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal. Around the 14-hour mark of the event, the team began to face some issues as the No. 6 car spent extensive time on pit road, and later the garage area, trying to solve electronic issues.
It was later determined that the alternator was causing the mechanical problems, dropping the Team Penske entry 25 laps from the leading Action Express teams around 4:40 AM Eastern time.
The No. 7 team ran into its own issues around hour 16 when Castroneves collided with the No. 5 Action Express entry driven by Felipe Nasr and had to retreat to the garage area to make repairs. The time spent off-track removed the final contending Penske entry from a podium opportunity and placed them 15 laps down.
From there, it was a tough climb to make up positions lost overnight. The duo of cars made their way back into the top-10 overall by hour 20, but with a multi-lap cushion between them and positions eight through first, that was eventually their ceiling for a finishing position.
The No. 7 entry benefited from mere bodywork damages versus the No. 6’s mechanical issues, and they were able to work out a 9th place finish, while the No. 6 finished 10th after Montoya suffered a late race penalty during a hard charge.
Former IndyCar drivers Allmendinger, Legge excel with Michael Shank
Punching above their weight in an Acura NSX all weekend long, the pairing of former IndyCar drivers A.J. Allmendinger and Katherine Legge proved to be an exceptional duo for new IndyCar owner and sports car regular Michael Shank.
The group was in contention for the GT Daytona class win for much of the 24 hours, but a slow pit stop with less than two hours remaining in the event was the final blow for a group that was fighting tooth-and-nail for every second on track.
While the slow stop was enough to temper expectations in the final moments, the team finished second place in GT Daytona.
Legge, 37, put in an inspiring effort all weekend long and led the way for the No. 86 entry with the car’s fastest lap throughout the race.
By leading laps in this 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Allmendinger has now led at some point in each of the 13 Daytona events that he has participated in with Michael Shank Racing.
The former Team Penske open-wheel driver has consistently found himself near the front of the field in the annual January event, and his relationship with Shank has blossomed over a decade-plus of competition.
While you will not see him in a MSR IndyCar entry (he has stated he will not race open-wheel again without driver cockpit protection advances), one could expect Allmendinger to continue as a road course ringer in Shank’s sports car competition.
Mazda endurance struggles continue
While the Mazda Team Joest entries showed some speed (including some inspiring efforts from Ed Carpenter Racing driver Spencer Pigot), the manufacturer’s bad luck at the Rolex 24 continued from year’s prior with neither of the two Soul Red cars finishing the day-long endurance race.
In the early stages of the event the group had a tire fall off one of their Mazda Racing machines and shredded a couple more as the nighttime wore on. By 8:15 AM Eastern time, the No. 55 entry which Pigot had been competing in was retired for the remainder of the event. Four hours later, the second Mazda entry had been parked for the day as the No. 77 succumbed to multiple electrical issues that plagued the car throughout the night.
Despite some rough runs this weekend at Daytona, the team is aligned well for the 12 Hours of Sebring that Pigot will once again be a Mazda teammate for. Coupled with IndyCar pre-season testing, Pigot is using a variety of disciplines to prepare himself for the 2018 championship with Ed Carpenter Racing.
- Mazda Road to Indy ladder series driver Pato O’Ward put on quite the display during this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, driving for Performance Tech in the prototype division. O’Ward registered the team’s fastest lap of the endurance race and the group finished 8th place overall and in class, ahead of both Acura Team Penske entries.
- The Lamborghini Huracan GT3 racing team won the GT Daytona class, notching Lamborghini’s first class victory at the Rolex 24 Hours. Franck Perera, a driver who experienced a short-lived IndyCar career, was a part of the winning team.
- Townsend Bell and his Scuderia Corsa team finished 5th place in the GT Le Mans class with solid, consistent runs for the entire weekend.
- Indianapolis 500 darling Fernando Alonso was less than fortunate during this weekend’s Rolex 24, as his United Autosports team finished a lukewarm 38th overall and 13th in class following a bevy of tire and mechanical issues. Their counterpart No. 32 car within the United stable finished the event 4th overall with Paul DiResta and Bruno Senna leading the charge.
- Jack Hawksworth and the retiring Scott Pruett had a fine run in their Lexus 3GT Racing machines, finishing 9th in the GT Daytona class and 29th overall.
- Sebastian Saavedra and his AFS/PR1 Mathiasen racing squad brought home a 12th place finish in the prototype class and 19th overall. They were 38 laps down at the completion of the event.
Images courtesy of Chip Ganassi Racing, Acura Team Penske and Michael Shank Racing.