Field Set for 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona

Meyer Shank Racing, the defending Rolex 24 victors, took pole for this year's race with the new Acura ARX-06 - Mike Levitt photo
Meyer Shank Racing, the defending Rolex 24 victors, took pole for this year’s race with the new Acura ARX-06 – Mike Levitt photo

It took Mike Shank 10 years to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona, opening salvo of each IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. The midwinter 24-hour race is always a tough one to win, but Shank managed to do so on two auspicious occasions (so far): he won the 50th outing and, last year took the 60th Rolex 24 race with his Meyer Shank Racing team.

Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) is one of two Acura Motorsports teams in IMSA GTP category, as IMSA uses an old name for the newborn LMDh (Le Mans Daytona hybrid) hybrid class that allows manufacturers to use either six- or eight-cylinder hybrid engines. There are some with turbos and some without; Cadillac, at this juncture has the sole naturally aspirated engine in the pack, while Acura has a six-cylinder turbocharged unit and BMW, along with Porsche have eight-cylinder turbos behind their drivers.

This week’s mission for the nine GTP entries was to take pole position for next week’s race. The GTP class was the final one to take to the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course that incorporates part of the track’s NASCAR oval. Last year there was a qualifying race; this year IMSA returned to its class-by-class qualifying sessions, starting with the largest groups, GTD and GTD PRO, both of which are based on production sports cars.

From there it was LMP3 and LMP2 prototypes taking their time trials and, finally, the newest class, the GTP prototypes. 

Both GTD and GTD PRO pole positions were won by Mercedes-AMG GT3 race cars, with the GTD version quicker than the PRO car. By nearly .6-sec. “It doesn’t mean much for the race,” said GTD pole man Philip Ellis, driver of the No. 57 GTD Mercedes. “You only have to be the leading car for the last minute,” he noted. Marc Engel, who drives the No. 79 GTD PRO Benz GT3 race car remarked that his team “worked really hard and had a proper go of it, and we’re happy to be on pole. It’s going to be a long race and it’s going to matter to be here and in victory lane at the end of the 24.”

Sean Creech Motorsport’s Nico Pino brought their No. 33 LMP3 Ligier JS P320 to pole position, running three seconds quicker than the GTD pole man. “It’s good to know the car is fast, we’ve done a lot of work with the team to get it into position for the race. We’ll now try to focus on the race next week,” when race week practice takes place on Thursday and Friday before the 1:30PM start on Saturday.

The LMP2 class winner, Ben Keating, has been known to race two cars in a 24-hour contest, but this year he’s sticking with his No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07. HIs was a tricky session, but it paid off with pole position. “The wind was drastically different today than it’s been all week. Going into the bus stop with a 20-mph tail wind instead of a 10-mph head wind is a big difference, and it was tricky through the bus stop today. I’m not surprised,” he admitted. “It was the trickiest part of the track for sure.”

Acura’s ARX-06 prototype has been quick since it arrived on the Florida coast, with Meyer Shank Racing’s drivers leading all dry test sessions except the final 15-minute test session held before qualifying began, which was led by the Porsche 963 of Felipe Nasr. The GTP cars from Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche finally got their opportunity to qualify, but the session suffered a red flag stoppage when Nick Tandy took the No. 6 Porsche 963 from Porsche Penske Racing into the seventh turn tires. 

Tandy continued back to the pits but the bodywork on left side of his car was heavily damaged. Parts have been a problem for everyone; it remains to be seen how Roger Penske’s team will deal with this setback before it’s time to go racing next Saturday. The GTP session had three leaders: Ricky Taylor in the No. 10 Acura, Felipe Nasr in Team Penske’s Porsche No. 7 963 and, finally, Tom Blomqvist, who brought No. 60  Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura ARX-06 to pole position, earning his fourth IMSA pole.

The ever-enthusiastic former driver and longtime IMSA and INDYCAR team owner Mike Shank gave “tribute to HPD, Honda, Acura, the team, all the engineers, the mechanics and especially that driver today. That driver,” he said of Blomqvist, “was incredible for one lap; that’s all we had. I mean it’s just incredible the risk we took, but boy did it pay off!” As the defending series champions, Shank knew what his team needed to do. “We knew we needed maximum points. I just can’t tell you this joyful feeling I’m feeling right now for this team and all the folks at HPD, everybody that works on this team. It’s mind blowing; it’s great.”

Blomqvist, for his part, “knew I had a good car. I knew if it was under me, I could do a good job. The tires weren’t even up to temperature… I just kind of licked the stamp and sent it, so it’s a fantastic job by my team, HPD, MSR, ORECA. It’s really promising ahead of next weekend, but there’s 24 hours of racing before we can set our sights on being back here another year. So lots of work still ahead of us… “

For every team in every class with every car, the job this week was to get miles in their race cars and figure out what they need for next week – when it matters. Qualifying on pole for a 24-hour race gives bragging rights – until next Saturday, when the true test for the new GTP hybrids in their LMDh class becomes the paramount job. Can they stay up front or will the bill for needing more miles under their collective belts come due? It’s the same question for every class’ speed demons but for the GTP class, next weekend’s race really will tell who was ready for battle and who was not.

About Anne Proffit 1033 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


I agree to receive emails from I understand that I can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy