It’s the sports cars, not the prototypes, that constitute the meat of any 24-hour race. They customarily generate more entries and involve both professional and amateur racers in the (predominant) gold, silver and bronze driver ratings, meaning amateurs can easily outweigh professionals, particularly in the larger GTD class.
This year’s grouping in the GTLM class at the 58th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona may have been small – its field of seven race cars was much smaller than the 18 GTD entries – but the twice-around-the-clock battle was definitely a fierce one.
There were two each entries each from Corvette Racing, BMW Team RLL and Porsche GT Team, plus a single Risi Competizione Ferrari on the grounds. The latter No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE, having missed the proper tire pressure settings for Thursday qualifying, started last in the GTLM lineup and would finish sixth in class. Only the star-crossed No. 4 Corvette C8.R, completing 461 laps (of 833 turned by the winning No. 10 Konica/Minolta Cadillac DPi V.R.) took a 36th place result, still running at the close.
The bulk of the GTLM battle fell to the Germans, BMW and Porsche, as Corvette spent the 24-hour contest completing their first endurance run since introducing the car late last year. The race went well for the No. 3 Corvette – which completed 785 laps, the most of any Corvette in the team’s Rolex 24 history – and it took fourth place in class, just a single lap behind the winning car. The No. 4 developed an oil leak after the first third of the race had been run.
“The Rolex 24 at Daytona is a demanding race, so to even finish here with a brand-new car with a brand-new engine is a major accomplishment,” said Mark Kent, Chevrolet Director of Motorsports Competition.
The well-developed BMW and new Porsche entries didn’t have these troubles and battled throughout the contest, with the Team BMW RLL No. 24 Motul BMW M8 GTE entry finishing a lucky 13th overall and first in class, giving the team a repeat victory after the No. 25 earned victory during last year’s rain-swollen event. The GTLM lead boomeranged more than 40 times over the course of 24 hours before the black BMW earned its win, with one of last year’s winners, Augusto Farfus (Brasil), doing the honors in the final stint.
The seesaw battle between the two Porsche entries, the pole winning No. 911 RSR – 19, its companion No. 912 and the two BMWs was enthralling from start to finish. At the green flags and into the night, the Porsche looked strongest, even as they made their IMSA debut; in the final hours, it’s easy to say the Porsche-BMW battle was the tightest of all.
“It was incredible, to be honest,” Farfus said. “Last year we had the 19 hours of Daytona; it was a different race, about surviving and keeping the car on the track. This year was completely different. It was a 24-hour sprint race. The race was very fast, we didn’t have a lot of yellow, we did a perfect race.” BMW’s No. 25 finished fifth in class, 17th overall.
Lamborghini’s third consecutive victory in the large GTD class wasn’t ordained at the start, as the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R was the 21st overall starter and first in class. Yet it was the Paul Miller Racing team, qualified in eighth class position, that led 340 of the 765 laps completed in GTD to lead a 1-2 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 finish. The No. 44 Huracan of GRT Magnus Racing finished second, while Audi’s No. 88 WRT Speedstar Audi Sport R8 LMS GT3 took the final podium spot.
The Paul Miller car held the class lead on 19 different occasions as the race cycled through pit stops and only the GRT Magnus entry seemed capable of keeping pace as they raced to the close of this quick and fast race, which saw only a total of six cautions lasting for less than an hour and 45 minutes. The only time the No. 48 put a wheel wrong was when it incurred a drive-through penalty for having the rear wheels rotating while still up on jacks at mid-event. By the time the checkered flags flew, the No. 48 held nearly a 22-second advantage, earning the team’s first Rolex 24 victory.
Team owner Paul Miller was hesitant to celebrate until the checkered flags: “I’ve driven at Le Mans and had the car break on me in the very last lap. Anything can happen; it’s goofy what can happen in this game we all love. It’s just so rewarding to have Lamborghini behind us, and Total behind us. And our guys have done a great job – we’ve had the benefit of having continuity on our team, and particularly among our drivers.” The Paul Miller team retained Americans Madison Snow, Bryan Sellers and Corey Lewis, together with Italian Andrea Caldarelli, for this competition.
Snow acknowledged, “It was so nerve-wracking the last three hours of the race and the key was being there at the end. We knew it was going to be a tough fight, but you never think the tough fight is going to last the last three hours of the [24-hour] race. It’s a pretty spectacular feeling,” Caldarelli noted. “It was a lot of pressure. It was more like a sprint race than an endurance race. The last three hours I was in the car it was extremely tough, but I was fighting with my teammate in Europe, so it was strange.”
For Lamborghini to win a third straight race against such manufacturers as Porsche, Lexus (with reigning NASCAR Cup champ Kyle Busch onboard), Aston Martin, Audi, last year’s manufacturer champion Acura, Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG and BMW was quite a feat. The Rolex 24 victory was Paul Miller Racing’s first in this longest race on the IMSA calendar, earned by a scant 21 second gap, added to wins at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring and Motul Petit Le Mans, along with their WeatherTech GTD championship title.