DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Superb pit strategy allowed Mike Conway and the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi team to leapfrog their dominant Action Express Racing teammates and lead at the one-quarter mark of the 56th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona on Saturday.
Conway assumed command of the overall standings following a cycle of pit stops just minutes before the top of the hour, also claiming the maximum five points towards the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup in the process by virtue of a 7.639 second lead at the head of the field.
Prior to the round of service, the No. 5 Action Express Cadillac DPi and the No. 7 Acura Team Penske DPi had been locked in a tooth-and-nail fight for the top spot, with Christian Fittipaldi and the No. 5 team having led the majority of the 201 laps completed in the first six hours.
Helio Castroneves ran second in the No. 7 Penske prototype at the six-hour benchmark, just ahead of Fittipaldi in third.
Defending race winner Jordan Taylor was running fourth in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi, while United Autosports’ No. 23 Ligier LMP2 headlined by two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso ran sixth at the hands of Lando Norris.
In GT Le Mans, Porsche found their way to the top of the pylon at quarter-distance, with the No. 911 Porsche RSR co-driven by Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy and Frédéric Makowiecki overhauling the dominant Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT pair just prior to the first NAEC checkpoint.
The No. 66 Ford GT of Sébastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Müller — which led most of the early laps — sat second after six hours, just ahead of the sister No. 67 of Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon and Richard Westbrook.
And in the hotly-contested GT Daytona class, the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport No. 29 Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Christopher Mies, Jeffrey Schmidt, Kelvin van der Linde and Sheldon van der Linde led the way by more than a half-lap over the Riley Motorsports No. 33 Mercedes AMG-GT3 six hours in.
The quartet of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Adam Christodoulou, Ben Keating and Luca Stölz sits second, just ahead of the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 co-driven by Lawson Aschenbach, Mario Farnbacher, Côme Ledogar and NASCAR star Justin Marks.
An abysmal opening two hours for the two-car Mazda Team Joest squad saw both the Nos. 55 and 77 entries fall multiple laps down, with a wayward left front wheel spelling trouble for Jonathan Bomarito (No. 55) just over an hour in and a throttle calibration issue bringing the No. 77 down pit lane just before the two-hour mark.
Meanwhile, Castroneves’ runner-up showing came after a door latch issue brought the No. 7 Acura DPi down for an unscheduled pit stop barely an hour and a half into the race.
The lone full-course yellow of the first quarter came at the two hour, 29 minute and 28 second mark, when the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Prototype of James French stalled on the apron of NASCAR turn three after running out of fuel.
After the green flag returned, a stretch of three hours and 15 minutes of full racing action brought the field all the way up to the six-hour benchmark, though a pop-up shower line did drench the track briefly right at the five-hour mark and lead to varied tire strategies that caught several teams off-guard.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 24-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: [email protected]
Email Race Chaser Online: [email protected]
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews