DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A twice-around-the-clock test of endurance turned into a 10-minute test of nerves Sunday at the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona.
The exciting debut of competition in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup featured side-by-side battles right down to the wire in both GT classes.
Porsche North America won in GT Le Mans in the debut of the factory team run in conjunction with CORE autosport. Patrick Pilet beat BMW Team RLL’s Joey Hand to the checkered flag by 2.838 seconds in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, coming back after briefly falling behind Hand’s No. 55 BMW Z4 GTE with two laps remaining.
Richard Lietz took his second Rolex 24 GT victory, having won in a Magnus Racing Porsche in 2012. He won joined by first-time winners Pilet and Nick Tandy. It was Porsche’s 76th class victory in the history of the Rolex 24, and the 40th triumph for a 911-based Porsche.
SRT Motorsports started on the GTLM pole with Marc Goossens in the No. 91 SRT Viper GTS-R. Action through the bulk of the event featured the two Porsche North America entries taking on first the two Vipers, then a pair of Corvette Racing C7.Rs. Attrition took its toll, as the second Porsche 911 RSR (the No. 912 of Patrick Long, Jorg Bergmeister and Michael Christensen) dropped from contention. Meanwhile, the two Team RLL BMWs worked their way back from two laps down.
“When I jumped in the car, I had a two-lap lead,” Pilet said. “I thought I could cruise to the finish. But the BMW came back, and it was really close. There was a lot of traffic in front of me, and I had to take a lot of risk in the closing laps. I tried to do my best and it worked – fantastic! This is a brand-new team, a new car and a new championship. It was a lot of hard work. There was no Merry Christmas or Happy New Year for many people. Tough, but we got the best result we can expect.”
With time running out, Hand made his moved to the outside of Pilet on the superspeedway tri-oval. The two went three-wide approaching turn one as they passed a slower car. Hand briefly nosed ahead, but Pilet had the better line approaching turn one and was able to regain control.
“Who would have believed, after we were down by two laps that the GTLM race would come down to the last lap?” said Hand, a regular for BMW in the DTM series. “We didn’t have a lot left in the car, but I went for it. I just tried to be better in traffic. I had a good run going, but I got pinched up high trying to get by a Ferrari, and that stopped my roll and allowed the Porsche to get away. We had a car that went all the way — and that was our plan all the way. This was a great start for the team for the championship.”
Co-driving with Hand were Bill Auberlen, Andy Priaulx and Maxime Martin. Third went to the No. 91 Viper of Goossens, Dominik Farnbacher and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
GT Daytona was even closer. Alessandro Pier Guidi, driving the No. 555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia, raced side-by-side with No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS driver Markus Winkelhock. The pair battled closely through the closing laps. Pier Guidi was 1.293 seconds ahead at the checkered flag, but was immediately penalized for his aggressive driving and the race initially was awarded to Flying Lizard Motorsports. Upon further review by IMSA Supervisory Officials, the decision was reversed and Level 5 Motorsports was declared the winning team.
“It’s bittersweet not to be part of the podium, but we are pleased that IMSA took a second look at the decision,” said Bill Sweedler, who joined Scott Tucker, Jeff Segal, Townsend Bell and Guidi on the winning lineup. “The fact is that IMSA took time to right a wrong and now the winning team is now declared the winner. That’s what matters.”
It was Ferrari’s first Rolex 24 triumph since Gianpiero Moretti’s MOMO Ferrari 333SP winning overall in 1998. Tucker had finished third overall in the 2010 Rolex 24, joined by Hunter-Reay and Lucas Luhr. On Friday, he scored his 100th career professional victory at Daytona in the first of two Ferrari Challenge races.
“It was an exciting last two laps,” Guidi said. “After 24 hours, we were so tired. But we didn’t give up.”
Winkelhock was joined by Nelson Canache Jr., Spencer Pumpelly and Tim Pappas in the second-place finishing Flying Lizard Audi.
“It was an incredible last lap, and really tough racing,” said Winkelhock, who ran out of fuel on the final lap last year while battling for the lead. I left him (Guidi) plenty of space (in the chicane) but he tried to put me in the grass and I went off.”
Madison Snow, Jan Heylen and Marco Seefried finished third in the No. 58 Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT America, with 29 of the 67 total entries in the Rolex 24 running in the GTD class.