DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Sunday’s finish to the 57th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona involved plenty of water for BMW Team RLL, but in the form of tears instead of the rains that drenched Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Augusto Farfus led the Bobby Rahal-owned No. 25 BMW M8 GTE to an emotional class victory in the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic, assuming the lead just one lap before the second and final red flag of the race drew an end to the competition on the race track.
At that juncture, the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Richard Westbrook was out in front of the field, but Westbrook’s car was on fumes and had to make a pit stop for emergency service.
As Westbrook’s car ran dry, Farfus came through to pass the Risi Competizione Ferrari of James Calado, assuming what became the win after the race was finally deemed official at 2:25 p.m. local time, following a nearly two-hour stoppage.
The victory for BMW as a manufacturer came just days after the sudden death of Karl ‘Charly’ Lamm, the longtime leader of BMW Team Schnitzer.
Farfus was understandably emotional when talking about the circumstances on the victory podium.
“It was a difficult race. I just tried to keep the car there without any big mistakes,” said Farfus. “Then the last two hours (of racing) were difficult, but I knew that I had to take the lead, and that was the aim. And I got the lead, and then they put the red flag.
“This weekend, we had a special co-driver in Charly Lamm, who passed last week. For me, he was much more than a friend. He was much more than a race enthusiast. He was with me in the car,” Farfus added. “We have to celebrate and we’re going to celebrate, because I’m sure he would be the first one to celebrate, but we cannot forget and he will not be forgotten from what he did and everything I’ve learned. I’m keen to get the watch and show up to Charly. I know he’s applauding all of us.”
Co-driving to victory with Farfus were Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng and soon-to-be IndyCar Series regular Colton Herta, who was making his first-ever GT start in this year’s Rolex and came out victorious.
“This whole experience was incredible,” said Herta. “I had no idea what expectations to have or what to think coming into this race. This is my first GT race, and what a group of guys to come into. BMW has been great to me. My teammates have been great to me. Everybody did an amazing job, mistake free.
“This is the biggest race I’ve ever won, and it’s such a historic race to win,” the teenager added. “To put my name on a list with some of the other legends that have won this race is super cool.”
Until late in the race, six of the nine manufacturer-backed cars remained on the lead lap in class, making for a chaotic scrum before Frederic Makowiecki’s Porsche rear-ended Joey Hand’s race-leading Ford GT in turn one.
That eliminated both cars from contention and opened the door for Westbrook, who had raced the No. 67 Ford GT back into the lead battle from several laps down, to pounce late in the going.
However, Westbrook’s fuel ran dry in the end, elevating Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Miguel Molina and Davide Rigon to second after Farfus’ race-winning pass.
The No. 912 Porsche of Earl Bamber, Mathieu Jaminet and Laurens Vanthoor completed the podium despite a myriad of incidents, after a penalty for pitting under yellow relegated Westbrook, Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe back to fourth from the final podium step.
In GT Daytona, the Grasser Racing Team defended its Rolex 24 class win from a year ago, with Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart and Rik Breukers steering the No. 11 GRT Lamborghini Huracan GT3 to victory after a race-long fight that saw numerous names in contention through the race.
Engelhart was the driver who steered the entry on its final stint before the red flag ended the race.
“After crossing the line last year in the second GRT car, in formation together with Mirko, to be on the winning car this year under such difficult conditions is a dream come true,” said Engelhart. “This year also was a difficult race. It was up and down and didn’t start out perfectly, but in the end it was down to managing these extremely difficult conditions. I’m really, really happy for the team, which is like a family for me and for Lamborghini to achieve this for the second time in a row.”
The No. 29 Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS of Daniel Morad, Dries Vanthoor, Christopher Mies and Richard Feller survived multiple spins in the wet conditions to take second.
The final GTD podium position went to the all-American No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 of Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal, Frankie Montecalvo and Aaron Telitz.