DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Wayne Taylor Racing won its third straight Rolex 24 At Daytona Sunday afternoon at Daytona Int’l Speedway as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opened in thrilling fashion.
Driving the No. 10 Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international, Filipe Albuquerque posted a 4.704-second win over the No. 48 Ally Cadillac DPi-V.R of Kamui Kobayashi in the 59th edition of the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic.
However, up until the final few minutes of the event, it appeared Chip Ganassi Racing was poised to snatch the set of Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches from the grip of the WTR team, courtesy of an inspired drive by Renger van der Zande.
CGR’s No. 01 Cadillac DPi-V.R was chasing down the WTR No. 10 following the final set of pit stops with 35 minutes remaining. The Taylor team pitted a lap later, and due to an earlier strategy call, was able to take less fuel than its challengers to hold the lead.
Albuquerque cycled out with a 6.477-second gap, but van der Zande rapidly closed the deficit, inspired to chase down the team he’d won the Rolex 24 with in both 2018 and ’19.
Lap after lap, Albuquerque’s leading margin shrank, in part considering the fact he only had two fresh tires from his leaner final pit stop.
With 20 minutes to go, the gap was less than two seconds and less than three minutes later, the No. 01 was right on the rear wing of the No. 10 in the fight for the victory.
Nearly identical lap times over the next few minutes meant that neither team was able to showcase any sort of a true advantage. However, van der Zande remained lurking and applying pressure as Albuquerque tried to hang on to his narrow lead.
Finally, however, the right-rear tire on van der Zande’s car shredded with eight minutes left on the clock. As the Ganassi-owned Cadillac limped to pit road, the Taylor-owned Acura was able to cruise home over the waning moments.
Albuquerque held off a charging Kobayashi to the finish, sealing his second overall win in the Rolex 24 alongside co-drivers Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves.
“I could almost see his (van der Zande’s) eyes in my mirrors,” said Albuquerque of the battle for the lead over the final stint. “He was so hungry for this, especially with the story of him leaving Wayne Taylor (Racing) and having to go to another team.
“He was faster, definitely, but it’s one thing to catch … it’s another thing to pass,” added Albuquerque of van der Zande. “He was really pushing hard. I was lucky they had a puncture, but he was really pushing hard in that bus stop (backstretch chicane). Still, congratulations to Chip Ganassi, Renger and all of them (for keeping us honest). They ran a really strong race.
“I think this was a hell of a show, probably the hardest race of my life. Beautiful.”
Sunday’s triumph marked the second overall win at the Rolex 24 for Ricky Taylor — son of WTR owner Wayne Taylor — and his 25th total WeatherTech Championship victory.
Taylor made the decision to step out of the No. 10 Acura during a pit stop with one hour, 33 minutes to go, putting Albuquerque in for the run to the finish.
As it turned out, the late driver change paid dividends in the form of another Rolex 24 win.
“He’s a superstar,” said Taylor of Albuquerque. “He won the world championship last year, in WEC, and we always knew he was the one we wanted in our car for a situation like that. We couldn’t ask for a better teammate. He had all the pressure in the world on him, and he took it like a champion.
“We’re living a dream; you can’t ask for any more than this.”
While Albuquerque and Taylor celebrated repeat Rolex 24 titles, it was the first overall win in the event for Rossi and Castroneves. It was also the first Rolex 24 title for Acura.
Castroneves’ win, in particular, was special after he earned the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship points title last season with Acura Team Penske.
“What an incredible opportunity this was, to be driving with Acura again and keep rolling what we had last year,” noted Castroneves. “I think this was the tougher achievement with the conditions we had to face. I can’t thank Wayne enough, though, for getting this group together.
“Absolutely incredible. What a day.”
The winning team completed 807 laps, a race distance of 2,876.14 miles around Daytona.
Kobayashi brought the Ally Cadillac home second for Action Express Racing, co-driving with Simon Pagenaud, Mike Rockenfeller and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
After being three laps down with seven hours to go, the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports RT24-P co-driven by Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell and Oliver Jarvis completed the overall and DPi class podiums. Tincknell drove the car to the checkered flag over the final stints.
Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 Acura ARX-05 was fourth, while the Ganassi Cadillac ended up fifth. The top five overall finishers were all on the lead lap.
The LMP2 class was won by the No. 18 Era Motorsport Oreca of Paul-Loup Chatin, who finished 19.513 seconds ahead of the No. 8 Tower Motorsport Oreca after a drive-through penalty was assessed to the No. 8 team for jumping the final restart of the race.
Chatin co-drove to the LMP2 honors with Kyle Tilley, Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel, a previous overall winner of the Rolex 24 in 2010 with Action Express Racing.
“I’m not sure how we did that, to be honest,” said Tilley, who serves as the Era Motorsport team manager. “We knew we were strong all week, and had good race pace, but to actually put it together over 24 hours is amazing. I’m kind of speechless; it doesn’t happen often.”
DragonSpeed, the two-time defending LMP2 winners at the Rolex 24, finished on the class podium in third with the No. 82 of Christopher Mies, Devlin DeFrancesco, Eric Lux and Fabian Schiller.
Riley Motorsport dominated the Rolex 24 debut of the LMP3 class, winning by three laps over its nearest competitor with the No. 74 Ligier JS P320 co-driven by Spencer Pigot, Oliver Askew, Scott Andrews and Gar Robinson.
“An amazing race for us, just a flawlessly-executed race,” said Pigot, who was behind the wheel at the finish. “The team did an amazing job. No mistakes and the crew was amazing on pit lane. I can’t believe we did it!”