DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After 24 frenetic hours at Daytona Int’l Speedway, complete with a persistent rainstorm that led to two red flags on Sunday, Wayne Taylor Racing found its way to the top of the podium at the Rolex 24 for the third time.
Leading the charge for the Taylor team was two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso, who piloted the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi for its final stint on Sunday and passed Felipe Nasr for the lead and the win two laps before the weather made continuing on impossible.
Alonso took the point position from Nasr after the latter drove wide on approach to turn one in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi for Action Express Racing.
It was the culmination to a morning-long battle between the two teams, with Alonso and co-drivers Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande and Kamui Kobayashi ultimately coming out victorious.
“Very, very proud of the job we achieved today,” said Alonso, who became the third F-1 champion to win the Rolex 24. “The race itself was very, very difficult. Conditions were changing all the time. But we had perfect execution. We led in night, day, dry and wet.
“This was not a one-day job, it was a one-month job … between receiving the documents about how the car works and how the team works to coming here this weekend,” Alonso added. “We had a quick lesson at the Roar and had a good test. We were racing in cooler temperatures that we run so far. We had a plan to execute the race and followed it step-by-step. We made some changes to conditions, but there was a plan for that too.”
Sunday’s triumph, which came in Alonso’s second-straight Rolex 24 appearance, gives him wins in both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
He’ll look to complete the Motorsport Triple Crown in May with a victory at the Indianapolis 500, but Alonso paid a nod to the importance of winning at Daytona after the red and checkered flags were displayed Sunday afternoon.
“I’ve won races around the world, and now to add one here in America is great,” Alonso noted. “I am proud of the team. I want to thank Wayne Taylor Racing, Konica Minolta and Cadillac.”
For Wayne Taylor, Sunday’s result marked his second time celebrating the acquisition of a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona in three years at the World Center of Racing.
It was also a proud moment for Taylor, who worked for nearly a year to acquire Alonso for the race.
“I can’t even put this into words,” noted Taylor. “Everything all has to come together – it took nine months to get [Alonso] to agree to do this. I have to say thanks to [McLaren CEO] Zak Brown for making this happen. Alonso is one of the most impressive guys I’ve ever seen, and when I heard him come on the radio, talking in fear I suddenly realized, ‘We don’t need to race anymore.’
“There are drivers that pop in and out of endurance racing … IndyCar and F1 drivers. Fernando won at Le Mans and we also looked at Kamui,” Taylor added. “I phoned Kamui at 3 a.m. in the morning. I put the phone down and he called me back. … Renger did a great job helping us win at Petit Le Mans last year. I was a little nervous with Jordan, but he did a great job. Fernando’s first split on the first turn was as fast as everyone else in the Roar, and that was when I knew we had a team that could win this race.”
For Nasr, who felt he had a race-winning car in his own right, Sunday’s ending was one of frustration.
Nasr recovered from the spin to finish second with co-drivers Pipo Derani and Eric Curran, but felt the trio should have had one spot more in the end.
“I thought we had a good car in both dry and wet conditions, and it was looking good until the rain really poured down,” noted Nasr. “There was nothing I could do. I was the first car coming through and I just aquaplaned all the way and lost the lead. But I wanted to go back racing. We had a good car. We did a good job all race, and everything we did went to plan. I think we had a winning car in our hands and I wanted to get the job done if I could. We just never got the chance.”
The No. 7 Acura Team Penske entry of Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor and Alexander Rossi completed the podium after lacking the speed in wet-weather conditions to contend with the top two.
This year’s Rolex 24 was comprised of 593 laps – the shortest race by distance in the history of the endurance classic – just one year after the race records of 808 laps and only four cautions were set.
From the start of the event on Saturday, 16 full-course yellows slowed this year’s race. For the first time in history, the race was red flagged twice due to wet conditions, first for an hour, 45 minutes Sunday morning and then for the second and final time at 12:39 p.m. local time.
The LMP2 class was dominated all race long by DragonSpeed, which won in class and finished sixth overall with the No. 18 Oreca-Gibson of Roberto Gonzalez, Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Saavedra and Ryan Cullen.
Saavedra suffered a hard crash just a few minutes prior to the final red flag, but was able to limp the car back to the pits despite heavy damage, allowing the quartet to hang on to their four-lap lead in class.