By John Oreovicz
IMSA Wire Service
Cadillac generally set the pace in the first quarter of the 62nd running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, continuing its dominance of practice and qualifying. But Porsche came on strong in the sixth hour, with Matt Campbell in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 holding an 11.392-second lead over the Motul Pole Award winning No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R at the six-hour mark.
Continue to follow all the action of the Rolex 24 on the NBC Sports platforms. USA Network resumes coverage at 10 p.m. ET Saturday until midnight, then returns from 6 a.m.-noon Sunday. NBC network picks it up from there, airing the race conclusion live from noon-2 p.m. Sunday. The entire race streams live on Peacock.
All 10 cars in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class remained on the lead lap after six hours. Felipe Nasr ran in second place for the first two hours in the No. 7 Porsche before dropping down the order as the team concentrated on saving new sets of tires for later in the race. Most competitors attempted to run double or even triple stints on tires in the early hours with tire conservation in mind.
“In the heat of the day, (Cadillac) seems to have an advantage, especially under braking and traction,” Nasr related. “They seem to handle better in those two areas. They have the upper hand now, but ask me in a few hours and we might have a different answer.”
Cadillac Racing’s No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing led the majority of the first quarter of the classic endurance contest in the hands of drivers Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon and Alex Palou. But the 01 was shuffled back to fourth place during a full-course caution late in the fifth hour as the No. 7 fought back into contention.
“We knew we were going to have a fight, and we do,” Bourdais said. “I think the car shows that it’s got plenty of pace; I’ve never been in doubt of that. We knew we had the strong package as far as optimizing the performance level we have at our disposal, but it won’t be easy if it comes down to a drag race in the last 30 minutes.”
Porsche was the only Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) manufacturer that did not lead laps in the first five hours of the race, which started under sunny skies with a temperature of 80 degrees. But Campbell passed the No. 31 Cadillac in the hands of two-time defending Rolex 24 winner Tom Blomqvist a couple laps after the fourth caution of the event, some five hours and 20 minutes into the race.
Cadillac drivers remained confident that they could respond to the Porsche threat as the race unfolds.
“Obviously, we were good in qualifying already and the race is proving to be a similar situation with the field that we look to be good on pace,” said Jack Aitken, co-driver of the No. 31 with Blomqvist and Pipo Derani. “But the Porsches especially and the BMWs are not far behind. And even when we get behind the Acuras, it’s not easy to pass.”
The six-hour point of the Rolex 24 also marked the first points distribution for the 2024 IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup. The other class leaders at six hours were: No. 04 Crowdstrike Racing by APR ORECA LMP2 07 in Le Mans Prototype 2; No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 in Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO); and No. 32 Korthoff/Preston Motorsports Mercedes AMG GT3 in Grand Touring Daytona (GTD).
No. 40 WTRAndretti Acura Recovers from Power Steering Issue
The No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06 lost a lap when it experienced a power steering failure in the fourth hour. But the team was able to take advantage of a full-course caution to get back in touch with the leaders with Colton Herta at the wheel.
“I think we’re competitive; I’m not incredibly overjoyed, but we’re not doing terrible at the moment,” said Herta, who serves as the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup driver in the No. 40 alongside full-time pilots Jordan Taylor and Louis Deletraz, joined by Jenson Button at the Rolex 24. “We got the power steering fixed very quickly and we should be able to fight. I was able to pass some of the guys that seemed to be struggling more than us.”
Herta also dodged a bullet when he and the No. 023 Triarsi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 came together in the Le Mans Chicane five hours into the race. The Ferrari sustained rear-end damage but made it back to the pits for repairs. The No. 40 Acura went off course but Herta was able to steady it and get back on track without issue.
Westbrook Uses His Toolbox to Improve Car
Richard Westbrook praised the adjustability of the high-tech GTP class cars following his opening stint in the No. 85 JDC-Miller MotorSports Porsche 963.
Westbrook, who earned a Rolex 24 class win in 2018, was astounded how poorly his 2024 car handled at the start of the race. But he was able to use the many technological tools available to GTP drivers to tune the car into the race conditions.
“The first stint was terrible, if I’m honest,” Westbrook assessed. “We changed nothing (during a pit stop), and then the car was good! I mean, it was just the controls in the car. It was a really good lesson for me about how to handle the 963 over a stint. We completely changed the balance in the car. It was so far off at the beginning, locking the rear brakes up into Turn 1, but the car just seemed to gain pace and I really enjoyed it.”
Misfortune Strikes Early for No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus, No. 11 TDS Racing LMP2
The No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3, the reigning GTD PRO champion team and class leader through 18 of the first 24 laps Saturday, was the first frontrunner to hit trouble, just under an hour into the race. Mike Conway, a two-time champion for Toyota in the FIA World Endurance Championship, was at the wheel and leading the class when the No. 20 MDK by High Class Racing LMP2 class entry driven by Dennis Andersen spun exiting Turn 2. Following closely, Conway was unable to avoid a collision and the Lexus sustained heavy frontal damage. After an hour in the garage undergoing repairs, the Lexus returned to competition more than 30 laps down.
Two hours into the race, Steven Thomas was uninjured when the No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA LMP2 07 he was driving crashed hard into the SAFER barrier exiting the Le Mans Chicane on the backstretch of the Daytona oval. The car sustained heavy front and rear damage and was the first entry officially eliminated from the race.
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