By John Oreovicz
IMSA Wire Service
The Motul Pole Award-winning No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R reasserted its placed atop the field in the early morning hours of the 62nd running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Four competitors in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class led laps during hours 13-18, but Pipo Derani in the No. 31 assumed the point at 5:25 a.m. ET., with just over seven hours remaining in the grueling 24-hour endurance race that opens the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. Derani shares the Whelen car with Jack Aitken and Tom Blomqvist.
NBC Sports coverage continues on USA Network until noon before switching to NBC network for the exciting conclusion from noon to 2 p.m. Peacock also has streaming coverage.
“The car is just working well,” said Blomqvist, who co-drove to victory for Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian in the last two runnings of the Rolex 24. “It’s difficult out there because the Porsche and BMW are quick at different points. Sometimes you feel like you’re slow and the next thing you know you feel like you’re fast. We got back to the front, though it’s still a long way to go.”
The No. 31 Cadillac’s closest competition came from Porsche Penske Motorsport, which saw both of its entries pace the field at times in the dark. The performance by the No. 6 Porsche 963 was especially noteworthy because it served a pair of earlier penalties failing to adhere to the controlled powertrain parameters set by IMSA, which is exceeding the maximum combined combustion engine/electric hybrid boost power measured at the axle.
The No. 6 Porsche, driven by Mathieu Jaminet, Nick Tandy, Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor, briefly took the lead for three laps after a shorter pit stop, just minutes prior to the 18-hour point of the race. But Aitken retook the lead when the No. 6 Penske Porsche was penalized a third time for the same infraction and had to serve a stop-plus-10-seconds penalty in the pits.
“We’ve had a frustrating nightmare, I tell you,” said Tandy. “We’ve experienced some issues on our side. We’ve had some penalties on our car, and at any time, we run the risk of getting another one. It’s up to us drivers to manage this; it’s something we can’t really fix because we’re not totally sure what’s going on. But it’s been going well, and we’ve been learning through the night.”
Factory and customer Porsches maintained the second through fourth and sixth positions at the 18-hour mark, with the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06 holding onto the lead lap in fifth place despite a variety of troubles. The two BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8s were also still running, albeit several laps off the pace. The No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac retired after experiencing a mechanical powertrain issue.
In the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class, a pair of young guns (20-year-old Malthe Jakobsen and 17-year-old Connor Zilisch) engaged in a vigorous battle for the lead as dawn broke, resolved in Jakobsen’s favor in the No. 04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA LMP2 07. Ryan Dalziel ran second in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA after taking over the car from Zilisch.
Defending Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class champion Paul Miller Racing continued to look right at home in its debut race in GTD PRO, with the No. 1 BMW M4 GT3 comfortably leading through the night in the hands of Madison Snow, Bryan Sellers, Neil Verhagen and Sheldon van der Linde.
In this year’s GTD clash, the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 led the majority of the night in the hands of Russell Ward, Philip Ellis, Indy Dontje and Daniel Morad but lost the lead during a pit stop exchange just prior to the 18-hour point to the No. 023 Triarsi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 shared by Onofrio Triarsi, Charles Scardina, Riccardo Agostini and Alessio Rovera. Morad soon put the No. 57 Mercedes back in front, but the No. 023 claimed maximum points in the 18-hour distribution for the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.
Michelin Endurance Cup points leaders after 18 hours were the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac in GTP, No. 04 CrowdStrike ORECA in LMP2, No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW in GTD PRO and a tie between the No. 32 Korthoff/Preston Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 and No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren 720S GT3 EVO in GTD.