A twice-around-the-clock race evolved into a 30-minute sprint Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
The No. 31 Whelen Cadillac V-Series.R, which started first, finished second in the 62nd Rolex 24 At Daytona to begin defense of its Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) championship and Cadillac’s Manufacturer title.
Tenacity of drivers Pipo Derani, Jack Aitken and Tom Blomqvist and the Action Express Racing team complemented a reliable and fast hybrid racecar and efficient pit stops to start the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season in the physically demanding race on the 3.56-mile, 12-turn course.
The runner-up finish is Cadillac’s 223rd podium in all classes/series since 2000, including seven in the GTP era. The No. 31 Whelen Cadillac V-Series.R grabbed the early lead in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.
“It’s great to make it to the podium, building on last year’s success. Every member of the team can be very proud of their efforts on preparing the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac V-Series.R for success, from both a technology and durability standpoint,” said John Roth, global vice president of Cadillac. “For more than a century, racing has provided a testbed for Cadillac to transfer knowledge and technology between race cars and production vehicles, and our V-Series portfolio demonstrates how we seamlessly bring learnings from the track to the road.
Media resource: High-res on-track photography for editorial use
“The podium finish today demonstrates the remarkable capabilities and determination of the people at Cadillac and is a significant milestone as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of V-Series. Of course, our goal is always to win so we will enjoy the moment, learn and look to Sebring.”
The 72nd Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is March 16. The No. 31 Whelen Cadillac V-Series.R is the defending GTP pole and race winner, and Derani has been victorious four times at the 3.74-mile course.
Derani earned the Rolex 24 pole with a track-record lap time in the 15-minute qualifying session January 21, and the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac V-Series.R led multiple times for multiple laps throughout the race.
Blomqvist, who was aiming to become the second driver to win the Rolex 24 three consecutive years, drove the final 2 hours, 56 minutes and battled drivers of eventual winner No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports, taking the lead in Turn 1 with 1 hour, 18 minutes left. The No. 7 Porsche nosed in front exiting pit lane under full-course caution with 43 minutes left, held off multiple Blomqvist challenges over the duration won by 2.112 seconds.
The No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R, with drivers Sebastien Bourdais, Renger van der Zande, Scott Dixon and Alex Palou, also started on the front row and was a serious contender for the victory until a surprise development in the wee hours Sunday.
van der Zande was making significant headway hours after the No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R fell off the lead lap because of a cut tire and drive-thru penalty for a pit lane speed violation when, just shy of 3 a.m. ET, the Dutch driver coasted onto the Turn 1 apron without power.
After examination in the garage, the Chip Ganassi Racing-campaigned GTP entry retired.
Cadillac Racing issued a statement: The No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R experienced a mechanical powertrain issue in the second half of the grueling race that resulted in retirement of the entry. Cadillac Racing will investigate to find the root cause and prepare for the 72nd Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Runner-up finishes in Rolex 24 At Daytona
2023: Cadillac Racing (Pipo Derani, Jack Aitken, Tom Blomqvist)
2021: Action Express Racing (Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud, Mike
Rockenfeller, Kamui Kobayashi)
2019: Whelen Engineering (Eric Curran, Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani)
2018: Whelen Engineering Racing (Eric Curran, Felipe Nasr, Mike Conway)
2017: Mustang Sampling Racing (Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, Filipe
An interview with Pipo Derani, Jack Aitken and Tom Blomqvist, drivers of the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac V-Series.R:
TOM, TALK ABOUT THE CLOSING STAGES OF THE RACE, AND THE BATTLE WITH FELIPE (NASR)…
“First, I want to say what a fantastic job that the whole Whelen Cadillac team has done this whole two weeks. My teammates have been absolutely fantastic. Not a single stint wrong all race, really. It was kind of between the last, well, what feels like the whole race, between the No. 7 Porsche, they were really, really quick at times. We were quick at times. I think, if I look back, we were maybe a little bit better taking care of tires when we were double-stinting. They were really strong at the restarts, especially during the night when it was a little bit cooler and there was rubber on the track. It kind of came down to those that couple of stints. I was slowly chipping away. Managed to close the gap. We then decided to take an early stop to try and undercut them. Thankfully, I was able to get by on-track. The whole goal there was then to make a gap, because obviously we were going to have a little bit longer of fuel stoppage time at the next stop. That yellow basically ended our chances, really, especially where we are on pit lane, coming under yellow and not really being able to react to the car behind in terms of pulling early, for example. That hurt us, really. I think it was going to be a bit closer if that yellow hadn’t of come out, because I felt there at the end of the race we had the pace advantage. It was just so difficult to pass. The Porsche was really strong on the straight. We were really good in the infield. It was hard to make anything count. I felt like there weren’t many cars there at the end of the race in terms of traffic to find an opportunity. And then Felipe (Nasr) at the end there, I think he made one small mistake where he went wide by a few meters, but other than that, there was no opportunity. Huge hats off to them. They were fantastic, really.”
TOM, YOU DID A TRIPLE (STINT) AT THE END. WAS THAT ALWAYS THE PLAN FOR YOU TO BE IN FOR THE END?
“We didn’t change our driver rotation the whole race. It was always kind of the way it was going to work out was for me to finish, even if we were running a completely green race. And then we decided to just put more time because there was only three of us. Obviously, we had to spend more time in the car to maximize rest out of the car. That was kind of the strategy we went with. These guys did some math and stints during the night doing four so I could get enough rest to jump in and not have to do four, basically. That was always the plan. We just basically extended our driving, so there was a lot of tenuous seat time. It worked out. I think overall it was a good way to go.”
TOM, ROUGHLY 30 MINUTES BEFORE THE END OF THE RACE, THE GAP WAS DOWN TO 0.8 SECONDS. YOU MENTIONED ALREADY THE YELLOW AND TRAFFIC. WAS THIS THE REASON THE GAP INCREASED AT THE END?
“At the end there, I think Felipe (Nasr) just got a little bit more lucky on the last two laps where some of the traffic was slowed up into the bus stop. It just kills you. He got away there at the very end because of that. And then in terms of the fuel consumption, we had the least amount of energy to use. Obviously, our car was the lightest, but we had the least amount. Maybe they were a little bit better, but we also rolled the dice a little bit in terms of stopping early to try and create an opportunity to actually get ahead on track. It’s always easier, you know, when you’ve got track position. You can figure out a way to maintain that. They maximized what they had.”
PIPO, TALK US THROUGH THE ATMOSPHERE OF THE TEAM IN THE PITBOX AT THE END.
“First of all, it’s always a thrill. We are here to enjoy those moments. It’s made it a fantastic race to watch for the fans. Obviously we are competitors and we want to be out there. But there is nothing better than fighting wheel-to-wheel with great competitors and having such an amazing finish to a race that had been like that for the beginning to the end. So yeah, a nail-biter I think. We had our moment. Tom did a fantastic job to come out to undercut and get by Felipe. Obviously with Daytona being the way it is, the pit is inverted so they could see where we were and short-fueled to come out ahead. At the end of the day, that is part of the game. We gave everything we could. It was definitely harder to be on the outside than in the car. I’m sure it was the same for Jack. We knew Tom was going to do the job, and we came up just short. I’m really proud because I think we did a fantastic job… everyone involved in the team. We didn’t make a single mistake the whole week. We came here with a very competitive car. We were out front from the beginning to the end of the race. I had great battles. There is nothing better to enjoy and celebrate motorsport with a race like this. Next time if I’m not finishing the race, I hope these guys can make it a little bit easier on the heartbeat.”
PIPO, TALK ABOUT STARTING YOUR TITLE DEFENSE WITH A STRONG RESULT.
“It’s great. I think last year if you look at how we started the year, I think we finished fifth here in an up-and-down season. So we had a winter where we said we have to improve this and this and this. We’ve been checking those pockets and mark sure we can come back stronger in ’24. We certainly rolled out with a very competitive car and we did a fantastic race. Hats off to the entire team. We were flawless the whole race. So to begin the season with a pole position and a second-place, it gives us great hope that we are on the right path to fight for another championship. Hopefully it’s not going to be as up-and-down as it was last year. But we’re very happy with how Daytona went, despite coming just short. Everyone should be proud and looking forward to the next one.”
JACK, TALK US THROUGH THE ATMOSPHERE OF THE TEAM IN THE PITBOX AT THE END.
“It’s a different kind of pain finishing second by that little. We’ve said it many times already this week that we have a lot of confidence in our lineup that we felt comfortable with anybody being in the car for the finish. Tom did a great job, and I really thought he possibly secured us the win with the move on Felipe before the yellow. Just watching from the sidelines like Pipo said, it’s definitely a bit hard on the nerves because you can’t really do anything at that point. It was still heartwarming to see the reaction in the garage that everyone on the Cadillac crew were able to hold their heads high because they put a lot in over the last two weeks after a pretty intense year last year as well. It’s not a long offseason. We’ve come out swinging. So hopefully that is a good indication for the rest of the year. But it definitely stings right now, rightly or wrongly.”
TOM, DID YOU THINK YOU WERE GOING TO BE ABLE TO FORCE THE PORSCHE INTO A MISTAKE?
“I tried. But like I said before, I remember him running wide just one. We were both really on it because the lap times came down at the end. We did all we could to secure victories for our teams. It was fun. There was a lot of adrenaline in the car, but it was so close. That’s motorsports sometimes.”
No. 1 Cadillac V-Series.R quotes
Renger van der Zande: “I was really moving; I came through the field so easily. The car was lightning fast and credit to Cadillac and the Ganassi team to give us such a big car to win a race like this. It’s just a shame it has to end like this so early. This is motorsport, we’re fighting with the very best and we’re on the limit with everything to have a competitive car. I have three amazing teammates, a whole team here to win and I think we had the best chance to win. It’s just a shame.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “This end result is obviously disappointing because everyone at Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing has put in so much work to get to this point. We showed that we had the pace to compete in this race, but things just didn’t fall our way. We continued to push until the very last minute.”
Scott Dixon: “The team did an amazing job. We worked well together and had great speed with a lot of possibilities, but it’s sad to go out of the race like we did so early on. That’s the way it rolls sometimes. I’m just thankful for everyone from the team at GM and Cadillac. I know there’s an amazing amount of effort that goes into this race and the whole season. The only way is up from here.”
Alex Palou: “Very sad that we couldn’t finish the race after an amazing couple of weeks in Daytona preparing for this big race. We were looking really good, and the Cadillac was super quick in all track conditions. It was an absolute pleasure to drive the 01 and share car with Renger, Sebastien and Scott. Thank you to the team for all the hard work and I know it will pay off down the road.”
Cadillac Racing PR