This year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona was one of the most memorable races I’ve been to for a number of reasons; some good, some… uh, less than good. The field was incredibly interesting and very beautiful, a lot of teams had stacked driver lineups with certain open-wheel stars, and some great action on track. But as is expected when you race in January in the northern hemisphere, the weather was unforgiving and ultimately shortened the race significantly.
So while Kamil was pretending to be a real automotive journalist and doing media things behind the scenes, I was out pretending to be a real photographer and grab as many shots of the action as I could before it got too dark for my lenses to work and before the rain rolled in. Here’s some of my favorite captures along with a brief description of why this race was so good and yet so tough.
Picking up a well-deserved overall win was Wayne Taylor Racing’s #10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. with Jordan Taylor, Renger Van Der Zande, Kamui Kobayashi, and Fernando Alonso, who single-handedly drove every stint and rescued a stranded kitten on the tri-oval in the process as confirmed by most European motorsport outlets.
But jokes aside, each driver was flawless from what I could tell. Taylor wasted no time in making up positions at the start and Alonso put in an astonishing overnight rain stint where he was two seconds per lap faster than anyone else. In the end, Alonso pressured the superbly talented Felipe Nasr in the #5 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac into a mistake in the wet conditions and maintained the lead long enough for the race to be called. Some people may try to tell you that they only won because of the red flag, but the truth is nobody was going to catch Alonso in those conditions.
In the LMP2 class it was DragonSpeed’s #18 crew of R. Gonzalez, P. Maldonado, S. Saavedra, R. Cullen who took P1. The rather small field of LMP2s were running into trouble all race so the class leader ended up being four laps ahead of the next car. And as far as I know, Maldonado did not crash this time. I’m not too sure though.
Now the GTLM winners are somewhat controversial but still well-deserved. With about an hour left of the race, there was another crash that ended up in a full course yellow. The leader at the time was the #67 Ford GT and they chose to dive to the pits to get their service out of the way. It would have worked well for them had the race not been red-flagged. The #25 BMW M8 GTE of BMW Team RLL was much smarter and simply stayed out. Anybody who was at the race in person could tell the conditions were getting bad again and an early end to the race was inevitable.
So in the end, the BMW had pace and the strategy to net them the win. Connor De Phillippi, Augusto Farfus, Philipp Eng, and Colton Herta went home with Rolexes that day. Neither of the BMWs had great track position at the start of the race, but they clawed their way up to the front and gain their advantage by being clean and consistent, as BMW Team RLL does well. In the closing laps, Farfus put on a heroic drive of his own to get the track position that would eventually get them to P1. They deserved this win and I don’t care what anybody says.
The GTD class had the most cars on the lead lap so that made Grasser Racing Team’s victory all the more impressive. R. Ineichen, M. Bortolotti, C. Engelhart, and R. Breukers took their #11 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 to P1 by being fast and simply staying out of trouble when it counted the most. Most of the crashes in the rain that helped end the race were in the GTD class where most of the battles for position were so these guys had their work cut out for them.
Something that made this race particularly gorgeous was all the throwback liveries that teams were running in every category. Acura and CORE Autosport had GTP-era liveries on their DPIs, Ford has gorgeous Castrol and Motorcraft liveries, Porsche ran with Brumos Racing colors on their 911 RSRs, Riley Motorsports honored Wynn’s on their gorgeous AMG GT3, and Starworks Motorsport paid tribute to the Audi GTOs on their R8 GT3.
There were some other unique liveries running around too including a flannel 911 GT3 R from Pfaff Motorsports. Meanwhile, Corvette Racing rejected the idea of fun and wore the same exact yellow/black paint scheme they’ve been running since the beginning of time.
The weather at the green flag was good enough, but the threat of rain loomed over us from the beginning. By 4 AM Sunday morning the rain followed through and came down by the truck load. Conditions became so bad that the race was red-flagged twice and ultimately called off at 23 hours and 50 minutes – a decision that could have honestly been made hours before. The track in the final hours was so bad that green flag runs didn’t last very long before someone got caught out and the visibility was atrocious.
It was so bad that cars would simply disappear in the mist on restarts. In hindsight, they probably shouldn’t have restarted the race after the first red flag period. They were running pace laps behind the safety car for about an hour trying to help dry the track. In that time, dozens of cars had to stop to refuel and hydroplaned trying to get into the pits, a Porsche 911 RSR nearly got stuck on the apron of the tri-oval because it lacked the traction to drive up the banking, and an LMP2 car nearly got spun out by a jet dryer as it drove past. And then there was immediately a two-car crash on their first restart attempt.
IMSA was under pressure to keep drivers safe and keep fans entertained, but I think they should have erred on the side of safety and quit much sooner than they did. The final red flag period was the most frustrating because there was an hour left of the race and they promised an update roughly 35 minutes before the scheduled end of the race, so we all stuck around. Well they missed their own deadline and waited until 10 minutes prior to the scheduled end of the race before calling it off. So instead of ending the race when it was obvious the track was too dangerous… like, a few hours earlier, they kept us waiting around in the cold rain for an hour. And because sportscar racing fans are the best, there actually were people around at the end of it.
Nevertheless, I stayed up for about 23 hours of the race this time. Two quick naps and the warm memories of drinking moonshine and watching fireworks with Kamil were enough to keep me awake for longer than I’ve managed yet.
Despite the frustrations surrounding the weather, this was another great weekend at the track for this race fan. The 2019 IMSA season is shaping up to be as fierce as ever and it’s going to be fun following it again.
One highlight that I don’t think can be topped for the rest of the season though is Alex-freakin-Zanardi. I was more excited to see him race than anything else. If not for a technical malfunction around the hand-controlled steering wheel he was using (which broke when they dropped the car off the jacks as he was still putting it on, requiring a steering column change) they would have been fighting for a much higher position than P9. His performance was inspiring and part of the reason I stayed till the end.
Another thing that stood out was how close pretty much everyone was. When IMSA gets BoP right, they get it very right. Nobody ran away with the win like they did last year; every battle was fought until the end (except for the four-car LMP2 field) and it’s clear how much faster some of the cars are this year. The official track record fell to a Mazda DPI thanks to the uncorked engines the new regs allow and the new Michelin tires and everybody seemed to get more life out of them as they maintained a fast pace throughout the entire stint. And I’d say their rain tires worked pretty well given the literal rivers they had to drive through in the infield section.
This is already shaping up to be a very promising IMSA season. I recommend keeping track of this one if you can.
And yes, Kamil took a break from interviewing some Fernando Alonso guy to meet up with me in the evening. I think he was equal parts terrified and impressed by the moonshine I brought. It’s Sugarlands Shine Appalachian Apple Pie, by the way. Amazing stuff.
Hopefully you guys enjoyed the regular updates he was able to provide on the site and the random stuff we were both posting to Instagram. Maybe we can do it again someday. Until then, enjoy the rest of the shots I was able to get before hiding the camera away from the elements.
[All images © 2019 Hooniverse/Greg Kachadurian]
[All Images © 2019 Hooniverse/Greg Kachadurian