24 Thoughts on the Rolex 24
A bang-up finish to IMSA’s season opener raises plenty of points and questions moving forward
The 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, the opening race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, finished Sunday afternoon, and there is much to dissect. From Wayne Taylor Racing's overall win to the Ford GT making up for last year's disappointment to the Acura NSX's impressive first outing, here are 24 takeaways from a frantic 24 hours of racing:
1. The long-term vision of American sports-car racing executives Jim France, Ed Bennett, and Scott Atherton to develop the new-for-2017 Daytona Prototype international-spec car (DPi) is an unconditional success. The cars look great, manufacturers have bought in, and more are on the way.
2. IMSA's technical staff got the Balance of Performance right (mostly). The series is committed to keep racing close, especially with the DPi and old LMP2 cars. The technical staff should be applauded for hitting the mark for these new cars. However, I am sure GTLM- and GTD-class team principles will not entirely agree when it comes to their classes. Adjustments will be made throughout the year, as they always are. This is the most thankless job in racing, but the IMSA staff deserves praise.
3. Ricky Taylor's last stint was the best drive of his career. He handled the pressure of racing for the checkered flag, made a ballsy pass on Filipe Albuquerque for the lead and overall win, and is now part of racing history.
4. No one should be surprised by the third-place overall finish by the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Multimatic/Riley: Bill Riley knows how to build a race car and how to race it. That said, the team's quickest lap time was almost 3 seconds slower than the winning Cadillac, as it is not as sleek on the fast Daytona ovals as its rivals. However, it is a car to watch once the series hits its traditional, twisty road courses.
5. The No. 66 Ford GT will eventually find a home in a museum. This car, driven by Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, and Sébastien Bourdais, races at a higher level than any other GTLM car at the classic endurance races. Wins at Le Mans last June and now at Daytona confirm this. A win at Sebring in March will complete the endurance triple crown. Head to Vegas and place your bets.
6. The Rolex Daytona Cosmograph is the ultimate trophy in all of sports. Think about it. Win Wimbledon, get a trophy. Win the Olympics, get a nice medal. One goes in a case, the other in a drawer. Win the Masters, you get a green jacket, but you can really only wear it in Augusta. Win the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, and you get the ultimate watch. Wear it every day to remind yourself and others what you accomplished. How cool is that? And no other brand (watch or otherwise) comes close.
7. What a debut by the two Japanese manufacturers, Acura and Lexus, in the GTD class. Acura was more impressive, leading part of the race and ultimately finishing fifth and 11th in GTD. I expected the Lexus to show more pace, so there is still a bit of work to do. One car finished 14th in its class, the other crashed out early in the event.
8. Imagine how good the Ferrari 488 GTE would be if the factory would provide the same level of commitment and support to the IMSA program as do the other GTLM manufacturers. The Risi team does an amazing job, and its car is fast and reliable. This little Houston-based team is second to none, and the drivers are quick and proven winners. However, it is still a David versus Goliath situation. If things remain as they are, Ferrari is only providing another storyline and sentence to the Ford marketing and advertising material.
9. Did anyone expect the new Porsche 911 RSR GTLM car not to be on the podium? Of course not. Daytona was the car's debut race, and it scored a great result. However, in Porsche's mind, this race was also a 24-hour development session for Le Mans in June.
10. Hats off to Alegra Motorsports and team owner Carlos de Quesada for winning the GTD class in a Porsche.
11. Ten car manufacturers had significant displays in the Daytona infield: Acura, Mercedes-AMG, Audi, BMW, Chevy, Ferrari, Ford, Lamborghini, Lexus, and Mazda.
12. Somebody please tell Nissan North America's marketing department that motorsports is still an effective way to reach customers. Yes, I understand you spent a ton of money on your tie-in with the latest Star Wars movie. And you sponsor the Heisman Trophy presentation. That's great. Meanwhile, the Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan-powered DPi finished a respectable fourth at Daytona — and nobody in Nashville seems to realize promoting this team and this car will help sell GT-Rs and everything else in Nissan showrooms. This car will win races in 2017 and help everyone forget the 2015 Le Mans social-media debacle, also known as the GT-R LM NISMO prototype. Step up and promote this IMSA effort.
13. The folks at Daytona International Speedway must be pleased with the crowd. The infield was packed with RVs and tents. And while the 100,000-capacity stadium looked empty, loads of fans occupied and enjoyed some of the best suites in motorsports, along with good food and drink, and especially appreciated the cover during the rain.
14. On Sunday morning, senior members of IMSA management quietly made the rounds through the infield camping areas and gave out goodie bags to the loyal fans. No fanfare, no press release, just smart customer relations.
15. Those of us in the media center and the paddock are still scratching our heads on how the No. 22 ESM car crashed during a video shoot Wednesday. Left side bodywork and a radiator were damaged. The blame was not placed on driver Bruno Senna but on the video crew. Perhaps the video crew should concentrate its future efforts on filming beautiful bottles of tequila and leave the race-car work to the professionals with experience.
16. The CORE Autosport team had the best autograph card for the fans. This team has moved from the PC ranks to GTD, but its race ended early when Nic Jonsson was hit by another car.
17. The No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports team won the final Prototype Challenge-class race at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. The PC class served motorsports well. It offered relatively affordable, close racing and helped to fill out the American Le Mans Series fields back in the day. However, its time has come and is almost gone, as it should be. This category had just five competitors in this year's race, and it was almost an afterthought. Crazy. Oh wait, how many LMP1 cars will race at Le Mans in 2017? Just five. More on this topic soon.
18. How will Cadillac market and advertise its overall win at Daytona? I pray it is not with the winning Wayne Taylor Racing car driving slowly through the wet streets of SoHo with some yuppie couple walking by in slow motion. What, you don't think Cadillac would consider something like that?
19. We should not forget Mazda's DPi effort. Though its best car finished 121 laps behind the winning Caddy, these are very early days for a brand-new program. The cars are gorgeous, and the team is solid. Mazda is committed and up to the challenge, so expect much better results as the season progresses.
20. Will Rebellion race full-time in IMSA in the coming years? Odds are strong it will. Several key members of the team were heard to say how much more enjoyable the IMSA paddock is than what they experience in Europe. Having fun and winning brings a lot more pleasure than showing up to every race event knowing a factory effort is going to keep you off the podium.
21. Wolfgang Ulrich of Audi and Ralf Jüttner of Audi's long-time partner, Joest Racing, were both in Daytona checking out the DPi scene. Hmmmm.
22. Also in attendance were Pierre Fillon, president of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (the Le Mans organizer) and Gérard Neveu, CEO of the FIA World Endurance Championship. They wandered the paddock and race grid, watched the IMSA press conference Friday in the media center, and had a three-hour long meeting Friday afternoon with IMSA senior management. I will have more on this in an upcoming post.
23. Ricky and Jordan Taylor join a small list of fathers and sons who have won the 24 Hours of Daytona (their dad Wayne won in 1996 and 2005). The others include John Paul Sr. and John Paul Jr., Mark and David Donohue, and Bobby and Graham Rahal.
24. One of the Taylors' co-drivers, Max Angelelli, made what he said is his final start at Daytona. He retires from racing with a win in the Rolex 24. But I want to know where and when Daytona one-off teammate Jeff Gordon's next sports-car race will happen?
The next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida on March 18. I'm looking forward to it.