Cadillac Scores Epic Rolex 24 Hour Win
A long 24 hours, made even longer by 12 hours of cold temperatures, steady rain and 21 caution flags – though not even close to a record, actually – combined to make the night hours of the most prestigious sports car race in North America miserable for drivers and crew. But the 55th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona was one of the most exciting, and certainly most important endurance races in recent memory.
And those last seven minutes – wow.
The wild card in the Prototype class, which featured all-new cars this season, was probably the three Cadillac DPi-V.R entries: The No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing cars, which, with Chevrolet power, have taken all three IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championships so far, plus the No. 10 car. Would the teams be as fast as last year?
In a word, yes – in fact, the No. 5 Cadillac DPi of regular drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, helped out for this long race by Filipe Albuquerque, battled long and hard with the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi of brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor, longtime co-driver Max Angelelli in his final race, and four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, in his first Rolex 24 since his debut here in 2007.
With seven minutes to go, Albuquerque was leading in the No. 5, with Ricky Taylor on his tail. At the end of the long frontstretch, leading into a fast left turn, Taylor took the No. 10 car low and inside of Albuquerque. When the No. 5 set up for the left turn, Taylor hit the car in the rear, spinning it out. Albuquerque recovered quickly and at the end, finished only 0.671 seconds behind the No. 10.
The incident was reviewed by IMSA officials who decided to take no action against Taylor, which did not go down well with Albuquerque. “I don’t race like that, to be hit in the back. He didn’t even wait for me, he just took off,” Albuquerque said. “Clearly I was hit in the back. It was not a clean move. I think everyone saw that.”
Even team owner Wayne Taylor was nervous, as TV cameras showed him burying his head in his hands after the No. 5 spun, likely anticipating that it would be a controversial call.
Regardless, Jordan Taylor said the win was a “relief. We’ve come close so many times. I’m just proud of my brother. He made it happen today.”
Indeed, Ricky Taylor’s pursuit of the No. 5 car was dramatic during the last 24 minutes after the green flag fell following the 21st caution period, this one for debris on the track. Taylor frequently braked hard enough to lock the wheels and several times overshot the corner as he charged after Albuquerque.
In the end, though, it was great news for Cadillac – finishing first and second place in its first time out. The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi, led often in the first third of the race until electrical problems, a bent control arm and a flat tire dropped the car to a sixth-place finish in class, 14th overall.
Third place went to the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Multimatic/Riley LM P2 car of Marc Goossens, Renger van der Zande and Rene Rast. “No one expected us to last for 24 hours,” Goossens said. “That just shows how strong this little team is. Right now we have to look at the big picture.”
Fourth was the No. 2 Tequila Patron Nissan DPi, the team that won both the 2016 Rolex and Twelve Hours of Sebring. Drivers Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and the star of both races last year, Pipo Derani, were three laps behind the two Cadillacs.
Ostensibly taking the hard luck award – again – were the two Mazda DPi cars, which during pre-season practice were among the fastest Prototypes. They finished 40th and 46th overall in the field of 55 entries after multiple problems, ranging from a broken transmission to a major fire from a blown engine.
In the other Prototype class, Prototype Challenge, it was slightly less compelling, with the No. 38 Performance Tech car finishing 22 laps ahead of second place, the No. 2 BAR1 car. The Performance Tech driver lineup of James French, Kyle Masson, Nicholas Boulle and 17-year-old Patricio O’Ward is one of the youngest in the history of the race, but they did what they had to do. “Twice around the clock, a lot can go wrong,” French said, “and to come here and win it was amazing. But we kept it clean and here we are.”
Next up for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, held at the historic road course in Central Florida March 15-18.
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