Harrison Burton, Zane Smith hang on to win Michelin Pilot Challenge opener
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. —NASCAR driver Harrison Burton held off hard-charging sports car veteran Spencer Pumpelly by a slight 0.688 seconds to earn the overall victory in Friday‘s BMW M Endurance Challenge, the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course.
Pumpelly, who co-drove with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Tom Collingwood, moved the No. 83 BGB Motorsports Porsche 718 GT4 RS Clubsport from fifth place to second in the final 30 minutes of the four-hour race, applying pressure on Burton as he cut into the lead with each lap.
But the 22-year-old Burton — who drives the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series — steered mistake-free, high-pressure circuits of his own in the No. 42 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 to ensure he and teammate Zane Smith — the 2022 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion making his IMSA debut — became the first NASCAR regulars to take the victory in this race.
2021 Truck Series champion Ben Rhodes and fellow NASCAR Truck Series driver Hailie Deegan finished third in the No. 41 PF Racing Mustang to complete the podium for the 32-car Grand Sport (GS) class.
Smith, 23, qualified an impressive third and moved forward immediately on the start, holding a sizable lead with just under three hours remaining. Late pit strategy by the competition, however, shifted the lineup as the No. 41 Mustang pitted to change drivers — Smith out and Burton in — just past the midpoint.
Burton ran third with just under 50 minutes to go, steadily making his way forward. He took the lead for good when leader Elliott Skeer in the No. 47 Nolasport Porsche had to retire with 22 minutes remaining.
“I felt like I was a little bummed out early because we got shuffled back a little after the first pit stop,‘‘ said Burton, making his second start in the race. “It was taking me a little bit to get back to the lead, and I was like, ‘I don‘t want to be the guy that lets the team down and not finish the race off like we should.
“But a few restarts came our way, and I kinda shuffled my way through there. A lot of hard racing,‘‘ he added with a grin. “Pretty similar to NASCAR racing, to be honest with you, the amount of bumping and aggressive dive bombs and stuff. I felt kinda home in that. That was fun.”
Smith, who will attempt to make his first Daytona 500 start in February, gave a thumbs-up to his friend Burton‘s work.
“Watching Harrison at the end with Spencer coming had me shaking in my boots, but he didn‘t make a mistake,‘‘ Smith said, delighting in the win at the famous track. “If you can win anything at Daytona, whether it‘s a dirt bike or a go-kart or a stock car and now a GT4 Mustang is just so dang cool.
“Daytona just brings such a different vibe than really any other race track. Not only to win at Daytona but in our first start is just so cool.‘‘