Rolex 24 at Daytona takeaways: Meyer Shank Racing claims second straight overall title
DAYTONA BEACH — New cars, fair and dry weather and five classes worth of entries, storylines and drama comprised a memorable 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The event, marking the unofficial start of the international racing season, attracted a new record crowd for the event to the World Center of Racing and fans were treated to mostly sunny skies and fast, competitive prototypes and GT3-spec vehicles.
In the end, Tom Blomqvist followed impressive early stints Saturday with a rock-solid closing stretch on Sunday to help guide the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura to its second-straight overall Rolex win. Four GTD Class prototypes finished on the lead lap with the No. 10 Acura giving the manufacturer a 1-2 sweep, coming in 4.19 seconds back. Cadillacs rounded out the lead-lap contingent with the No. 01 finishing third and the No. 02 coming home fourth.
Race recap:A look back at the Rolex 24
Classes in session:How each of the Rolex 24's five classifications measures up
Looking back:Here are the previous winners of the Rolex 24 at Daytona
Certainly, the group of nine brand new LMDh entries was a major talking point heading into the event and while the hybrid-engine machines remain so moving forward, there was plenty to discuss after the checkered flag flew.
Here are five takeaways in the aftermath of one of the world’s most prestigious endurance races:
Built fast, and apparently, built to last
For all of the talk, worry and concern over pushing the new in the GTP Class over a 24-hour marathon, the machinery held up relatively nicely outside of some expected hiccups.
Six of the nine entries in the premier classification made it through relatively unscathed and finished the race in the top six positions.
Early mechanical problems left the No. 25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMW 131 laps down. The No. 7 Porsche also had electrical troubles and spent a couple of stints behind pit wall and finished 34 laps behind. Finally, the No. 6 Porsche brought out a caution with just two hours and 45 minutes remaining with smoke pouring from the rear end stemming from a gear-box issue. The 6 car finished 15 laps off the pace but was just one lap behind at the time of the failure.
The run, while not perfect, was far from a catastrophe with around a month and a half until the prototypes will be put back to the test in Sebring. A preseason event in the World Endurance Championship is scheduled for Sebring March 11-12 ahead of a doubleheader of WEC and IMSA events slated for March 15-18.
While more testing and tinkering figures to follow in the coming weeks, the Rolex 24 certainly seemed to be an encouraging start.
"It’s a lot of work. To get this technology synched and running well, I think all the manufacturers, when you go up and down the row, have some kind of things going on development-wise, which is normal, to be honest with you,” Michael Shank, principal owner of the No. 60 Acura said on Friday. “The integration of these new systems . . . We have a new power unit -- the new gas engine, the new hybrid system. Integrating all that, getting them all to communicate, and to put a competitive lap together, is really difficult."
New cars, same performance for Acura, Cadillac
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Even with brand new prototype designs, the Rolex 24 lead was mostly still contested mostly by Cadillac and Acura with the latter claiming a third straight checkered flag.
The two manufacturers accounted for all four of the lead-lap contingent with each responsible for two Even with new cars, that continued a trend of seven straight Rolex wins for the two with Cadillac winning all four from 2017-2020 and Acura winning the last three.
For the other two manufacturers in the event’s premier class – Porsche and BMW – lengthy droughts continued. Porsche, which has the most overall titles with 18, has not won an overall title since 2003. BMW meanwhile, claimed its only win during the Gerald Ford administration, way back in 1976.
Helio, Helio, Helio
With Tom Blomqvist handling the driving duties during the final stretch for the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura, all Helio Castroneves could do is watch.
And yet again, he ended up wearing one.
While Acura celebrated a third straight manufacturer’s win, Castroneves accomplished his own three-peat, becoming the just the second driver in Rolex 24 history to be a part of three consecutive overall victories. Peter Gregg won three in a row in 1973, 1975 and 1976 (the 1974 event was canceled due to the national fuel crisis).
The victory was yet another feather in the cap of the 47-year-old Brazilian, who also has four Indianapolis 500 wins to his credit.
LMP3-peat derailed early
While a three-peat for Acura in the premier class came to fruition, another quest for three in a row ended very early on Saturday.
An engine failure to the No. 74 Riley Ligier driven by Gar Robinson, Felipe Fraga, Josh Burdon and Glenn van Berio, struck less than three hours into the proceedings. That opened the door for the No. 17 AWA Duqueine, guided by drivers Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone, Thomas Merrill and Anthony Mantella, to claim the class win. It was the first time the Riley car hadn’t won the LMP3 Class since it was introduced to the event in 2021.
A year ago, Robinson brought the entry home a full lap ahead of the field and by comparison, that was a white-knuckle finish as the No. 17 paced the class by 11 laps this year.
The other three classes were a bit more competitive. That was especially true in LMP2, where James Allen in the No. 55 Proton Competition Oreca nipped Ben Hanley in the No. 04 with a move to the high side at the line by 0.016 seconds.
The GTD Class, which allowed for silver- and bronze-level drivers as well as platinum and gold, was won by No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin and with a 16th-place finish overall, beat all of the GT3-spec contingent. Marco Sorensen brought it home over the final run.
Finally, the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes emerged the winner among the GTD Pros, outpacing the No. 3 Corvette by 3.9 seconds. Moro Engel was behind the wheel for the final stint.
Bonus takeaway: Warm, pleasant weather greets teams, fans
While the mercury didn’t dip quite like it did last year during rainy, frigid conditions, Saturday – particularly the nighttime hours — was moderate at most, cool at least.
But as Sunday morning dawned, warm conditions finally prevailed with temperatures approaching 80 degrees.
Warmer weather, warmer track, and as the event crept closer to its early-afternoon conclusion, tire wear, especially with double-stinting necessary due to fewer sets, became even more important. It also seemed to feed into the short-run speed of the No. 60 which consistently pulled away on restarts and held off the field.
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Rolex 24 at Daytona race: Acura gets 1-2 sweep, third straight win