IMSA Continental Tire BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona International Speedway
Cassels and Hindman (Porsche Cayman GT4) win overall; Multimatic Mustang dominant but finishes fifth
January 27, 2017: The Multimatic Mustang should have been the winner here at Daytona but a series of misfortunes during the four-hour race saw them finish back in fifth place, albeit on the lead lap.
This year the IMSA support series, the Continental Tire Challenge, has seen an increased entry in its top class, the GS class. This is probably the result of IMSA's decision to adopt the FIA's GT4 rules for the cars in this series rather than writing their own slightly different regulations. At Daytona there were 21 GS entries. As was the case last year there were Mustangs, Caymans and Aston Martins – but with a lot more Caymans and three Aston Martins – and there were no fewer than six McLaren GT4s, making a total of 21 GS cars. Another 21 of the slower ST class cars filled out the field. The augmented entry of GS cars augers well for an exciting season of competition to come.
Scott Maxwell just failed to put the Multimatic No. 15 Mustang on the pole. Dean Martin in the only other Mustang entry beat him out by 0.034 seconds. But in the race, Maxwell took the lead immediately while the Martin Mustang had trouble early on and it fell from contention. After that, Maxwell and his co-driver Jade Burford, a former co-driver, demonstrated that they had the winning speed but sometimes it takes more than just speed to win a race – and that was true here this day.
By the way, last year Maxwell's co-driver was Billy Johnson and together they won the series driver's championship. This year Johnson has been promoted by the FIA to their highest category of sports car driver – Platinum – and as such he is not allowed to compete in this IMSA support series., hence the new co-driver for Maxwell.
In the end, Trent Hindman and Cameron Cassells in their Porsche Cayman GT4 came home the winners with Caymans taking the next three places. They had been third in the championship standings last year. Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer were second and Russell Ward and Damien Faulkner were third. The highest-placed McLaren finished eighth. Ten cars finished on the lead lap. During the race there were five full-course caution periods and 25 lead changes among the GS cars.
At the start, Maxwell took the lead over Martin in the other Mustang and he soon established what was to be the fastest lap of the day – so it looked like he and his Mustang were the favourites to win the race. But that was not to be. A crash at the bus stop chicane on lap 19 brought out the first yellow. Maxwell came into the pits for fresh tires and fuel and a driver change but somehow this pit stop was so slow that Burford emerged from the pits in seventh place. Before long, Burford had caught up to the leading car, the No. 28 Cayman. He made a run at this car but he clipped him and failed to get past. A lap later he got by for the lead.
The second yellow flew on lap 38. Race leader Burford came in for fuel and tires and stayed in the car. This was another slow stop which saw him fall back and he took the restart in 14th place. Then he was called in for a stop-and-go penalty soon after for "too fast in the pit lane" on that pit stop under yellow – he fell over 30 seconds behind the leader but he did not lose any more positions because he was already at the back of all the GS cars still running competitively – and, given the long lap time on the Daytona road course, he was still on the lead lap. Now the question was, Would the Mustang's superior speed be enough to make us this big deficit with just over two of the race's four hours left to run?
In only a few laps Burford was back up into eighth place but then he came down pit lane under green with a flat tire and they replaced all four tires. Back to the rear of the GS class again. Now he was a lap down about two minutes off the pace of the race leader. Again he started to climb back up towards the front – and he was up to fifth, 25 seconds back, by lap 65 – 15 laps after his unfortunate pit stop.
When the next yellow flew on lap 70, Burford was up to fourth giving him a chance to close up on the three cars ahead of him before he came in to hand over to Maxwell. This time the pit stop went better and Maxwell came back out in eighth place under yellow. By the time the next yellow flew after just nine green-flag laps, Maxwell came into the pits for tires in second place. Hindman took the lead out of the pits but the race officials ruled that he had not blended in properly and that he should have been behind Maxwell and they corrected the order. So, now Maxwell was back up in the lead for the restart and it looked like he still had the fastest car. He pulled out a big lead over Hindman almost immediately.
But Maxwell was destined to not win this race. They called him into the pits for another stop-and-go penalty for the Mustang – this time because he had allowed his rear wheels to spin while the car was up on the jacks. This dropped him back to eighth again, nearly 30 seconds back from the leader, with less than 20 minutes to go to the checker. But he managed to close up to finish less than two seconds behind and in fifth place.
So Maxwell and Burford may have lost the battle here at Daytona but they demonstrated enough speed in the new GT4 Mustang to make them favourites to win the season's championship again this year. That is, if the IMSA officials don't hit them with BoP adjustments that neuter the car and let others dominate in future races.
The next round of the IMSA Continental Tire series is a two-hour race at Sebring, Florida on March 17th in conjunction with the traditional 12-Hours of Sebring.
IMSA WeatherTech Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway
Taylor Racing Cadillac takes controversial win; Ford GT squeaks out a win in GTLM
January 28-29, 2017: The two-month off-season came to end this weekend with the running of the traditional Daytona 24-hour race at Daytona. After all that time off from racing, it was shock to the system to binge watch this race for 24-hours non-stop. In truth, few ever stay away and alert for the whole marathon but, even with taking big breaks, this race is a grind. While it is running, every little development seems important. Each hour or so is like a normal sprint race –only there are 24 of them one after the other.
Endurance racing is a bit of an acquired taste, especially so when the order gets sorted out early and the race grinds down to its finish with the leader laps ahead of the opposition. This time it was different. Going into the final hour there were three cars on the lead lap, all in contention for the win – the No. 5 Cadillac DPi of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, and Filipe Albuquerque, the No. 10 Cadillac DPi of Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor, Max Angelelli, and Jeff Gordon and the No. 90 Multimatic/Riley of Marc Goossens, Renger Van Der Zande, and Rene Rast. The Gibson spec engine powered Multimatic/Riley did not quite have the pace of the two Cadillacs but we knew that there was going to be a battle for the win between those two at the front.
Meanwhile in the other class that was commanding our attention, GT Le Mans, there were seven cars still on the same lap with a hour to go. This class race had been billed as a shootout between the Ganassi Ford GTs (four of them were entered) and the two Corvettes which were defending their win here last year. But in addition to these top-of-the-bill teams there were strong entries from Ferrari and Porsche. At the front of this gaggle of seven "lead lap" cars came the No. 66 Ford GT of Dirk Mueller, Joey Hand, and Sebastien Bourdais (running in fifth place overall, albeit seven laps back from the overall race leader), the Risi Ferrari 488 GTE of Giancarlo Fisichella, James Calado, and Toni Vilander, the Porsche 911 RSR (a new mid-engine design for this year) of Patrick Pilet, Dirk Werner, and Frederic Makowiecki, and the Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, and Mike Rockenfeller. In that final hour these four would each fight for the lead with Mueller taking the win over Pilet in the Porsche by a margin of three seconds, the Ferrari on his tail and the Corvette coming home five seconds behind the race winner.
Given the close finish between these four makes in the 24-hour race, the prospects for good, close competitive racing in this GTLM class this year look good. This augers well for the prospects for good racing in the other three "endurance" races this season – Sebring 12-hour, Watkins Glen six-hours and the 10-hour Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
Cadillac returned to sports car racing this year with a new car built to the new DPi regulations. There were three entries and they qualified 1-2-4 for the race., the third Cadillac being the Whelen-sponsored car driven by Dane Cameron, Eric Curran and Michael Conway. This car was in contention in the early hours of the race but a series of misfortunes saw it fall back and it finished seven laps down.
The final caution flew on lap 643 with about half-an hour to go. The No. 5 Cadillac beat the No. 10 out of the pits and the No. 66 GTLM Ford GT driven by Mueller maintained its lead over the No. 911 Porsche. This caution eliminated any concerns about running out of fuel and everyone was able to run flat out to the finish.
In Prototype, Albuquerque defended his lead over Ricky Taylor and it looked like he was going to succeed. But then, with just six minutes to go, as Albuquerque and Taylor dove down off the banking into the infield section, Albuquerque went a bit wide and Taylor tried the pass. It was too little too late. The nose of Taylor's car was alongside the other car's left rear wheel and when Albuquerque swung over towards the apex they collided. Albuquerque spun but Taylor kept going to take the lead.
This incident reminded me of the infamous time when Dale Earnhardt pushed Terry Labonte aside at Bristol in a similar way to take the win there. The crowd booed Earnhardt but the trophy was his that day. In a similar way many expected that the race officials would penalize Taylor in the dying minutes to give the lead back to Albuquerque, but it was not to be. Taylor kept coming around in the lead and he took the checker for the win with a livid Albuquerque a mere 0.7 seconds behind him.
Despite the angst about the way Taylor had taken the lead, this win was a popular one. It was the first win for Wayne Taylor Racing. Wayne Taylor himself had won this race twice before but that was before he set up the Wayne Taylor Racing team – and it was the first Daytona 24-hour win for his two sons. This was the first Rolex watch for Angelelli for whom this was his final race ever and who had come second here eight times but he had never won here before. And it was a Daytona 24-hour win for NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon making him only the third driver – along with Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt – to have won both the Daytona 24-hour race and the NASCAR Daytona 500.
The less said about the vestigial Prototype Challenge (PC) class the better. This class is on its way out and none to soon. There were only five entries in this spec class but it seemed as if half the accidents involved one or other of these cars. Some of them were in multiple crashes – often bringing out the full-course-yellow.
By contrast the revised GT-Daytona class was well supported and saw lively racing with serious entries from a number of leading car makers. Scot Pruett was the headliner for a new racing effort from Lexus. Both cars were competitive until they both retired after crashing. Acura was another make new to this class with their new NSX model which showed early promise but both entries fell back with troubles. This GTD class had 27 entries that represented 10 different auto brands. In the end, the first one home in this class was the Porsche 911 GT3 R driven by Daniel Morad , Carlos de Quesada, and Jesse Lazare. Morad is a Toronto-based driver who won the Porsche North American Cup and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada in 2016. Lazare is a Montreal-based Porsche driver who also drove a McLaren in Friday's Continental Tire series race here.
The next round of the IMSA WeatherTech series is the 12-hour race at Sebring, Florida on March 18th.
Download the results:
IMSA Continental: ©2017, Jake Galstad LAT Photo/IMSA
IMSA WeatherTech: ©2017, Michael L. Levitt LAT Photo/IMSA