Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud led the field as the clock ticked past the halfway mark in the 61st Rolex 24 Hours, with the AXR Cadillac of Alexander Sims, the WTR Acura and the #6 Porsche in hot pursuit.
Following the fifth yellow flag, at the end of the ninth hour, Renger van der Zande in the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh sprinted away but Jack Aitken in the #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac got ahead of Richard Westbrook in the #02 Ganassi machine, and in fact Mathieu Jaminet in the #6 Porsche 963 and Tom Blomqvist in the Meyer Shank Racing Acura ARX-06 also demoted Westbrook to fifth. Westbrook then had to fight off Ricky Taylor’s Wayne Taylor Racing Acura.
Blomqvist blasted past Jaminet down to Turn 1 on the next lap, and kept pushing hard to zap past Aitken, carrying so much momentum out of the Bus Stop chicane that he was able to haul in the Whelen Engineering sponsored Caddy to grab second. In fact, Aitken would lose out to Jaminet too, and drop to fourth, just ahead of Taylor who had demoted Westbrook.
Up front, Blomqvist wasn’t losing momentum and on Lap 298 he got past van der Zande – who wisely didn’t put up a huge fight on worn tires – and then he also lost out to Jaminet. Fifteen minutes later, van der Zande was down to fourth behind Aitken. Taylor had to serve a drive through for leaving his previous pitstop with pit equipment still attached.
The sixth yellow followed less than 30mins later prompting a rash of stops but in anticipation of that yellow, Meyer Shank pitted its car and installed Colin Braun, with Aitken and van der Zande also stopping. Once the yellow flew and the pits opened, Braun re-pitted leaving Aitken and van der Zande up front, with Jaminet and Westbrook pitting the #6 Porsche and #02 Cadillac respectively.
Thanks to the yellow, the top seven were now on the same lap, and at the drop of the green after 10hr50mins, Braun wasted no time in demoting van der Zande and two laps later Jaminet’s Porsche also got around the #01 Caddy.
Just past the 11th hour, Taylor – recovering from that penalty – got past Westbrook and into fifth place, and as sprinkles of rain hit the track, Taylor also displaced van der Zande’s Cadillac. Westbrook then spun, and dropped to seventh, half a minute behind Augusto Farfus’s BMW, and a minute behind leader Aitken.
Fifteen minutes before the completion of the 11th hour, the AXR Cadillac and the #01 Ganassi Cadillac pitted, Alex Sims not taking on new tires on the AXR car, while Scott Dixon took over the #01 from van der Zande but departed before the pit equipment was detached and incurred a drive-through penalty..
Next time by, Jaminet, Taylor and Farfus stopped – Jaminet handing off the #6 Porsche to Dane Cameron, Taylor ceding his ride to Louis Deletraz – while Braun went a lap longer. The upshot of all these pitstops was that Sims’ Cadillac led by nine seconds ahead of Braun’s MSR Acura, with Cameron in third, Deletraz fourth, followed by Farfus, Dixon and Earl Bamber who was back in the #02 CGR Cadillac.
Just before the end of the 11th hour, Braun moved the MSR Acura back into the lead ahead of Sims. By this time, Cameron was 25sec adrift and starting to get pressure from Deletraz.
Ten minutes into the 12th hour, Dixon passed Farfus’s BMW for fifth in the #01 Cadillac, and soon after, Deletraz pushed the Wayne Taylor Racing Acura into third ahead of Cameron’s Porsche.
By the time Sims pitted from second for fuel and fresh tires, with 11hr20min gone, the AXR car had lost 18sec to leader Braun and he re-emerged sixth. Dixon stopped next time by and came out seventh, with Cameron pitting two laps after that.
Deletraz pitted from second while 40sec behind leader Braun, with Farfus and Bamber (fuel only) following him in. Farfus handed the wheel of the BMW to Marco Wittmann.
Braun was the last of the leaders to stop, Braun handing off the MSR Acura to 2016 IndyCar champion and defending Rolex 24 winner Simon Pagenaud. When Pagenaud was up to speed, he had a 16.5sec lead over Sims’ AXR Caddy, with Deletraz a further 23sec down, and Cameron 11sec further back. Then Pagenaud started stretching his lead over Sims
Alex Quinn’s PR1 Mathiasen Motorsport entry had little problem holding off Josh Pierson’s TDS Racing car at the start of the tenth hour, while Pierson dropped Gianmaria Bruni in the Proton Competition in a similar manner, this trio dropping Julien Canal’s AF Corse car.
TDS stopped Pierson before the sixth yellow so he assumed the lead, while under yellow Nicolas Lapierre took over the PR1M car ahead of Canal, Bruni and Ben Hanley of Crowdstrike APR.
At the restart, Lapierre took less than two laps to get around Pierson, while Hanley got around Canal, who then also lost out to Bruni. Hanley’s pursuit of Lapierre also took him past young Pierson to claim second.
Following the next round of stops, Lapierre held a half-minute lead over James Allen in the Proton car, with Francois Perrodo the same distance behind in the AF Corse machine, Devlin DeFrancesco fourth for Rick Ware Racing and Pierson fifth in the TDS car. Once Giedo van der Garde got back in the TDS machine, and Eric Lux replaced DeFrancesco, this latter pair changed places. Van der Garde maintained his momentum and passed Perrodo for third, early into the 12th hour, and he was pursued by Esteban Gutierrez in the Crowdstrike APR car. Van der Garde’s pursuit of the #55 car of Allen was aided by the Proton driver getting a drive-through penalty for failure to adhere minimum refueling time, while Gutierrez pitted, elevating Nicklas Nielsen’s AF Corse car to fourth.
Just before the halfway mark, the leading PR1M car endured a long stop, allowing Allen into the class lead, but staying 13sec clear of Nielsen.
Nico Pino in the Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier held off Nick Boulle’s FastMD Racing Duqueine, with Sebastian Alvarez a minute off the lead in the MRS GT-Racing. During the sixth yellow, Pino stayed up front but Nico Varrone was up to second in the AWA car ahead of Alvarez, and Jarett Andretti in the Andretti Autosport machine. Andretti displaced Alvarez for third just past the start of the 11th hour.
Varrone passed Pino for the lead but couldn’t pull away.
After the next round of stops, IMSA legend Joao Barbosa was into the lead for Creech, chased by Thomas Merrill of AWA and Andretti third. Alvarez had two offs on his out lap and fell to 70sec behind Barbosa.
Just before the halfway mark, the MRS GT car caught fire at the rear end, bringing out the seventh caution.
GTD Pro and GTD
After the fifth full course yellow, there were GTD Pro cars filling the top four places in the two GT3 categories, Jack Hawksworth’s Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F chased by Daniel Juncadella in the WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3, Antonio Garcia’s Corvette Racing C8.R and Alex Riberas’ Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage.
Behind them were Philip Ellis in the Winward Racing Mercedes, Frederik Schandorff’s Inception Racing McLaren 720S, Mike Skeen’s Team Korthoff’s Mercedes, Kyle Marcelli’s Racers Edge Acura NSX and Frankie Montecalvo’s Lexus.
The sixth yellow, caused by the the JDC Miller MotorSports LMP3 car stopping at Turn 1, most of the field pitted but Schandorff did not and took the lead of GTD (and the GT3 field overall) in the McLaren, with Taylor assuming the GTD Pro lead ahead of archrival Riberas’ Aston. Ward was second in GTD ahead of Ashton Harrison now in the Racers Edge Acura, Kenton Koch in the Team Korthoff Mercedes, and the two Lexus RC Fs of Mike Conway (#14 GTD Pro) and Montecalvo.
At the restart, Koch poked ahead of Riberas to give Taylor a handy GTD buffer back to the HoR Aston Martin, while the Magnus Racing Aston of Nicky Thiim was up to third in GTD, ahead of Conway and Jordan Pepper’s Iron Lynx Lamborghini Huracan. Winward’s Ward stayed ahead of Darren Turner’s GTD HoR Aston, and Montecalvo and Harrison. Pepper would soon drop back behind Ward and Turner, while Riberas displaced Koch and closed on Taylor, as the track started to get spattered with drizzle.
Turner then slipped ahead of Ward into fourth in GTD class, just as Riberas claimed the lead of GTD Pro from Taylor. Not long after, Taylor suddenly slowed with an apparent puncture and had to hobble to the pits, emerging sixth in class. He would soon be pitting again, and according to IMSA Radio, it was because of brake damage incurred while limping to the pits, necessitating a change of rear rotors and calipers.
The next round of stops saw Marvin Kirchhofer taken over the Inception McLaren at the head of the field, ahead of Ross Gunn who was now in the Heart of Racing GTD Pro Aston, while Koch held down second in GTD ahead of Andy Lally (Magnus), Turner’s GTD HoR Aston, and Daniel Morad who had taken up the cudgels for Winward. Maro Engel was third in GTD Pro in the WeatherTech Mercedes. Next up came Aaron Telitz’s Lexus RC F and Romain Grosjean fourth in GTD Pro in the Iron Lynx Lamborghini.
Following the next round of stops, the GTD Pro HoR Aston led the GT3 class with Gunn at the wheel, while Maxi Goetz in the Team Korthoff Mercedes led ahead of Kirchhofer’s McLaren, Sorensen in the GTD Aston, and Morad in the Winward Mercedes. Maro Engel then ran second in GTD Pro, 15sec behind Gunn, and only four seconds ahead of Ben Barnicoat’s #14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus, the pair split by Andy Lally of Magnus.