DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—The 52nd Rolex 24 at Daytona in not yet half over. Sixty-four of the 67 starters have been racing in the dark for five hours and have another six hours of darkness ahead. Already the leaders have covered 295 laps of Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56-mile road course.
The attrition hasn’t really started yet; only three cars have retired with mechanical troubles. The #62 Risi Ferrari and the #99 Gainsco Riley-Corvette were involved in a brutal accident just before sunset, and the #46 Fall-Line Motorsports Audi R8 LMS broke a driveshaft after only 17 minutes of racing. The rest are either on track or in the pits being repaired and are about to rejoin.
Already half-a-dozen different cars have led the race, and several different cars have led each class. It is impossible to predict a winner or eben a favorite in any of the four classes.
Action Express has run up front for most of the race. The #5 Action Express Coyote-Corvette has led through much of the night; the #5 and #9 ran one-two for several hours. After 11 hours of racing Joao Barbosa was at the wheel of the #5 and leading the race still.
Five-time winners Scott Dixon’s #01 Telcel-Ganassi Riley-Ford ended up in the garage with damage at 12:30, loser in an encounter with the wall; no sixth win for him this year. His teammate Scott Dixon in the #02 Ganassi car carried to team’s banner ably, chasing hard after race leader Joao Barbosa less than a second ahead of him.
Oz Negri in the #60 Michael Shank Racing Riley-Ford ran third, another five seconds back.
After eleven hours, six cars remained on the lead lap—all Daytona Prototypes, but not all Corvette DPs. The Corvette-powered Daytona Prototypes dominated practice, but the Ford EcoBoost engineers seem to have fixed the motor’s reliability issue, as Ford-powered cars ran second and third—and fourth, until Pruett hit a wall.
The Oak Racing Morgan-Nissan was quick for the first several hours, then dropped back, while the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing Oreca-Nissan moved up to be the quickest P2 car, in seventh overall and two laps back.
GT Le Mans
The GT Le Mans cars showed surprising pace, with the top five in class running eighth through tenth overall, ahead of the LMPC leaders.
The battles between the GT cars have been as constant and as intense as is usual for the class.
The SRT Vipers led the class through the first several hours; then Porsche and Corvette moved to the fore. POatrick pilet in the #911 Porsche North America 911 RSR led Michael Christiansen in the sister #912 car with Antonio Garcia in the #3 Corvette C7.R a couple of seconds back.
The two BMWs have moved into fourth and fifth in class despite not having the top speed of the competition.
PC and GT Daytona
In LMPC the three-time class champion #54 Core Autosport Oreca driven by Mark Wilkins led by a lap, followed by Mike Marsal in the 8Star and and Kyle Marcelli in the Starworks entries.
GTD has also featured race-long battles for position, with Audi, Porsche, and Ferrari taking turns leading the class.
After 11 hours, Alessandro Balzan in the #63 Scuderia Corse Ferrari had a few seconds lead over Kuba Giermaziak in the #30 NGT-Momo Porsche, with Madison Snow in the #58 Snow Racing Porsche a dozen seconds further back.
There is a lot of racing left in the Rolex 24. It will be six hours until dawn,and then another eight hours of racing in the daylight. The leaders have more than a thousand miles left to drive. Everything that holds true now could be reversed by the end—the fastest could be slow, the slowest could be winning. The strongest could break, and the broken could be repaired and fight forward to take the lead.
This is endurance racing at its finest. TUSC has so far succeeded tremendously in kicking off a new and better era of sports car racing in North America, and in restoring the Rolex 24 to the prominence it once enjoyed.