A bucket of firsts, twice-around-the-clock excitement in three of the four classes and some breakthrough performances are what have already transformed this year’s Rolex Daytona 24hrs into a classic and the perfect way to remember that, precisely half a century ago, Daytona hosted its first 24-hour race.

It was no coincidence, then, that Ford decided to bring their new GT racing car to Daytona for its international debut, although few expected the going to be as rough as it proved to be for the two Ganassi-run GT-LM entries. At the complete other end of the spectrum, with a clean and trouble-free race, Scott Sharp’s Extreme Speed Motorsport has scored a historical first win for an LMP2 car at Daytona – the first win for an ACO prototype since 2002.

It’s also the Ligier’s most important international victory and, arguably, the biggest win in the team’s six-year history. And, all of it would not have been possible without the massive aid of Pipo Derani – the young Brazilian hot-shoe that proved instrumental in the Patron-liveried car crossing the line in P1.

While the Le Mans Prototype Challenge (LMPC) cars were marred by issues across the board, the most important thing that needs to be put into perspective is the lack of overall pace displayed by these aging cars. The mere fact that the class winner was 20 laps behind the GT-LM Corvettes is one thing, but the fact that the ORECAs were also the slowest of all 54 starters is just as worrying.

Then there’s the GT-Daytona category that’s embraced the GT3 platform for 2016, and the 22-car strong grid proves IMSA right in its choice. Indeed, some pointed a finger toward Lamborghini’s massive top-end speed that is rumored to have been quicker than even the GT-LM cars but, at the end of the day, the Top 7 was comprised of seven different manufacturers. And, at least half of those could have won, given how tight it was at the end.

In a day and age where reliability is part of the status quo, to see two Corvettes battling it out for supremacy bumper-to-bumper after 24 hours of racing may not be that surprising. The fact that veterans Antonio Garcia and Oliver Gavin were given the green light to goose it out like they did is. Porsche was in close vicinity but the woes that sent out car #911 meant that only #912 was left standing and it was no match at the end for the two C7-Rs. Of the 100% brand-new cars, the Corvettes and Porsches being were new iterations based upon older designs, the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 came home fourth and BMW’s IMSA-only M6 GTLM scored fifth.

Continue reading for the full story.

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Going back to the top category, 13 P-class cars took the flag, four of which did not make it to the end, but there are encouraging stories to be told about most entries. Seven DP cars took what was their last start in the 24-hour-long race but, for the first time since the inception of the series, fell short of victory.

Ganassi brought their trusty, Riley-built, Ford-engined, DPs for the last time. One for a stellar lineup made up of young up-and-coming Lance Stroll, whose father’s suitcase was heavy enough to ensure he’d get to run his first race at Daytona at the age of 17, Alex Wurz, on a one-time-only return from retirement, Andy Priaulx and 2015 Le Mans winner Brendon Hartley. The other, number 02, was entered for last year’s winners, but they had no luck. Kyle Larson stuffed the car in the tire wall on the infield after his brakes gave up, leading to a 13th overall finish. The #01, on the other hand, finished 5th, but it never looked like a contender for the overall win.

There was also a third Riley chassis, which was the traditional Highway to Help car. This entry managed to avoid retirement and came home 8th in class and 36th overall. It was a far cry from pervious performances achieved by some of the veterans that made up this lineup – Jim Pace won the race overall in 1996.

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Four Corvette DPs took the start, two of which found themselves on the overall podium. It was, once over, a what-could-have-been story for Wayne Taylor who watched in disbelief as his son, Jordan Taylor, drastically slowed down in the last 60 minutes due to a vibration in the rear coupled with the fact that fumes were finding their way into the cockpit which forced Jordan out of the car. Angelelli stepped in at the final stop to nurse the car home and he too was sick after finishing the race. It was the third time in the last four years that WTR has finished 2nd, but this year their job was made that much more complicated by the P2s which were finally on pace or, at times, even quicker than the DPs.

Defending champions Action Express Racing had a tough race. For starters, the #31 Whelen-sponsored entry was hampered down by a fire at a pitstop during the night and then by driveline issues. The #5 was also taken out of contention by mechanical issues, due to the need to replace a halfshaft on Sunday. This meant that Scott Pruett’s hopes of a 6th overall win went up in smoke – all after a great fight between Christian Fittpaldi and Pipo Derani which proved that the LMP2 Ligier had the upper hand.

Michael Shank’s run of bad luck does not seem to be over just yet after what we’ve witnessed at Daytona. The car retired with engine failure in the 10th hour but up until that point it showed amazing pace, especially in the hands of Olivier Pla who, while behind the wheel, was consistently quicker than anyone else on the track by as much as two seconds.

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The switch to petrol-powered engines seems to have helped Mazda gain a lot of speed, but reliability woes took both #55 and #70 out of the running. One had an engine failure while the other was stricken by issues with the engine’s flywheel. But, Johnathan Bomarito did manage to keep the car among the first five overall in the first six hours, which makes the Speedsource squad hopeful for the rest of the season.

VisitFlorida.com Racing scored 3rd overall after a quiet race. An ECU problem that came late in the running could have ruined the run for the #90, but the blue Corvette managed to get to the flag regardless in what is the best finish for the team at Daytona.

The DeltaWing was one of the surprises of the race. The Elan-powered prototype led the race on pace three times, Katherine Legge running brilliantly in the #0 which was, according to rival teams, the quickest car on the straights. All of that came crumpling down for the team after only five hours when Andy Meyrick ploughed in the back of Alex Popow’s stationary LMPC car. The #8 had stopped minutes earlier on the middle of the road in T1, a hazard which was avoided by other drivers but not Meyrick who could not hear, or was simply oblivious.

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As I want to end the part regarding the Prototypes the same way I’ve started it off, I’ll add to the mix the fact that this was the first ever win for a Honda-engined car at Daytona, and the first win for team owner Scott Sharp at the 24-hour in 20 years.

LMPC was the only class that didn’t provide a true fight until the end, although JDC Miller did have a shaky run, they managed to maintain a four-lap lead until the checkered flag. The gap was twice as much during the night, but a crash slowed the yellow #85 down. Second came to PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport, the team rebounding after early issues with a fuel pump. BAR1 Motorsport came 3rd in class, albeit only 29th overall. The result goes to show that the scheduled power boost that will be given to the LMPC cars at Sebring is necessary since the spec class suffered from lack of top end speed, which made lapping cars basically impossible on the banking.

GT-LMprovided some of the best battles of the whole race, the class boosting mostly new cars. The two Fords, three Ferraris, and two BMWs made their debuts here which would play its part in the end result as updated cars prevailed ahead of the brand-new ones.

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Ford’s new cars had the most problems of the newcomers but both the #66 and #67 reached the finish line and, on the upside, were very quick when they ran clean. Ferrari’s turbo’ed racers fought at the sharp end of the field until problems struck two of the three 488s. The surviving Scuderia Corsa machine finished fourth, but the team will only take part in NAEC rounds, leaving Risi to tackle the full season on its own.

BMW’s M6 GTLM was given a fancy livery for the race, but one of the two cars was taken out by a brake failure. The other managed to finish 5th, but the car never had the speed to challenge for a win – something that might be addressed in future BoP changes that could hit Corvette’s top end speed.

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Since I’ve mentioned Corvette, the two factory-entered C7.Rs ran faultless the whole way through. Both cars stayed in contention and jumped ahead when it mattered: at the very end. The Prat-and-Miller-built GTs were helped by straight line speed which, in turn, meant slower cornering speed for the #3 and the #4. This did not matter in the end as Corvette signed a great 1-2 to start the season, 15 years after the C5.R scored a historical overall victory at the same venue.

Porsche came to Daytona very hopeful after finishing 2015 on a high, with an overall victory at Petit Le Mans. Indeed, Nick Tandy posted the fastest overall lap during Thursday’s wet qualifying session, but the Briton’s dream of a perfect start to this season were dashed after engine problems hit the 991 GT3 RSR with five hours left to run. The surviving Porsche took up the fight with the Corvettes, emerging out in front after the last pitstops, but Gavin found a way through, muscling his way past Earl Bamber in the Western Horseshoe with less than an hour to go – Garcia following suit minutes later. Given the result, it was to be expected that Porsche would complain about the lack of top speed, but we should not forget that Daytona is a track like no other and the order we had here may not repeat at other tracks.

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The GT-D fight for victory came down to fuel usage – Konrad’s Lamborghini needing a late splash while Magnus’ Audi did not. Rene Rast was an instrumental part of the American squad’s victory which came despite the fact that the five Huracans were the quickest cars of the pack.

Two of these cars were basically taken out of the fight during the night leaving only Konrad Motorsport’s #28 fighting for scraps at the end. Babini did his best to reel down Rene Rast, and he had a 10-second lead with a ten minutes to go, but the veteran Italian ran out of fuel which gave the lead back to Rast who, mercifully for Potter’s squad, ran out of fuel after the end of the race.

Behind Magnus came the Black Swan Racing Porsche, with Nick Catsburg proving to be a very safe and fast pair of hands even away from a Lambo or a BMW. Third came the way of Ben Keating’s Riley Viper #93 which had a smooth run. The podium could have looked different, had Shane Van Gisbergen not encountered problems with his rear wing, leading to late-race pitstops that took the #22 out of contention.

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BMW’s #97 Turner Motorsport M6 GT3 finished 6th in its debut race, with Markus Palttala admitting that they were down on top end speed by over 10 mph. Ferrari’s best effort was that of Scuderia Corsa that came home 7th overall, a disappointing result considering that it had fought for the lead up until the 12th hour when the 458 was punted off from behind.

It’s hard to sum up what was truly an amazing Daytona 24hrs race. If anything, it proved that sports car racing is far from being dead and, providing next year’s switch to the new LMP2/DPi platform is not a flop, it will stay alive for quite a few years to come. For the moment, the BoP seems just about right across the board, but what needs to be addressed are the top speeds in all the classes. The GT-D and GT-LM cars were far too close on the straights. This made passing a very tricky job for the GT-LM drivers that had to rely solely on cornering speed and braking to get by. That and Nascar-style drafting. There needs to be a much bigger speed gap between classes for things to get back to normal, and for the LMPC cars to manage to actually pass some cars in the race.

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