The race began with lots of questions- how would the new Penske Acuras do? Would Ganassi”s Ford GTs continue its domination of the event? Could Fernando Alonso finish on the podium?Will Wayne Taylor Racing be as strong as last year without Ricky?
The answers started coming in qualifying. Renger van der Zande put the Wayne Taylor Racing car on the pole on the last lap, nipping Helio Castroneves in the Penske Acura. The starting lineup set the tone for the Acura vs. Cadillac battle the next day. It was clear that the United Autosport car that Alonso drove was going to have a tough time moving to the podium. The Fords started 1-2 on the grid in GTLM and it was just a question of which one would win assuming both cars held together until the end.
This was the first Weather Tech Championship race without the PC class. Their absence may have been the reason there were fewer yellows this year. Last year, PC cars seemed to account for at least six of the full course cautions. This year, there were just three full course yellows. The caution periods were well spread out. While it was nice to have just a few yellows, it made the race a runaway in all three classes.
Early on the Prototype class was setting up to be a battle to the end between Team Penske and the Action Express Cadillacs. The teams swapped leads on pit stops for several hours. On track the Action Express cars looked a bit stronger. I could sense both teams were preparing their pit strategies for the last two hours well in advance. Just past the halfway point, the Number 6 Penske Acura, driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron, and Simon Pagenaud, went to the garage for a gearbox change. After that, the Number 7 drove to the paddock to repair damage from contact. Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, and Graham Rahal, who been the better of the team cars, effectively had their race ended at that point. Both cars came back to earn top 10 finishes.
The Penske troubles allowed the Action Express team to lap the field in virtually coasting to a 1-2 finish from there. It was Cadillac’s second straight win at Daytona.
The GTLM race was all Ford all the time. The question was would Ganassi allow them to fight each other for the win. A real battle never happened. The 67 car of Scot Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, and Richard Westbrook came home first, followed by the 66 of Joey Hand, Sebastien Bourdais, and Dirk Muller. The victory was the 200th win for the Ganassi organization. Ironically, Briscoe also won the 300th race for the Penske team.
In GTD, The Lamborghini Huracan driven by Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers, and Franck Perera won the Rolex watches. The number 86 Acura NSX, owned by Michael Shank and driven by Katherine Legge, Alvaro Parente, Trent Hindman, and A J Allmendinger, finished second.
Current Indycar drivers had mixed results. Scott Dixon won his class and Sebastien Bourdais finished second. Wayne Taylor Racing, where Ryan Hunter-Reay drove, had to retire the car after seven blown right rear tires destroyed the car’s floor. Spencer Pigot drove the Team Joest entry which dropped with mechanical issues. As mentioned earlier, the Penske drivers soldiered home near the back of the top ten.
I had a great time Friday night as IMS President Doug Boles came to our campsite to chat . He even persuaded Chip Wile, President of Daytona International Speedway, to join us for a bit. Boles mentioned several things I’m not sure are ready for publication, but he seemed optimistic that there might be bumping at Indy this year. Of course, nothing is true until it is in Indycar.
Fernandomania was every bit as strong at Daytona as it was at Indy last May. Crowds followed him everywhere. People reported sightings. I was in the paddock Sunday morning when his car pulled into the garage. Throngs appeared out of nowhere and followed the wounded racer into its stall. They were running after the car. From all accounts, Fernando was gracious and accommodating. McLaren announced today that Alonso would be participating in several rounds of the World Endurance Championship when there is no Formula 1 conflict. Now if he could just fit another Indianapolis 500 in there somehow.
With just three classes in IMSA, I think the color designation for GTLM should change. Currently both Prototypes and GTLM have red number squares. This could be confusing for new fans. The red was fine when there were two prototype classes, but a change might be appropriate now. Each class should have its own color.
A video board in the horseshoe would nice.
This was the largest crowd of the three years I have been attending this race. With the larger crowd and. it seemed, more vendors, parking seemed to be at a premium. I heard from some long time fans who were unhappy about limited access to places they used to be able to get to.
The Dan Gurney tribute at the beginning of the race was amazing. Gurney’s winning car from the inaugural 1962 Daytona Continental appeared at the front of the field just before the start and led the parade lap. It was a most fitting tribute to one of the greatest drivers of all time. I’m hoping for a similar salute before the 500.
A photo gallery will be posted in a few minutes. There are two many to put in this post. Enjoy them. Thanks to Vincent Anderson for the camera tips.