The 59th Running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona kicked off mid-afternoon on Saturday. The race began with a lot of aggressive driving and several caution periods in the first couple hours before finding a rhythm later on. The leads in several classes continue to be hotly contested as the race rolls on. Here’s a brief recap of the first six hours…
Felipe Nasr led the field to the start in the DPi #31 Cadillac, but the first incident of the race occurred before everyone was able to take the green flag. At the start, the GTLM #79 Porsche was hit from behind by one of the BMW’s and spun, suffering some rear end damage. The damage was severe enough that the rear end fell off within the first ten minutes of the race, bringing out the first full-course yellow of the race.
The #25 BMW of Bruno Spengler served a penalty for the incident
— Motorsports on NBC (@MotorsportsNBC) January 30, 2021
The #4 Corvette, also in the GTLM class, reportedly had a shifting issue, forcing Tommy Milner out of the lead and handing it to his teammate Antonio Garcia in the #3 Corvette. The GTLM class had the tightest battle for the lead in the first hour as the #62 Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi followed closely behind Garcia, putting on the pressure.
In GTD, the #44 Acura driven by John Potter suffered a right rear tire failure.
The #12 Lexus in the GTD class, driven by Frankie Montecalvo, was among the leaders for much of the first hour but a long pit stop forced the team back to 19th, last in class at the start of the 2nd hour. The team had been working under the hood after trouble changing the tires.
The #81 of Rob Hodes in the LMP2 class locked up the brakes into Turn 1, turned wide and off course and made contact with the guardrail. While coasting all the way around the track, he did bring out the 2nd full-course caution of the event.
7-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson ended his first stint in the #48 ALLY Cadillac, handing the ride over to 2016 IndyCar champion and 2019 Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud. While they’re teammates in the Rolex 24, they’ll be rivals in the 2021 IndyCar season as Pagenaud races for Team Penske while Johnson will drive for Chip Ganassi Racing.
The #4 Corvette of Milner returned to the lead of the GTLM class at the restart of the race. Meanwhile, the overall lead in the DPi class changed as Renger van der Zande in the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac passed the #31 of Felipe Nasr. The #01 Ganassi prototype entry makes their return for the first time in several years, having won 6-times overall previously.
At the end of the 2nd hour, the #29 LMP2 car driven by Fris van Eerd wrecked near the Bus Stop portion of the course, bringing out the 3rd caution of the day.
The first half of the 3rd hour was relatively calm compared to the first two hours, but that changed when the #62 Ferrari, driven by James Calado, made a move on the #38 LMP3 entry of Cameron Cassels in the Bus Stop and caused a crash.
Multi-class racing. Multi-class crash.
— Motorsports on NBC (@MotorsportsNBC) January 30, 2021
During the caution period, both the #31 and #48 cars, which have a lot of NASCAR eyes watching them due to Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson, respectively, had to make emergency stops to top off of fuel. Elliott hopped into the #31 Cadillac for his IMSA debut, but much farther behind in the pack than where Nasr ran.
Another NASCAR driver, Austin Dillon, hit the track in the #51 LMP2 car fielded by Rick Ware Racing. RWR is a team that has fielded cars in the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, and now the Rolex 24 in the past year.
The #91 LMP3 driven by Jim Cox went for a spin cycle near the Bus Stop, but continued on without bringing out a caution.
Former Haas F1 driver Kevin Magnussen took the reigns of the #01 Ganassi Cadillac and drove back up to 2nd around Ricky Taylor, who returned to his family’s #10 prototype team, which is now an Acura. However, Tristan Vautier, piloting the #5 Cadillac, held a 13-15 second lead for much of the hour.
During the GT cycle of pit stops, the #96 Turner Motorsport entry came in to pit with Bill Auberlen, who holds the record for most IMSA wins all-time, switching out for Aidan Reed. A scary moment occurred shortly after the driver change. Reed had attempted to leave pit road with the fuel hose still attached, splashing fuel on Auberlen and other crew members in the pits. Thankfully, the team reported via Twitter that everyone was fine.
WOW. A refueling and timing issue for BMW?
— Motorsports on NBC (@MotorsportsNBC) January 31, 2021
Update: James, who was on the fuel hose, is fine.
Bill will be ok as well.
— Turner Motorsport (@Turnermotrsport) January 31, 2021
Lance Willsey was leading the LMP3 class in the #33 but spun out with around 20 hours and 10 minutes remaining in the race. Willsey was able to keep moving soon after, but lost the lead to IndyCar driver Spencer Pigot.
Indy Dontje, running in the Winward Racing #57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 car, passed around the #14 Lexus for the GTD lead at the very end of the 4th hour. Kyle Kirkwood, along with Aaron Telitz and Oliver Gavin, had been leading a majority of the race up until this point.
While the #14 Lexus has been racing for the GTD lead throughout the race, the #12 Lexus has not had such luck. After a lengthy stop early in the race putting them several laps behind the pace, Robert Megennis spun in the Bus Stop before handing the car over to young IndyCar star Zach Veach.
At lot of teams took the opportunity to switch drivers during this period. In the overall leading DPi class, Sebastien Bourdais took over the leading #5 Cadillac and defending IndyCar champ Scott Dixon climbed into the #01 for Ganassi. Over 20 seconds behind the two leaders were the 48 of Mike Rockenfeller and the 10 of Helio Castroneves.
The battle for the GTD lead was also highly contested between Russell Ward in the #57 Mercedes and Charlie Eastwood in the #97 Aston Martin. Eastwood won out the battle initially, taking the position in Turn 1 amidst heavy traffic. Klaus Bachler in the #16 Porsche was running 3rd right behind the battle but quickly went by both Ward and Eastwood to take the lead himself.
Dixon closed in on Bourdais and was challenging for the lead, until Bourdais gave up the lead to make a scheduled pit stop.
Zach Veach took the #12 Lexus to the garage, furthering the unfortunate events for the Vasser Sullivan entry early in the first quarter of the race. Another GTD car with an issue early was the #19 of Albert Costa who ran out of fuel and had to be pushed on pit road by the GRT Grasser Racing Team crew.
GTLM leader Alexander Sims in the #4 Corvette had a moment when he lost control and went off course heading into a corner, but did not lose the lead. The two Corvette’s have been dominating the event at this point. Initially had a challenge from the #62 Ferrari until the 3rd hour, but since then it has been all Corvette’s in the GTLM class. In the 6th hour, they were racing each other for the lead, with the gap between them under a second.
The race has steadily calmed down compared to the first few hours of the race. Likely, the teams have found a rhythm as they keep ticking laps as the clock keeps ticking. Bourdais returned to the lead after a series of pit stops with a much larger gap over Dixon, though that gap steadily shrunk over time. However, not enough for Bourdais’ lead to be in jeopardy at this point.
The #31 Cadillac, which sat on the pole, driven by Pipo Derani got lapped by Bourdais. Chase Elliott told NBC Sports after he finished his stint in the #31 that he did not run as well as he wanted to and potentially damaged the undertray of the car by driving over the curbs in the turns too frequently.
6 hours down, 18 to go.
— Tom Bailey (@TomBaileyScoop) January 31, 2021