As the sun began to rise from the horizon, drivers’ tempers also may have risen. Penalties, mistakes, and aggressive battles for the lead highlighted the 13th-18th hours of the Rolex 24. Here are some of the highlights through those hours…
Mike Rockenfeller in the #48 Cadillac drove deep into the international horseshoe on the outside of leader #10 Filipe Albuquerque. Rockenfeller was unable to complete the pass when the two leaders split a GTD Lamborghini, but he kept the pressure on Albuquerque for the lead as the 2nd half of the 24 hour event began.
Alan Metni, driving the #42 Audi in the GTD class, spun around near the exit of the infield portion of the course and remained off the pace. The race remained green, but the Audi drove straight to the garage. On board replay showed that when entering the corner, the right front of the Audi made contact with the #11 LMP2 of Tristan Nunez, causing both to spin. Race stewards placed the blame on Metni for the incident.
Scott Dixon took over in the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing but sped on pit road well above the limit, likely hitting the gas way too early exiting pit road. A very rare mistake for the 6-time and defending IndyCar champion. The penalty cost the DPi Cadillac contenders severely, putting them in 5th place and over a minute behind the leading #10 Acura that Ricky Taylor had taken command of.
The #33 of Lance Willsey of the LMP3 class was stopped on track for a moment but kept going.
The seventh full-course yellow came out when the #52 of Mikkel Jensen in the LMP2 class spun into the tire barrier and stuck into the grass outside of pit exit, bunching up the field once more. Replay showed that at the point of the incident, the #38 LMP3 of Ayrton Ori was right beside the #52 and possibly played a role in the crash.
At the restart, Mike Rockenfeller (#48) and Felipe Nasr (#31) traded the lead but Rockenfeller won out after Nasr was blocked off into the grass by the lapped Mazda driven by Jonathan Bomarito. The #10 of Ricky Taylor lost the lead after the team opted to change their brake rotors during the caution.
The #6 LMP3 team received a 60-second penalty for working on the car while pit road was closed. #14 Lexus were given a similar penalty, but only a drive through, for working on the car in an unapproved area.
The #57 Mercedes-AMG in the GTD class had been holding off a hard-charging #21 Ferrari for a few hours and with multiple drivers. In the 15th hour, the gap has closed to the smallest it’s been in green-flag conditions since halfway point. The Ferrari, piloted by Nicklas Nielsen, traded the lead with Indy Dontje traded the lead multiple times before Nielsen pulled away with it.
GTD wasn’t the only class with a hotly contested lead battle. Mike Conway (#31), Scott Dixon (#01), and Ricky Taylor (#10) for some time were separated by under a second with Mike Rockenfeller (#48) not far behind. Scott Dixon had taken the lead away from Conway and not much later, Taylor passed the #31 for the 2nd position.
Once pit stops separated the lead battles, the race became relatively calm once more with the most intense battle being between the two Corvette’s who have continued to trade the lead and leave the rest of the GTLM class in their dust for the entire race. With that said, the #25 BMW and #62 Ferrari have managed to not only stay on the lead lap, but within striking distance should either of the two Corvette’s run into a problem. Much unlike LMP3 where the lead margin had been measured in laps, not seconds, for several hours at this point.
As the #10 Acura did not go through a driver change, Ricky Taylor cycled through the pit stops as the leader.
Unfortunately, a case of deja vu struck as Kevin Estre in the #79 Porsche spun around bringing out a caution. The first time happened at the start of the race, when Estre was hit from behind and lost his rear end which created a debris caution. This time, he spun through the Bus Stop and crashed through the grass signage which caused another debris caution, 15 hours after the first one.
On the restart, Renger van der Zande had the lead, but Kamui Kobayashi began his stint by moving from 4th to 2nd and challenging van der Zande for the lead. In GTLM. Kobayashi went to make a move on the inside in Turn 1 but made contact with the #01 of van der Zande and spun, falling to 5th.
In GTLM, a non-Corvette took the lead for the first time since early in the race. Connor De Phillippi took the lead in the #25 BMW. After pit stops cycled through, the #3 Corvette took back the lead from the BMW. Antonio Garcia didn’t hold the lead for long in the #3 as his Corvette teammate Tommy Millner drove by a couple laps later.
Two GTD’s crashed together heading into the Bus Stop. The #97 of Ben Keating, who had been running in both the LMP2 (in the #52) and GTD classes, and the #64 of Ted Giovanis, who received a penalty for responsibility. Both drivers kept going and did not bring out a caution.
The sun is up and the final third of the race begins. Jimmie Johnson returned to the track in the #48 after Kamui Kobayashi worked to make up ground from the spin earlier. Caution does halt the racing, which bunched up the field right in the middle of a pit stop cycle. The #52 LMP2 was the culprit once again, this time with Scott Huffaker behind the wheel. Huffaker spun the car in the infield portion of the course and stalled in the grass on the edge of the track.
Helio Castroneves (#10) led at the restart, ahead of Dane Cameron in the #60 Acura, a rare instance where Acura’s are 1-2 in this Rolex 24. In GTD, Kenny Habul in the #75 SunEnergy 1 Mercedes-AMG leads the way over the #16 Porsche of Jan Heylen. Both GTD teams had issues earlier in the race with spins and/or off course excursions.
Eventually, the #57 Mercedes-AMG of Maro Engel returned to lead the GTD class, powering through the #75 and #16. Ten minutes later, another familiar leader returned to the front, the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac with Renger van der Zande. The Ganassi DPi team had fallen behind the other main DPi competitors by having to pit during the caution, but van der Zande worked his way through to lead once more.
The GTD lead was challenged by the #21 Ferrari, as had happened frequently in the previous hours.
Maro Engel (#57) and Daniel Serra (#21) made contact racing for the lead. The right front of Engel’s Mercedes hit the left rear of Serra’s Ferrari entering Turn 1 and Engel got the position. The 21 of Serra continued to challenge for the lead by aiming for the outside of Turn 1 lap after lap, but could not find success.
After pit stops and some driver changes, Helio Castroneves went back to the lead in the #10 for Wayne Taylor Racing, a team looking for their 3rd straight Rolex 24 win, and 4th in the last 5 years. The #01 fell behind due to switching out drivers for Kevin Magnussen, making for a long enough pit stop to allow Castroneves to overtake them.
More driver changes but the #10 Acura kept the lead with Alexander Rossi behind the wheel. Jimmie Johnson got out of the car for what he told NBC Sports would be his final stint of the weekend. Simon Pagenaud took the reins in the 5th position.
Before the 18 hour mark finished up, the #21 of Daniel Serra passed Maro Engel for the GTD lead, for good measure.