The 2015 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona will go down in history as a classic, as Oliver Gavin beat team-mate Antonio Garcia by just 0.034 seconds at the flag, and Magnus Racing prevailed in a nail-biting GTD battle. Here’s what we learned.
1. Jonny Adam can hold his own with the best of them
For several years now, followers of the British GT championship have watched as Jonny Adam quietly but effectively plied his trade alongside Andrew Howard in the Beechdean Aston Martin, evolving into a well-rounded driver capable of winning races and championships. Aston Martin have recognised his progress too, and gave Adam an increased role in its World Endurance Championship setup once it became clear Stefan Mucke was leaving for Ford, but it was at Daytona where the Scotsman announced himself to the wider sportscar fraternity with an impressive showing for Action Express in the P class.
Having won the Sunoco Challenge in 2015, Adam would be going for outright honours alongside IndyCar racer Simon Pagenaud, Dane Cameron and Eric Curran in the no. 31 Daytona Prototype, but if he felt the pressure, it didn’t show. Adam held second for much of his first three-hour stint, comfortably holding off WEC champion Brendon Hartley in the Ganassi DP and the sister car of Christian Fittipaldi. After pit fire dropped them off the lead lap, Adam had got the car back to fourth and within striking distance of the leaders when a driveshaft failure undid all his hard work. His point proven, surely 2016 will be the year that Aston Martin will give Adam the chance to race at Le Mans…
2. Ford clearly has promise, but must be patient
The new Ford GT was the centre of attention throughout much of the pre-event build-up, and showed flashes of its potential in the race before both cars fell victim to transmission problems. An outright winner at Daytona in 2011, Joey Hand in the no. 66 exchanged the lead with polesitter Nick Tandy in the opening hours, while Ryan Briscoe’s 1:44.391 on Lap 46 remained the fastest lap set by a GT car until the dying minutes of the race, as Antonio Garcia stepped up his pursuit of Oliver Gavin.
There’s only so much that can be learned from testing, and while Daytona didn’t produce the dream debut many had been hoping for, the experience will have proven invaluable as Ford ramp up their preparations for Le Mans, 50 years on from their famous victory in 1966.
3. Lamborghini need to be pegged back
As ever, Balance of Performance was never far away from people’s lips, but in the GTD class they did at least have a point. Although Norbert Siedler topped a wet qualifying in the Park Place Motorsports Porsche, it proved to be a false dawn as the race threatened to become a Lamborghini Huracan benefit. So fast were the Italian cars around the banking that the GTLM cars were unable to keep up, with the GTD Audis and BMWs in particular little more than sitting ducks.
After a lengthy pitstop to fix electrical issues that dropped out of the running, the O’Gara Motorsport Lambo driven by Richard Antinucci set fastest lap after fastest lap, peaking with a 1:45.873 on Lap 520 – a full two seconds faster than the best time managed by the Turner Motorsport BMW M6, a 1:48.140 by Jesse Krohn.
O’Gara weren’t the only ones to make the most of the Lambo’s advantage – Spencer Pumpelly set a 1:46.226 in the Change Motorsport car, fractionally quicker than Fabio Babini’s 1:46.424 for Konrad Motorsport, while Mirko Bortolotti in the Paul Miller Racing entry managed a 1:46.520. In fact, the 11 fastest times in the GTD class were all set by Huracan drivers.
Lamborghini would have won at a canter had it not been for contact between the first and second placed cars of Bryce Miller and Justin Marks in the 11th hour, and came within a few laps of victory until Babini ran out of fuel.
A circuit unlike any on the calendar, Daytona has its own unique BOP, so IMSA should be wary of making a knee-jerk reaction, but must step in to ensure Lamborghini don’t run away with it again at Sebring.
4. Rast has the magic touch
Magnus Racing had no right to compete for GTD honours given the Audi R8 LMS’s top speed deficit to the Lamborghini Huracan and Porsche 911 GT3 R, but Rene Rast was making no excuses.
Ably assisted by Andy Lally and Marco Seefried, Rast extracted every last ounce of performance from the Audi on the infield to resist the challenge of several faster cars and hold the lead into the closing stages, but the German still had a mammoth task on his hands to make it to the finish without making another stop for fuel.
With the charging Nicky Catsburg looming large in his mirrors, Rast judged it to perfection, finishing the race on fumes to give Magnus a first victory at Daytona since 2012 and continue Audi’s remarkable record in long-distance enduros.
Can Rast make it double with Garth Tander and Steve McLaughlan at Bathurst this week? On current form, you certainly wouldn’t bet against it.
5. The ‘Queen of the Ring’ is human after all
All weekend there was a buzz surrounding Nordschleife expert Sabine Schmitz on her first appearance at Daytona with Frikadelli Racing, but the ever-popular Queen of the Ring wasn’t able to perform to her best.
Perhaps that was understandable; having missed the Roar with Top Gear filming commitments and limited dry running in practice due to rain, Schmitz admitted to a lack of confidence and it showed, lapping roughly four to five seconds off the car’s best time set by Porsche ace Sven Muller (incidentally the fastest non-Lamborghini driver) in her three stints.
At the very least she kept her nose clean and brought the car back in one piece, but watching on from home, Connor de Philippi – who was originally slated to drive after appearing for the team at the Roar – could be justifiably disappointed.