After Nick Tandy once again took advantage of atrocious conditions in qualifying to embarrass the prototypes in his GTLM Porsche, the 2015 Daytona 24 Hours was a race which never looked like running to type. But few could have predicted anything like what unfolded in the final hour as the GT classes stole the show, writes James Newbold.
0.034 seconds. That was the margin separating Corvette team-mates Oliver Gavin and Antonio Garcia after 24 long hours of breath-taking racing around the Daytona International Speedway, which had to be seen to be believed.
— Corvette Racing (@CorvetteRacing) January 31, 2016
Throughout much of the night and early morning, there was no telling who would come out on top as Corvette, Porsche, Ferrari and BMW all took turns in the lead. Like a great Poirot reveal, it was only after the final round of pitstops were completed in the final hour that all cards were laid on the table.
Garcia in the no. 3 C.7R was the last to pit, and emerged just behind the duelling no. 912 Porsche of Earl Bamber and Gavin. Knowing that his team-mate was on much fresher tyres and would soon be on his case, Gavin made a strong pass on Bamber into Turn Three, nudging the Porsche slightly off-line and quickly making his escape.
It may have bought him a moment’s respite, but it was little more than that. Garcia wasted no time passing Bamber at the Bus Stop a few laps later and with no team orders forthcoming from Corvette program manager Doug Fehan, the Spaniard set fastest lap after fastest lap as he closed in on the no.4 car.
— Daniel Cammish (@DanCammish) January 31, 2016
This was a battle royale of the highest proportions between two old friends and colleagues, experienced racers of the highest calibre in identical machinery. The world collectively held its breath as, visibly struggling on his older set, Gavin had to call upon every ounce of his experience to fend Garcia off around the banking.
After pulling alongside several times, coming close to touching, Garcia made his move to the outside of Turn One with two laps remaining, but struggled to get the car slowed down and missed the apex. Scarcely able to believe his luck, a grateful Gavin slipped back though on the inside, and with dirt on his tyres, Garcia was unable to get close enough to attempt another move until the final lap. Using the slipstream of his team-mate out of the Bus Stop, Garcia drew alongside for a photo-finish, but it was ultimately in vain.
In the end, Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler were worthy winners as the C.7R extended its run of victories in 24 hour races to three (after Daytona and Le Mans last year), but it could all have been very different had Gavin not managed to make it to pitlane with a quickly deflating tyre in the early hours of the race.
“It was a bit of a scary moment,” Gavin reported. “I was on the tail of Gianmaria Bruni’s Ferrari, shaping up a move with both of us on the outside of the Krohn Racing Audi R8 GTD when the pressure light on the right-front tyre went red. I thought ‘s**t!’ as it went down from 22, 20 and then to 12psi, as I still had to pass the Audi and dive last-second into the pit lane, or else I would have to complete a full lap with a flat and that could have ended our race.
“Fortunately I made the pits, but I couldn’t get the car slowed and we got a speeding penalty. It was worth it to get the car safely into the pits and stay in the race, but there was so nearly a very different outcome.”
Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller would thus have to settle for second, with Bamber, Fred Makowiecki and Michael Christensen upholding Porsche’s honour in third after polesitter Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Kevin Estre were delayed by driveshaft problems.
Somewhat under the radar alongside the much hyped new Fords, Daytona was also significant for marking the debut of Ferrari’s new 488 GTLM. The Scuderia Corse no. 68 shared by Alessandro Pier Guidi, Daniel Serra, Memo Rojas and Alex Premat finished a lap off the leaders in fourth – with Pier Guidi also setting the fourth quickest time for a GT car – whilst problems struck the Risi Competizione and SMP entries.
After finishing second for the last two years in a row, BMW enjoyed a muted debut for it’s new M6. Dirk Werner, Bill Auberlen and DTM pair Bruno Spengler and Augusto Farfus Jr. came home fifth after brake problems caused Lucas Luhr to crash the sister car heavily in the early hours of the morning.
That was merely a drop in the ocean next to the dramatic conclusion of the GTD race, as Rene Rast, Marco Seefried, Andy Lally and John Potter prevailed for Magnus Racing in a fuel strategy nail-biter.
— Magnus Racing (@MagnusRacing) January 31, 2016
With the Balance of Performance heavily favouring the Lamborghini Huracan, Magnus looked to have little chance, but after the first and second placed Lamborghinis of Bryce Miller and Justin Marks tangled in the eleventh hour, the Audi R8 LMS was the chief beneficiary and moved to the head of a queue which also featured the Porsches of Shane van Gisbergen and Nicky Catsburg, Richie Stanaway’s Aston Martin and the last remaining Lamborghini of Fabio Babini.
Van Gisbergen was the first to fall by the wayside when a bolt sheared on his rear wing and caused him to spin, but Rast still wasn’t in the clear. Lifting and coasting around the infield in a desperate attempt to make it to the finish without having to come in for a splash of fuel, he was losing time hand over fist to Catsburg and Damien Faulkner’s Viper, the first of the cars that were good to go until the end. Stanaway was the first to blink and pitted from third with five minutes remaining, but Magnus gambled on staying out and were rewarded as Rast brought the car home on fumes.
Konrad Motorsport opted for a similar strategy and briefly snatched the lead away, only for Babini to run out of fuel moments later – incredibly, the second time in the space of a few weeks Konrad had lost a prominent position in the final hour, having suffered an engine failure while running third in Dubai with twenty minutes remaining.
That opened the door for the Black Swan Porsche of Catsburg, Pat Long, Andy Pilgrim and Tim Pappas to finish second, just three seconds shy of the winner and Faulkner, Eric Foss, Jeff Mosing, Gar Robinson and Ben Keating an unlikely third.