There’s only one class at the Rolex 24 where I could easily guess the winner before the last hour of the race: Prototype Challenge. Every other class had a balls-out fight ‘til the end despite having raced around the Daytona road course for an entire day. Best of all, there was an insane Corvette vs. Corvette photo finish.
In GT Le Mans, the two Corvette Racing teammates were let loose to race each other with about 12 minutes left. The No. 4 of Oliver Gavin was in front. The two Corvettes had muscled past the No. 912 Porsche North America 911 RSR in the last hour, with Gavin tapping the No. 912 on his way around. Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette tried like a madman to draft and get around his teammate, but ultimately couldn’t make it stick.
No. 4 took the GTLM class win, followed by No. 3, and followed by the No. 912 Porsche.
Perhaps the most insane battle happened in the last hour of the GT Daytona class. With under 15 minutes to go, less than 20 seconds separated the top five GTD contenders. Magnus Racing’s René Rast was on a longer stint in the team’s Audi R8 LMS GT3, so he was instructed to save fuel and hit a certain target lap time.
Magnus’ in-pit live stream went from silly-time to serious business, as everyone turned to concentrate on the race itself. Audi motorsport executives and their guests hovered in the Magnus pit to see if their newest customer racing team could pull off the win.
Rast was in the lead with 30 minutes left, however, the No. 28 Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 driven by Fabio Babini was allowed to chase down Rast and go for the pass. Lamborghinis had given the Magnus team grief throughout the race, as they were significantly quicker than the rest of their competition in GTD.
Fuel savings was the name of the game going into the last five minutes. Would Babini hold his lead, or would Rast go back around now that Magnus was allowing him to use more fuel? Neither team had much fuel left to go at each other, and both had to ensure they stayed ahead of the cars on their tail.
With less than three minutes left, Babini’s mega run caught up to him. The thirsty new Lamborghini ran out of fuel, allowing Rast to get back around.
Then problems struck Rast! The Magnus Audi lost fuel pressure on the steep banking of the NASCAR oval turns, forcing Rast to slow down. Rast’s team instructed him to coast where possible to save the last few drops of fuel on the last lap. Worse yet for Magnus, the No. 540 Porsche 911 RSR GT3 R of Black Swan Racing’s Nicky Catsburg was gaining quickly on Rast’s tail. Rast had to hypermile the Audi through the end of the race with Catsburg catching up fast. With the finish line in sight, Rast was told to floor it.
The tension was over. Lovable goofballs Magnus Racing had won the 24 Hours of Daytona. Ballast Possum’s untimely death was avenged, for once and for all. Catsburg tried to gun it on the main banking as both cars approached the finish line, but ultimately finished second. Close behind them was the best-dressed No. 93 Dodge Viper GT3-R of Riley Motorsports, driven home by Damien Faulkner.
Better yet for the Viper team, they had made up a multiple-lap deficit to rejoin the leading lap. Faulkner did a great job of playing catch-up in his last stint.
The fastest Prototype class was close until the very end, but nowhere near as insane as the GT classes. This is the first time since the early 2000s that anything besides a Daytona Prototype has won the Rolex 24.
Less than 20 seconds off the tail of the No. 2 Tequila Patrón ESM Ligier JS P2 car was the No. 10 Corvette Daytona Prototype of Wayne Taylor Racing. Max Angelelli took over in the last hour from sick racer Jordan Taylor, who complained of fumes inside the cockpit. Angelelli fell slightly behind ESM racer Pipo Derani’s masterful drive to the end and had to pull over after crossing the checkered line. According to ESPN’s Bob Pockrass, Angelelli has been transported to a local hospital for evaluation.
Another Corvette DP, the No. 90 of VisitFlorida Racing, drove to a third place overall finish, good for third place in the leading Prototype class as well.
Lastly, the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports entry finished a full four laps ahead of its nearest Prototype Challenge-class competitor, the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports car. The No. 20 Zoolander 2-themed Bar1 Motorsports car rounded out the third spot on the podium. There was no surprise there, but every other class certainly made up for it in excitement.
The Rolex 24 may last for 24 hours, but that doesn’t mean anything will be decided before the last lap. Nothing was for sure until the last few minutes, and at least one team is extremely thankful they remembered to watch their fuel right now.
In case you missed it, here’s the entire last 12 minutes, complete with the total lunacy in GTD:
Enjoy, but do remember to breathe.
Photo credits: IMSA broadcast (top GIF of photo finish, Magnus Racing pit stop), AP Images (Tequila Patrón ESM)
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