The DragonSpeed sportscar (and soon to be IndyCar) team emerged victorious on its return to the American racing scene, claiming LMP2 class laurels at the weather-disrupted 57th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance classic, which was red flagged twice for the first time in its history due to torrential rain.
Before the downpour, DragonSpeed’s pair of ORECA O7-Gibsons were firmly in control of LMP2, having overcome various early incidents and a challenge from the similar PR1 Mathiasen machine. The number 81 10Star entry driven by Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley, Nicolas Lapierre, and Motul Pole Award winner James Allen held the lead, a lap ahead of the Soliq-backed number 18 car of Roberto Gonzalez, Pastor Maldonado, Sebastián Saavedra, and Ryan Cullen, the latter two making their debut with the team.
The first red flag was preceded by several hours of running under full-course yellow. The restart with just under four hours to go heralded a crashfest punctuated by multiple caution periods. The DragonSpeed duo maintained their lead until, going into the last two hours, Hedman was stranded on track for several laps with a stub axle failure that sheared off the right rear upright and Saavedra joined the many caught out by the final infield corner, hitting the wall and sustaining front end damage. Quick pit work returned the 18 car to the track still in the lead, only for the second red flag to be called on the next lap. In the meantime, the stalwart DragonSpeed crew completed repairs to car 81 in anticipation of another restart.
As the conditions continued to deteriorate, the clock finally ran out and the end of the race was declared, leaving Gonzalez, Maldonado, Saavedra, and Cullen – in his first 24-hour race – delighted winners in LMP2 with Hedman, Hanley, Lapierre, and Allen hanging on to third and the final podium spot.
Elton Julian, DragonSpeed team principal, said, “Taking LMP2 honors from such a chaotic Rolex 24 means a lot to our winning drivers, and also says a lot about the team we’ve built. The effort of the entire crew never flagged, and they deserved the 1-2 finish it looked like we would get for most of the race. But for the rain and yellow flag rules, I’m sure you would have seen us mixing it up with the top class as well. In any case, starting the year with a victory gives us a big boost as we go forward to the Sebring 1000 Miles WEC round and our IndyCar debut at St Pete in March.”