By Jeff Olson IMSA Wire Service
Filipe Albuquerque suspected something was amiss with his closest competitor near the end of the race. He was right.
Albuquerque watched in his mirrors and heard his team’s reaction over the radio Sunday when Renger van der Zande was forced to pit with a flat right rear tire with 7 minutes, 50 seconds left in the race, allowing Albuquerque to sail to victory in the 59th Rolex 24 At Daytona. The historic race opened the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
Albuquerque drove the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 DPi to the finish line 4.704 seconds ahead of the No. 48 Action Express Racing/Ally Cadillac DPi-V.R driven by Kamui Kobayashi. It was Albuquerque’s second Rolex victory in the past four years and the third consecutive Rolex victory for Wayne Taylor Racing.
WTR joined Chip Ganassi Racing as the only teams to score three consecutive overall victories in the Rolex 24. The Ganassi team went back-to-back-to-back from 2006-2008.
As van der Zande filled his mirrors during their battle late in the 24-hour race, Albuquerque noticed him charging hard and occasionally getting his tires off track, especially in the Bus Stop, a left-right-left chicane that breaks up a portion of the backstretch on the Daytona International Speedway superspeedway oval, much of which is used on the 3.56-mile road course.
“I was always looking in the mirrors,” Albuquerque said. “He was fast. He was faster than me, obviously. But I thought there must be tire trouble. Physics tells you that. When you push too hard, something happens. When you go off track as well, something goes bad. I was not expecting that to happen, obviously, but I was expecting some trouble with (van der Zande’s) performance.”
The No. 10’s victory, shared with co-drivers Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor and Alexander Rossi, was the first in the Rolex 24 for Acura, which moved from Team Penske to WTR and Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian during the offseason.
It also was the fifth overall Rolex 24 victory for Wayne Taylor Racing, which previously won in 2005, 2017, 2019 and 2020.
This one, though, was made more gratifying by the effort that went into it. During a short offseason, WTR changed manufacturers – moving from Cadillac to Acura – and revamped its driver lineup.
“So much went into this,” said Ricky Taylor, who scored the second overall Rolex victory of his career. “It was definitely a test of trust and a testament to preparation and sticking to a plan. … We skipped all of the offseason testing because the guys needed time to do everything properly. They know how to win this race. I feel like we were all lucky to be a part of it.”
Van der Zande – who drove and won the Rolex 24 for WTR the past two years – was pressuring Albuquerque and at times closing in sharply during the final minutes of the race, before the cut right rear tire on his No. 01 Cadillac Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in the last of 12 turns on the Daytona road course.
“He nearly passed me, but then he was kind of steady for four of five laps,” Albuquerque said. “He was not really getting in there. I was just counting. ‘One more lap. One more lap in the lead.’ When he blew, we were lucky. But there is nobody who has ever won Daytona or any championship without luck.”
Following Kobayashi (who was also chasing a third straight Rolex 24 win) and the No. 48 Cadillac co-driven with Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller was the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda RT24-P shared by Oliver Jarvis, Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito.
The Ganassi crew replaced the tire on the No. 01 car, but – without time to catch the field – van der Zande and his teammates had to settle for a fifth-place finish.
In the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class, Paul-Loup Chatin put the finishing touches on a 19.513-second victory by the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07 over the No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA co-driven by John Farano, Gabriel Aubry, Tim Buret and Matthieu Vaxiviere.
Chatin co-drove the No. 18 with Ryan Dalziel, Dwight Merriman and Kyle Tilley.
“It’s amazing,” Merriman said. “I’m really proud of the team. It really is a team effort to win in endurance racing, especially when you get to these super-long ones. It’s just so hard to win, even if you’re good. It requires all aspects of the program to be good.”
Spencer Pigot drove the final stint of a three-lap victory in the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class by the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 he shared with Gar Robinson, Scott Andrews and Oliver Askew. LMP3 was making its WeatherTech Championship debut and the cars were racing for 24 hours for the first time.
“It was a pretty smooth race, to be honest,” Pigot said. “We kind of stayed out of trouble and did our own thing. That was our plan all along. Nobody knew how reliable these LMP3 cars would be. I don’t think they’d ever run a race this long. One thing we knew is that we’d have the best-prepared car in the paddock, and I think we showed that today.”
The No. 33 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier co-driven by Joao Barbosa, Lance Willsey, Wayne Boyd and Yann Clairay finished second in the LMP3 class, followed by the No. 6 Muehlner Motorsports America Duqueine D08 shared by Moritz Kranz, Laurents Hoerr and Kenton Koch.
The No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura in DPi, the No. 8 Tower Motorsport entry in LMP2 and the No. 74 Riley Motorsports LMP3 scored the most points in IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup competition, which pays points at regular junctures of the WeatherTech championship’s four endurance races: the Rolex 24, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, and Motul Petit Le Mans.
The WeatherTech Championship season resumes March 17-20 with the Sebring 12 Hours at Sebring International Raceway.