Connor Zilisch missed out in the Mazdas but picks up a Rolex and plenty of eyes in LMP2

#18: Era Motorsport, ORECA LMP2 07, LMP2: Dwight Merriman, Ryan Dalziel, Connor Zilisch, Christian Rasmussen

It was carnage in the LMP2 category, but that didn’t faze Connor Zilisch. Out of 13 entries, just five ended up on the lead lap, and four were out of the race within just a few hours of the race starting.

The 17-year-old had never competed in a 24-hour race, much less behind the wheel of a powerful prototype, but he came away victorious in his first-ever Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in the LMP2 category.

His Era Motorsports Oreca team qualified poorly, starting eleventh in class, but steadily drove up the grid. In the early morning, Christian Rasmussen made the pass on Colin Braun in the Crowdstrike car and held that team off until the end.

“It’s awesome,” Rasmussen said of the win. “It’s a huge bucket list item for me.”

“I’ve been with Era Motorsports all the last year, we couldn’t get a win, and then to get our first endurance win here at Daytona is amazing. I’m over the moon.

“These guys are amazing and they’ve done an amazing job all week, getting the car in the window. And we were just strong all race. We kept improving, we knew we had the pace, and then we got the strategy just right and just cruised to the finish.”

#18: Era Motorsport, ORECA LMP2 07, LMP2: Dwight Merriman, Ryan Dalziel, Christian Rasmussen

The result was something of a weekend comeback for Connor Zilisch. He began racing in Mazda MX-5 and has competed in the IMSA Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup series for the last two years, finishing second in the championship in his first season. Since then he’s run a part-time schedule, but still wants to win.

In the opening two rounds at Daytona, always carnage-filled races, Zilisch sat on pole for the first but was unable to win either, to his disappointment.

“I’ll win at Daytona in a Mazda one of these years,” he tweeted after the race. That disappointment has to be long behind him now.

The future is especially bright for Zilisch. The young driver with ambitions to compete at the highest levels of NASCAR was signed by Trackhouse Racing to a development contract that will see him compete in short track, ARCA, and Trans Am racing alongside further IMSA starts.

With an increased number of road courses on the NASCAR schedule, facing some of the best sports car drivers in IMSA is a smart move for driver development. And as he climbs the rank Zilisch will always have a watch that few NASCAR stars can get no matter how much they can pay.

Not everyone else was so impressive. LMP2 features plenty of amateur drivers, and plenty just didn’t have the pace. Others crashed early, including the TDS Racing team that was fast in practice, which slammed into the outside wall at the Le Mans Chicane early in the race.

IMSA got rid of the old LMP3 class this year. That class was about as fast as the GT cars with plenty more downforce, meaning it was somewhat more manageable. ‘Gentlemen drivers’ are an integral part of sports car racing, providing the funding to allow pros to race in hugely expensive machinery while also supporting their own hobby. However, the LMP2 proved a challenge for some drivers. But not for Zilisch.


Owen Johnson