Putting the pros in the same class as the amateurs gives the best the chance to rise to the top. It does the same for the cars.
The only difference between GTD and GTD Pro is the license class of the drivers and the direct manufacturer support. The cars feature the same driver aids and have led to increased parity between the classes.
That means to win either class takes a new level of performance and battles throughout the race frequently featured cars from both classes. It also means more parity for the manufacturers to contend with.
It was Ferrari that shone in GTD Pro with Risi Competizione wheeling their Ferrari 296 GT3 to victory. The team hasn’t been particularly lucky in the 24 Hours of Daytona before, so it was a big win for team owner Giuseppe Rissi and the Ferrari factory group.
It was a hard-fought win, too. The BMW M4 of Paul Miller Racing led much of the race and looked poised to win right to the end before brake failures opened the door for Risi. The BMW ended up third behind the AO Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.
The team simply needed to bring the car home. Even that’s nerve-wracking at the end of a twenty-four hour race.
“I don’t know, really,” said driver James Colado. “Obviously there’s a worry towards the end of the race, but I think the guys on the team did an amazing job and I think Giuseppe deserves it because he’s wanted it for a long time.
“I’m happy for him. I’m happy for us. This is a great result to start the year and it puts us in good stead for the rest of the year.”
“The BMW had a problem just before our pit, then it was more about bringing it home. Then with the yellow, the Porsche was again on the lead lap. It’s never easy, you know? You start to hear some noises in the car and you think that everything’s out of control in the last few laps,” co-driver Daniel Serra added.
“I’m just really, really happy. This is the race, it’s the one that I was missing and that I really wanted to win. So I think today is one of the happiest days of my racing career.”
The Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 EVO were up front for longer but finished with just a 2.731-second margin of victory over the AF Corse Ferrari team. That team may have been the most emotional on the podium.
“Driving with these guys, they’re like my brothers,” said Daniel Morad. “Such a good lineup, incredible team. Perfect car today. I’ve won it before sitting on the sidelines and now I’ve won it in the seat of the car.
“I almost crashed on the inlap I was crying so much, my voice is gone.”
Other teams were less fortunate. Vasser Sullivan started second in GTD Pro and on the pole in GTD with the Lexus RC F GT3s.
However, an LMP2 car ran wide, got into the grass, and spun in front of driver Mike Conway in the opening hours, putting the team on the back foot as they had to take their No. 14 GTD Pro car to the garage for massive repairs.
“Really gutted we had the incident there in the first hour of the race,” Conway said. “Not much I could do to avoid the spinning car in front of me. Maybe I could’ve seen it coming.
“I’m really disappointed as I thought we had a good shot at the podium, so unfortunate we couldn’t achieve that… Tough day for the entire Vasser Sullivan team, but they’re a strong team and they’ll come back swinging.”
The team’s No.12 GTD car fared much better until the final hour, when a fire took them out of the race.
“Up until the last hour, the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus team did absolutely everything right. From the drivers to the pit crew, the engineers, we were the definition of perfection. To have it go away like that has me lost for words honestly,” said Parker Thompson, driver of the No. 12 car.
It was a struggle for Ford’s new Mustang GT3 throughout all of Daytona, with disappointing performance in qualifying followed up with problems throughout the race. Still, one of the team’s three cars was still running at the end and both of the Multimatic team’s Pro cars showed speed early in the race before the issues.
The Corvette Z06 GT3.R made its debut as well, with both the team’s Pro cars also experiencing issues that sent them behind the wall. The team’s focus remains on developing the car for later races this season.
Pfaff Motorsports struggled to get to grips with their new McLaren 720S GT3 EVO, failing to finish after going behind the wall. The team switched from Porsche after a very successful last season, hoping to get more manufacturer support. The long-running McLaren team Inception Racing didn’t do much better, ending up 75 laps off the pace, so Pfaff may not be so happy with their choice.
Though it’s also the biggest event, Daytona is still the first race of the season, and every team has a chance to regroup. Porsche Penske Motorsports struggled in their first race at Daytona last season before going on to win two races last season and claim the overall win this year, for instance.
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