Felipe Nasr proved how much he and his Porsche Penske Racing teammates wanted the Rolex.
He fought off a hard-charging Action Express Racing Cadillac in the closing laps to take the win. It was a satisfying result for a team that suffered big reliability issues in last year’s race before recovering to earn two IMSA victories in the top class last season.
IMSA’s top class featured battles throughout the race. The Porsches jumped to the front early but had to battle back from powertrain issues midway through the race, earning penalties for drawing too much power. Despite that, the #7 car was in contention and leapfrogged the #31 Cadillac when both came down pit road for a caution with half an hour to go.
From there, the race was on, and Nasr drove a perfect race express for one bobble under braking, holding off the Cadillac by just 2.112 seconds despite the Action Express car turning the fastest lap of the race as the laps wound down.
Nasr said he owed the win to that pitstop.
“It’s just incredible to think we pulled that one off. It all came down to the fuel game pretty much,” he said before embracing his team.
“It’s just incredible the way this race ebbs and flows and the way we took it to the Cadillacs today – hats off to them, they really gave it to us,” said teammate Matt Campbell.
“To finally get our first big victory in this car in the world is phenomenal. What a team. We finally got it done, one year in the making after last year. I couldn’t be prouder of all these guys.”
None of the Porsche Penske drivers had ever claimed overall victory in this race, although Campbell has taken home a Rolex before for a class win.
“It’s been fifteen years to get here, that’s a lot of time, that’s a lot of laps,” Dane Cameron said of his own journey. “So proud of these guys, we had so many issues in the long races last year, so much work to tune this up. These guys were absolutely unbelievable.”
Josef Newgarden, the fourth driver in the squad, has had the year of his life, earning his first Indianapolis 500 win after years of trying only to follow that up with a win in the 24 Hours of Daytona in just his third IMSA start and second in the Porsche.
“Look, I just showed up, that’s all I did,” Newgarden said. “I don’t know what to say.”
“You know, Porsche and Team Penske delivered the biggest result. These guys won this race. I was just happy to bear here. What an unbelievable group, though, they’re going to cherish this for a long time.”
Team owner Roger Penske last won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1969. But this year, in the second year of his new program with Porsche, he finally got to experience the win again.
“Well, when you think about 1969 when we won here with a Lola, things were a lot different in those days,” Penske acknowledged. “But just to think about today, the biggest crowd they’ve had here for a sports car race, my hat’s off to IMSA.”
“Obviously for Porsche to give us the equipment. And the drivers. And at the end there with Filipe, but just to see the competitiveness, and six or seven tenths of a second was the difference after twenty-four hours – it’s unbelievable. Hard to say,” he concluded.
It is a big win for IMSA. After years of small fields, the new Grand Touring Prototype class has allowed them to capatalize on renewed interest in motorsports generally by providing close racing at the front.
This year’s race broke a streak of three wins in a row for Acura, with last year’s race finishing with a one-two for the brand. The top class will always attract the most attention, since it determines the overall winner. This year’s race being consistently competitive for all twenty-four hours is a good sign for the success of the new regulations and the growth of the sport.
The other teams fully intend to bring the challenge. Tom Blomqvist passed the Porsche before the caution came out but couldn’t repeat the pass after getting leapfrogged in the pits.
“The podium finish today demonstrates the remarkable capabilities and determination of the people at Cadillac and is a significant milestone as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of V-Series. Of course, our goal is always to win so we will enjoy the moment, learn and look to Sebring,” said John Roth, global vice president of Cadillac.
Blomqvist admitted he just didn’t have anything more for the Porsche camp.
“It was kind of between the last, well, what feels like the whole race, between the No. 7 Porsche, they were really, really quick at times. We were quick at times. It kind of came down to those that couple of stints. I was slowly chipping away.
“That yellow basically ended our chances, really,” he acknowledged.
“It was just so difficult to pass. The Porsche was really strong on the straight. We were really good in the infield. It was hard to make anything count… And then Felipe at the end there, I think he made one small mistake where he went wide by a few meters, but other than that, there was no opportunity. Huge hats off to them. They were fantastic, really.”
Teammates Jack Aitkin and Pipo Derani were also able to stand alongside Blomqvist on the podium but just fell short of the Rolex. Interestingly, Action Express – a team owned by NASCAR CEO Jim France – opted to run a three-driver lineup, the only team to do so.
The Action Express Cadillac V-Series.R was joined on the podium by the Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-10.
Two Porsches behind rounded out the top five and were the last GTP cars on the lead lap: the No.6 Porsche Penske team car and the No.5 Proton Competition machine. Porsche was the only manufacturer to provide customer cars, with JDC-Miller MotorSports earning sixth place. Both BMWs finished several laps down in seventh and eighth respectively, just failing to show enough pace.
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