Cadillac cruised to the lead Saturday during the opening hours of the 60th anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Filipe Albuquerque started from the pole in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05, but Cadillacs driven by Tristan Vautier and Kamui Kobayashi passed him on the opening lap and a flat tire later sent the defending Rolex 24 winner two laps down.
“I was not expecting that speed from the Cadillacs at the beginning,” Albuquerque said. “I just couldn’t hold it. They were a little bit quicker than us on the cold tires in the beginning. Our car is really good, but at this stage of the race we don’t have so much pace for them. They’re completely controlling us, but it’s a long race.”
By the six-hour mark of the 24-hour race at Daytona International Speedway, the two Acuras in Daytona Prototype international (DPi) were sixth and seventh in the seven-car class. Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon had the No. 01 Cadillac V-Performance Academy Cadillac DPi-V.R in the overall lead. Dixon shares the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing entry with Renger van der Zande, Sebastien Bourdais and Alex Palou.
The opening race of the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season also serves as the first of four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup events where separate points are awarded at designated junctures in the race. Other class leaders who earned top Michelin Endurance Cup points at the six-hour mark were: the No. 20 High Class Racing ORECA LMP2 07 in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), the No. 54 CORE autosport Ligier JS P320 in Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3), the No. 2 KCMG Porsche 911 GT3 R in GTD PRO and the No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 in GT Daytona (GTD).
The opening hours were chaotic, with four caution periods and several incidents that caused damage.
Three and a half hours in, a tire went flat on the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura while Helio Castroneves was racing for the lead. He drove the car slowly into the pits under green for repairs but dropped a lap off the pace.
“It was very surprising,” Castroneves said. “I was trying to make sure it didn’t damage the bodywork. We have some damage right now, but we will fix it when we have a yellow and try to get our lap back.”
Minutes after Castroneves’ tire deflated, the No. 75 Sun Energy 1 Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Kenny Habul spun on the exit of Turn 6, followed by the No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin driven by Alex Riberas. Once both cars came to a stop, Riberas’ car was clipped by the No. 6 Muehlner Motorsports America Duqueine D08 LMP3 car driven by Ayrton Ori.
On the next restart, van der Zande in the No. 01 Cadillac worked past Will Stevens’ No. 10 Acura into the lead. Soon after, Stevens brought the Wayne Taylor Racing car into the pits with a flat tire. The No. 10 lost two laps it still hadn’t recovered at the six-hour mark.
High Class Leads in LMP2
The No. 20 High Class Racing ORECA pulled ahead of the No. 29 Racing Team Nederland ORECA at the six-hour mark, though the class saw several cars take turns leading.
Dennis Andersen, Anders Fjordbach, Fabio Scherer and Nico Mueller led the way in the High Class car, with Frits Van Eerd, Giedo van der Garde, Dylan Murry and Rinus VeeKay co-driving the No. 29.
The No. 81 DragonSpeed USA ORECA co-driven by Pato O’Ward, Devlin DeFrancesco, Eric Lux and Colton Herta fell off the pace early with a pair of drive-through penalties for speeding in pit lane, but has set its sights on later in the race.
“I think I’ll enjoy more in the final four to six hours when it doesn’t feel criminally negligent to be racing that hard,” DeFrancesco said. “… This is a huge step (for the team) from where they’ve come from. They’ve really risen to the occasion.”
Andretti Autosport Challenging in LMP3
Though it lost the class lead just before the six-hour mark Andretti Autosport’s run at the LMP3 victory continued with the team’s No. 36 Ligier JS P320 in second place.
The car is co-driven by Josh Burdon, Rasmus Lindh, Gabby Chaves and Jarett Andretti, son of the late John Andretti and cousin of team owner Michael Andretti.
Like most others, Jarett Andretti found the early hours frantic.
“It is hectic out there,” Andretti said. “It is very much every man for himself. I feel like there was give and take and there’s probably more give right now than there will be in the last two hours. It feels like you’ve got to take, otherwise you just get run over. ‘Chaotic’ is the right word, and I don’t think it’s going to get any better.”
Ferrari, Porsche Battle in GTD PRO
The early hours in the new-for-2022 class turned into a spirited Ferrari-Porsche battle between Risi Competizione and Pfaff Motorsports. The No. 2 KCMG Porsche 911 GT3 R nabbed the lead at the six-hour mark after the No. 62 Risi Ferrari 488 GT3 and No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports spent most of the time atop the class chart.
The Corvette Racing entries fell off the pace early but held out hope for a rally over the final 18 hours of the race.
“This is still the very early stage of the race but there are people who are being aggressive and some others not so much,” said Antonio Garcia, who shares the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R GTD with Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg.
“We need to stay with it,” Garcia said. “It looks like we can hold our position and keep track of the leaders more or less, which is important. We will carry on and see how the track and race develop. We can definitely follow people, but I don’t know about catching them or leading the way. I don’t know if it will be easy or not. That’s the way it is right now.”
Aston Martin Eclipses Mercedes in GTD
Aston Martin gained control in the laps just before the six-hour mark in GTD, with the No. 27 Heart of Racing Team entry overtaking the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 that had dominated to that point.
The No. 57 car and the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Mercedes set the pace for much of the early hours before the No 28 went behind the wall shortly before the six-hour mark and retired soon after.
The No. 27 is co-driven by Roman De Angelis, Ian James, Darren Turner and Tom Gamble. The No. 57, the 2021 Rolex 24 GTD winner, features Russell Ward, Philip Ellis, Mikael Grenier and Lucas Auer.
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