Rolex 24 Daytona

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Florida, USA

Gear selection bothers were a nuisance, a spurious late-race caution period rather more so. Action Express Racing looked to have this year’s Rolex 24 – the 52nd Daytona 24 Hours – firmly in its control as the final 20 minutes approached… but then the 26th-placed Porsche 911 slid harmlessly into a tyre wall, reversed out and continued without a murmur. No need for a full-course yellow in the real world, but it set up a grandstand finish in three of the new United SportsCar Championship’s four classes.

“The yellow was definitely the right call,” said Max Angelelli, who was doing the chasing in Wayne Taylor Racing’s Corvette. “There was lots of debris.” That was news to Joao Barbosa, the potential prey. “I must have been looking somewhere else,” he said.

In the end it mattered not. The two were separated by a backmarker when the final 8min 20sec sprint began – and that enabled Barbosa to open enough of a cushion to share victory with Sébastien Bourdais and Christian Fittipaldi. They’d had to nurse a sticky transmission through the second half, but all drove beautifully.

An Angelelli win would have been poetic, for he shared his Corvette with Ricky and Jordan Taylor and their father Wayne, making a one-off return after four years off to race with his sons and an old ally he regards as a brother. “I’m happy to have had the experience,” Wayne said, “but we were beaten fair and square.”

The winning trio were in contention from the start, although a violent accident disrupted the race’s rhythm during the third hour – and also eliminated a likely adversary. Alex Gurney qualified the Gainsco/Stallings Racing Corvette on pole and co-driver Memo Gidley was at its helm as the sun began to set. That compromised visibility – and the American had just jinked out to lap one Ferrari 458 when he slammed into another, the stricken car of Matteo Malucelli having suddenly slowed with loss of drive. A full-course yellow swiftly morphed into a red flag to assist the rescue crews and the race was halted for almost an hour. Malucelli was detained overnight in hospital for observation, while Gidley suffered back, arm and leg injuries.

Corvettes took a clean sweep of the top four positions (Richard Westbrook sharing the last of them with Mike Rockenfeller and Michael Valiante), after all three Riley-Fords hit trouble, and Alex Brundle (ORECA-Nissan) took fifth with Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf.

The factory Porsche of Nick Tandy/Richard Lietz/Patrick Pilet seemed to have the GTLM division under control, after the swiftest Corvettes and SRT Vipers were waylaid (the Oliver Gavin/Robin Liddell/Tommy Milner Corvette being delayed by a late gearbox change), but the 16th and final caution period brought the Joey Hand/Andy Priaulx/Bill Auberlen/Maxime Martin BMW Z4 into play. Pilet made good use of traffic, however, to secure a class-winning sixth overall. “This used to be a one-off event for me,” Lietz said, “so I only used to be interested in winning a watch. Now we also have a championship to think about…”

Colin Braun/Jon Bennett/Mark Wilkins/James Gue (Core ORECA) won the Prototype Challenge class, in ninth overall, while the Flying Lizards Audi R8 of Nelson Canache, Spencer Pumpelly, Tim Pappas and Markus Winkelhock was initially awarded GT Daytona victory. Winkelhock engaged in a frantic last-gasp duel with Alessandro Pier Guidi (Level 5 Ferrari) – and ran onto the grass after trying an outside pass at the infield kink. Stewards immediately handed Pier Guidi (sharing with Townsend Bell, Scott Tucker, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal) a 75sec penalty for forcing his rival off, although there had been absolutely no contact and the Italian was guilty only of sticking to the racing line.

Wisely, this was later reversed. Simon Arron

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