The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona 2016 was held January 30-31 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. The 12-turn, 3.56-mile track is made up of portions of the NASCAR tri-oval and an infield road course. Under sunny Florida skies, 54 cars fittingly started the 54th edition of the endurance race at 14.40 EST on Saturday 30 January. As the race began the teams and drivers set out to go the furthest in 24 gruelling hours.
Like any great endurance race, the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona wasn’t without drama. There were 21 cautions, 11 of those before the 10-hour mark, but these only added to the excitement of the race, inaugurating the redeveloped Daytona International Speedway and beginning the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship. With a high percentage of each lap spent at full throttle, the 3.56-mile circuit takes it toll on both the drivers and cars, demanding a combination of skill and concentration, as well as reliability and performance – the ultimate test of man and machine. This test proved too much for some, with only 43 of the 54 race starters making it to the finish line.
The Saturday afternoon racing provided fans, both in the Grandstand and infield, with action early on. With just over 20 hours to go, the #0 Panoz DeltaWing Racing car, in the eye-catching United States of America livery, sustained serious damage when its driver Andy Meyrick drove into a stationary Prototype Challenge car at Turn 1, spelling an early and disappointing retirement for the team after an impressive start.
At the six-hour mark it was Michael Shank Racing, with Oswaldo Negri Jr at the wheel, who led the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona, but shortly after midnight, a blown engine forced another retirement from the front. That led to a tussle for the lead between the Daytona Prototypes, including the #5 Corvette DP of Action Express Racing; Scott Pruett doing his usual exemplary job and simultaneously chasing down a record-breaking sixth win here at Daytona, a record that would prove elusive this time around.
After an action-packed race it was newcomer, Pipo Derani, in the Extreme Speed Motorsports Honda HPD Ligier JS P2 that took the chequered flag. Driving like a seasoned veteran, 22-year-old Derani took the lead with one-hour, 17-minutes remaining and pulled away down the stretch to lead Tequila Patrón ESM to victory, capping off a sensational race in the opening round of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.
Derani was joined by Johannes van Overbeek and car owners Ed Brown and Scott Sharp in the No. 2 Honda Ligier JS P2. It was the first overall triumph for both Honda and Ligier in the event, and the second overall victory for Sharp, who teamed with rival car owner Wayne Taylor in 1996. The winning team completed 736 laps of the circuit and the fastest lap, 1:39.192, was posted by Brazilia Derani, who set the fastest time at Roar before the 24 earlier this month.
“The last two hours and a half was pretty tough, pretty intense, with the Taylor brothers pushing us really hard trying to victory,” Derani said. “I was trying to not make any mistakes and keep the gap. To increase the gap up to the end was amazing. I need to thank my team for the amazing car they gave me.”
Max Angelelli finished second, 26.166 seconds behind in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP co-driven by brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor plus Formula One veteran Rubens Barrichello, a late roster addition. Wayne Taylor Racing – owned by the 1996 and 2005 Rolex 24 winner – finished second for the third time in the last four years.
Visit Florida Racing took the remaining podium position with a lead-lap finish for Ryan Dalziel, Marc Goossens and Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 90 Corvette DP, 1:27.276 seconds behind at the checkered flag.
Scott Pruett came up short in a bid for an unprecedented sixth overall victory in the event, finishing fourth in the defending Prototype champion No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP co-driven by Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Felipe Albuquerque. The team ran in contention until a broken axle sent the Action Express Racing team to the garage for repairs with less than four hours remaining.
JDC-Miller Motorsports scored a breakthrough for its first Prototype Challenge (PC) victory, dominating the class in the No. 85 Hi-Tide Boat Lifts/Red Line Oil ORECA FLM09 shared by Chris Miller, Misha Goikhberg, Stephen Simpson and Kenton Koch.
The Prototype Challenge (PC)-leading 85 Miller Motorsports team survived a scare at the 15-hour-mark when Kenton Koch spun the spun in Turn 6 on cold tires and impacted a barrier while leading the class by 19 laps. The team lost 10 laps making repairs.
“Cold tires and a tired head,” Koch said of the incident. “It was a mistake and I felt terrible about it. I’ve never driven so slow in my life to make it the finish line. We were pretty far ahead, so we played it safe and made it to the end.”
Tom Kimber-Smith, the 2015 Rolex 24 PC winner, finished second with a new set of co-drivers in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA FLM09: Robert Alon, Jose Gutierrez and Nicholas Boulle. Brendan Gaughan, Johnny Mowlem, Tomy Drissi, Marc Drumwright and Ricardo Vera took third in the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports entry.
Mark Wilkins worked the defending two-time PC class champion No. 54 CORE autosport Flex-Box/Composite Resources ORECA FLM09 into the class lead before the car suddenly slowed at 8 p.m. with terminal engine problems. Wilkins joined Jon Bennett and Colin Braun in winning the class in 2014, only to lose last year’s race with a spin in the chicane caused by suspension damage with less than 20 minutes remaining in the event.
As the new day dawned at the Daytona International Speedway the long hours and pressure began to take its toll. As ever, the ‘Rolex’ rewards patience and determination and those who have prepared and strategized effectively; timing and good fortune also play a key part. As the race entered the last few hours, damage limitation and reliability became paramount and with only one hour left on the Rolex countdown clock the two Corvette GTLM entries dueled to take the class win, entertaining the 35,000 strong crowd. Oliver Gavin finally pipped his teammate Antonio Garcia to the line by 0.034 seconds in the most nail-biting finish seen at Daytona in recent memory; such a slight time difference after 24 hours epitomizes the challenge of endurance racing and the focus of the teams and drivers.
“What you saw today was simply the two best road racers in the world with the two best cars in the world,” said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager. “You’d be hard pressed to find a better race than this. You don’t spend 23.5 hours working this hard and not let those guys continue to race.”
Fehan assured Garcia once he moved into second that there would be no team orders. After that, the battle for the win was on in the season-opening IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race. Once he shed the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR of Earl Bamber to take second, Garcia set his sights on Gavin and the two ran nose-to-tail over the final 20 minutes. With three minutes remaining, Garcia briefly passed Gavin entering Turn 1, but ran wide, allowing Gavin to retake the position.
Garcia got a run coming out of the bus stop on the final lap, but came up just short in a drag race to the stripe giving the win to Gavin and co-drivers Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler. Garcia and co-drivers Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller finished second, while Bamber rounded out the podium in the No. 912 Porsche North America entry along with Michael Christensen and Frederic Makowiecki.
“All I could think about was my boss, Doug Fehan and what he would say if we did touch,” said Gavin. “Then on the last lap I was thinking I had just enough on him, but then he towed up behind me. It was like the line was just going away from me. I couldn’t get to the line fast enough. I’ve just seen a picture of it, actually, and it was pretty close.”
The long-awaited Ford GT race cars, preparing to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, both encountered transmission problems during the early stages of the race, but eventually finished in 7th (#66) and 9th (#67) positions in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.
The GT Daytona (GTD) finish was equally thrilling with fuel strategy playing an integral role in the finish. The No. 28 Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Fabio Babini passed Rene Rast’s No. 44 Audi Tire Center Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 with nine minutes remaining, but ran out of fuel with only three minutes remaining in the 24-hour race.
Rast was able to conserve enough fuel to finish 3.048 seconds ahead of Nicky Catsburg’s No. 540 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R to win, joined by co-drivers Andy Lally, John Potter and Marco Seefried. Catsburg meanwhile was joined by Patrick Long, Timothy Pappas and Andy Pilgrim in the runner-up finish.
“I think it was one of my hardest stints ever in my life,” said Rast of his final race-winning stint. “The radio was constantly in my ear telling me how many turns I had left, go faster, but save more fuel. It’s so hard to go slower than to go fast, and I had to adapt myself every single lap. I saw the Porsche coming and they told me to let the Lamborghini pass, and I said ‘That’s not the way how we’re going to win.’ It was a big, big team effort. They always knew what they were doing, and I really appreciate the work.”
Rounding out the GTD podium was the No. 93 ViperExchange.com Dodge Viper GT3-R of Ben Keating, Jeff Mosing, Damien Faulkner, Gar Robinson and Eric Foss, 5.059 seconds back.
Similar to 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, Sports Car Digest also documented the racing action at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona 2016, with photographer Mark Coughlin offering the following images that highlight the endurance race. We split up Mark’s pictures into two galleries. The first gallery starting below features our favorite images, all displayed in the full-width view of Sports Car Digest, while the second gallery can be found on the last page of the article and gives a comprehensive view of all the photographs.
Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona 2016 – Featured Photo Gallery
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