Acura Wins First Rolex 24 at Daytona!

Filipe Albuquerque suspected something was amiss with his closest competitor near the end of the race. He was right.

Albuquerque watched in his mirrors and heard his team’s reaction over the radio Sunday when Renger van der Zande was forced to pit with a flat right rear tire with 7 minutes, 50 seconds left in the race, allowing Albuquerque to sail to victory in the 59th Rolex 24 At Daytona. The historic race opened the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

Albuquerque drove the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 DPi to the finish line 4.704 seconds ahead of the No. 48 Action Express Racing/Ally Cadillac DPi-V.R driven by Kamui Kobayashi. It was Albuquerque’s second Rolex victory in the past four years and the third consecutive Rolex victory for Wayne Taylor Racing.

The No. 10’s victory, shared with co-drivers Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor and Alexander Rossi, was the first in the Rolex 24 for Acura, which moved from Team Penske to WTR and Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian during the offseason. WTR joined Chip Ganassi Racing as the only teams to score three consecutive overall victories in the Rolex 24. The Ganassi team went back-to-back-to-back from 2006-2008.

As van der Zande filled his mirrors during their battle late in the 24-hour race, Albuquerque noticed him charging hard and occasionally getting his tires off track, especially in the Bus Stop, a left-right-left chicane that breaks up a portion of the backstretch on the Daytona International Speedway superspeedway oval, much of which is used on the 3.56-mile road course.

It also was the fifth overall Rolex 24 victory for Wayne Taylor Racing, which previously won in 2005, 2017, 2019 and 2020.

This one, though, was made more gratifying by the effort that went into it. During a short offseason, WTR changed manufacturers – moving from Cadillac to Acura – and revamped its driver lineup.

“So much went into this,” said Ricky Taylor, who scored the second overall Rolex victory of his career. “It was definitely a test of trust and a testament to preparation and sticking to a plan. … We skipped all of the offseason testing because the guys needed time to do everything properly. They know how to win this race. I feel like we were all lucky to be a part of it.”

Following Kobayashi (who was also chasing a third straight Rolex 24 win) and the No. 48 Cadillac co-driven with Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller was the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda RT24-P shared by Oliver Jarvis, Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito.

GTLM

Driving his No. 3 Corvette C8.R across the Daytona International Speedway finish line to earn GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Sunday afternoon, Jordan Taylor completed a rare “family sweep” of this legendary event. Moments earlier, Taylor’s brother Ricky and father Wayne had secured their own winning Rolex watches.

“To see Jordan win in the GTLM class, we’re living a dream,’’ Ricky Taylor said of his younger brother, who helped the family team to a pair of prototype overall victories in 2017. Jordan Taylor, meanwhile, was elated but relieved.

“It was an amazing day, I think,” he said. “All 24 hours in this class are always intense, and I think every year you forget how intense it is until it starts again. All the cars were pretty much within 10 seconds all race long, so no one could make a mistake. Any little mistake would put you on your back foot.”

Certainly, Jordan Taylor drove an inspired final stint to rally from a slow pit stop hours earlier that dropped the car he shared with Antonio Garcia and Nicky Catsburg from contending for the win to fourth place at the time. The hard work and inspired drive through the field secured Corvette Racing’s first Rolex 24 victory in five years – by a 3.519-second margin over the team’s No. 4 Corvette. The No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE finished third.

The last time Corvette won in class was 2016, sweeping the top two podium positions then as well. This was the first endurance win for the mid-engine C8.R that began competing last year.

It was the third Rolex 24 win for Taylor, 29, who has two overall victories in the race in addition to his GTLM victory this weekend. Garcia, 40, has two previous class wins, in 2009 and in 2015 with Corvette. It was the first Daytona victory for Catsburg, 32, of the Netherlands. He finished runner-up in the GTD class in 2016.

GTD

Mercedes won in the GT Daytona (GTD) class with German Maro Engel taking the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a 16.329-second win over the No. 75 Sun Energy 1 Mercedes-AMG driven at the finish by Raffaelo Marciello. Andrea Calderelli brought the defending Rolex 24 class champion Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 home in third place.

It was a spirited battle in the GTD class including some physical racing with a little more than four hours remaining. The Winward Mercedes made hard contact with the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 while battling for the class lead. The Ferrari hobbled back to the pits for repairs and was taken out of contention, while the Mercedes raced on.

This was the inaugural Rolex 24 victory for all four drivers on the winning GTD team and first Rolex 24 win for Mercedes-AMG in five tries. In fact, it’s the first major victory by Mercedes at Daytona International Speedway.

Russell Ward, 31, the lone American on the Winward team, was making his Rolex 24 debut, as was Dutch driver Indy Doutje, 28. British driver Ellis, 28, had competed in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Daytona, but this was his first Rolex 24. Engel had competed in three previous Rolex 24 races with a best finish of seventh in 2016.

The WeatherTech Championship season resumes March 17-20 with the Sebring 12 Hours at Sebring International Raceway.