The 2019 season opener at Daytona will certainly go down in history as memorable, but perhaps not for the reasons that the race organisers would have wanted. The race got underway at 14h35 local time (20h35 CET) as planned, but the race organisers and teams all knew that a storm was heading their way. Little could they have known that before the end of the race, they would be counting the cost of the Rolex 24 at Daytona as the track would resemble a demolition derby.
The pole position #911 Porsche 911 RSR of Tandy, Pilet and Makowiecki remained part of the lead group from the start of the race on Saturday afternoon, and well into the night. Their colleagues in the #912 car, Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and Mathieu Jaminet staged a remarkable comeback after their car had to pit with a defective front splitter mounting. Thanks to some determined driving, the four-lap gap was closed within just four hours, that translates into some serious motoring.
The rain arrived at just after 04h30 on Sunday morning and within a half hour, the going had changed from good to almost undriveable. As the race progressed, neither the heavy rain nor a stop to change the brakes could dislodge the two Porsche 911 RSRs from the lead group. At 06h00 the two works Porsches lay in second (#912) and fourth place (#911) in class, while in the GTD class, the #540 Black Swan Racing customer team was within striking distance of the lead, in third place. In tenth place was the #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche while the #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche was 20 laps in arrears. The #99 NGT Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R was out earlier with just 47 laps on the board after suffering a technical defect.
There was carnage all around the track as the only area that drained were the banked sections, otherwise standing water was encountered on almost every corner. The race was red flagged at 07h20 (after almost 17 hours) due to torrential rain but restarted again after one hour and 45 minutes for just one lap, at which stage the two Porsche 911 RSRs were lying in third and fifth places. One of the other problems, apart from the heavy rain and standing water, was the visibility due to the combined rain and spray, reducing driver visibility to just a few yards.
Despite the difficult conditions, the race continued, punctuated by innumerable full course yellows. In an attempt to avoid getting caught up in a subsequent mass collision, the #912 Porsche 911 RSR lost three positions. With nineteen hours on the board and 509 laps completed, the two factory cars lay in positions four (#911) and five (#912). The #9 Pfaff was classified as NRF with 470 laps completed.
At just after 12h00 noon on Sunday, a huge collision ensued when the #63 Scuderia Corse GTD Ferrari driven by the vastly experienced Toni Vilander rear-ended the slow-moving #540 Black Swan Racing Porsche at the Bus Stop. This was due to visibility being down to little more than a few yards. The resulting contact put the Ferrari out of the race and ended the team’s day and with that car immobile, and IMSA declared yet another full course yellow. At this stage, teams and drivers would just be in survival mode, but that said, it was certainly the same for all competitors.
At 13h18, the second red flag came out, making this the first time a Daytona race has been red flagged twice in the same race, and at 14h24, the race was called by Race Control. The #73 Porsche could well have finished much better than eighth in GTD but a puncture and the unfortunately ill-timed pit stop at the end put paid to any chances of a podium finish. But their car was undamaged at the end of the day, and the Park Place Motorsports team was able to bag some valuable team points.
When the race was called, only three of the original six Porsches were still running. Finishing in third place in GTLM was the #912 works car of Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and Mathieu Jaminet, with colleagues Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Fred Makowiecki in fifth place in the #911 car. Occupying eighth place in the GTD class was the #73 Porsche of Patrick Lindsey, Patrick Long, Matt Campbell and Nicholas Boulle.
While most of the teams and drivers involved with the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona will want to forget the race and put it behind them, the engineers would have gathered much valuable data in the endless quest for learning more about their cars in adverse conditions. The total red flag time was 3 hours 25 minutes – the first red flag session lasted 98 minutes, the second was 107 minutes. The total full course caution time amounted to a staggering 6 hours 44 minutes and 11 seconds.
Class winners in the 2019 Rolex 24
|DPi||10||Konica Minolta Cadillac||Kamui Kobayashi, Renger van der Zande, Jordan Taylor, Fernando Alonso|
|LMP2||18||DragonSpeed||Ryan Cullen, Roberto González, Pastor Maldonado, Sebastián Saavedra|
|GTLM||25||BMW M8 GTE||Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng, Augusto Farfus, Colton Herta|
|GTD||11||Lamborghini Huracan GT3||Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers, Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen|
The teams will now all set sail for Sebring which is scheduled for 13-16 March, where the drivers will no doubt be hoping for a dry race. Don’t forget, the next race will be the Super Sebring weekend featuring the combined IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship on the same bill. The FIA/WEC 1000 miles of Sebring will take place on Friday 15 March while the 12-hour IMSA race will occupy its traditional slot on Saturday 16 March. Stay tuned…!!
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche Motorsport