This year was the 58th Running of the Daytona 24. It started in 1962 at just three hours in length, expanded to 2000 km, then 24 hours in 1966. The 1972 race was shortened to six hours, and the 1974 race was cancelled due to the fuel crisis in the Middle East. Since 1975, it has continued as a 24-hour event, under the auspices of IMSA sanction (although for a time it was under Grand-Am, who bought IMSA in 2014).
The race always runs at the end of January and the weather usually plays a part, it is sometimes wet, sometimes cold, or sometimes hot. Historically a lot of cars start this race and in years gone by, upwards of 80 cars have started. This year there were only 38, but they were very good cars as the quality of the cars, teams and drivers was superb. Of the 38 starters, only six failed to finish.
The teams returned just two and a half weeks after the ‘Roar at Daytona’, which is a mandatory IMSA sanctioned test event held each year in early January. Many teams just leave all their equipment in Florida, and work there to complete preparations. See the 2020 Roar report here.
Some slight BOP (Balance of Performance) changes were instigated by IMSA for the race post Roar. The Cadillac lost 10 kg of weight, the Acura received a slight boost reduction, but all three (Cadillac, Mazda and Acura) got to carry a few more litres of fuel. The Cadillac was the heaviest of the prototype cars at 940 kg.
In GTLM (GT Le Mans), the Porsche, which is the heaviest car, got to carry an additional 10 kg but received an increased fuel capacity of seven litres. The Corvette was given a slight increase in restrictor size, the Ferrari got a boost reduction and BMW, as the baseline car, was unchanged.
In GTD (GT Daytona or GT3), the Acura received added weight and its boost was lowered, while Ferrari and the BMW M6 were also given slight boost reductions. LMP2 of course has no BOP as it is a spec series using the Gibson 4.2 engine.
The entry was made up as follows:
|Class||No. of cars|
|GTD (FIA GT3)||18|
Five of the entries were Porsches comprising the two factory GTLM cars and three GTDs, one each for Wright Motorsports, Pfaff Motorsports and Black Swan Racing.
The media interest was a little raised this year, as Kyle Busch, the 2019 NASCAR champion was making his first IMSA appearance driving one of the AIM-Vasser-Sullivan Lexus GTD cars. Since he is a factory Toyota driver, this was the only car he could drive as per his contract (Lexus is the premium brand of Toyota in the USA).
FP1 (Free Practice 1) started on Wednesday in a misting rain. There was immediate trouble as the Black Swan Racing Porsche GTD crashed heavily in the wet. The car was stripped by the crew, and it was determined that the tub was finished. A deal was done, and Black Swan took the spare car of John Wright Motorsports, but the crew was left with a lot of work to get this ready and prepared, so they did not run again until Friday. John Wright is a class guy! I talked to him on Thursday, he said, he thought it was the right thing to do to help them out, so he did.
New curbs had been installed in the chicane on the back straight since the Roar two weeks earlier, and the race. This caught out some the next day, as Kyle Busch’s car (not with him behind the wheel) ran over the curbs and ripped the floor, which necessitated an engine change. He spent some time in the media centre explaining how things were going. He found the brakes on the Lexus superior to what he was used to, and was experiencing some difficulty in finding the limit. He also remarked that in NASCAR, he is used to front to back contact but was counselled by Jack Hawksworth that this is just not done in IMSA. In short order, he was within 1.5 seconds of the faster cars, so was learning quickly, but he reckoned he needed more time in the car. He would do fine in the race, at one point doing a triple stint at 04h00 in the morning, which he reckoned was about the length of a NASCAR cup race.
In qualifying on Thursday, the new curbs also caught out Rickey Taylor in the #7 Penske Acura DPi car. He hit the curbs in the chicane, the car came down awkwardly and was pitched into the barrier with a lot of damage. The crew had a lot of work to do but managed to get the car semi-repaired to run the last seven minutes of the night practice on Thursday, but they then stayed most of the night continuing with repairs, as did the Black Swan crew.
Oliver Jarvis took the pole in the Mazda DPi, but he was slower than they had gone in the Roar two weeks before. The top six cars were separated by less than 0.8 seconds. In LMP2, Ben Keating took the pole in his Oreca almost four seconds a lap slower than the DPi cars.
In GTLM, the Porsches were 1-2 followed by the two new Corvette C8Rs, the two BMW M8 GTs with the Risi Ferrari bringing up the rear. The Ferrari was more than a second slower than they had gone at the Roar. However, with GTLM, you never really know what to make of the times, as they have three tyre compounds to choose from, so it is dependent on which compound the teams are running. It does not make sense to waste a set of tyres out of your allotment (note, by rule there is fixed number of sets the teams can use for the week) just to qualify faster, if you then cannot run those tyres in the race. But, some may have done that here, or at the Roar.
GTD pole was taken by Zach Robichon in the Pfaff Motorsport Porsche GTD ahead of the Ferrari 488 of Cooper MacNeil and the Acura NSX of Hindman. However, in GTD the Bronze driver must qualify, so you never really know what to make of the car’s speed until the actual race.
The big news on Friday after an uneventful FP4, was the announcement by IMSA and the ACO that they had come to an agreement for the convergence of the prototype cars starting partially in 2022, and completely in 2023. The formula will be:
|1) Based on a new chassis common to both the ACO and IMSA, using elements of current DPi and Hyper cars to be built by the same four manufacturers as today: Dallara, Oreca, Ligier and Multimatic|
|2) The car will use a common hybrid KERS system on the rear axle|
|3) Silhouette and design will be modifiable by the manufacturer who is providing the engine power for the car|
More technical details will be provided at Sebring in two months’ time. In attendance at the announcement were Jim France and John Doonan from IMSA, Pierre Fillon of the ACO, and Gérard Neveu of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The FIA is apparently also fully on board with this, the announcement being well received by almost everyone.
The Mazdas had been at the front, or near the front, of every session so seemed favoured on speed. But this car had never finished a 24-hour race, so the reliability was suspect once again. At the start, the #77 Mazda of Jarvis took the point and pulled away a bit, while the rest stayed within reach. The Mazdas stopped for fuel after 20 laps of racing, the Cadillacs at 22-23 laps. If this continued it would mean the Cadillac had a slight mileage advantage.
The GT cars all made around 50 minutes on a fuel stint. Darkness had already set in before there was any sign of a yellow, so consistent speed over the course of a fuel stint became key. The #55 Mazda of Jonathan Bomarito had an early penalty when he made an ill-advised pass attempt on Helio Castro Neves in the chicane and punted him into the barriers. Castro Neves had a long pit stop for repairs as he had lost the rear wing and most of the rear bodywork was smashed up.
In GTLM the Porsches led for the most part staying close together, but the rest were not far behind, sort of just biding their time.
The racing was flat out in all classes, being more of a sprint than an endurance contest. During the night, when it was much cooler, there was green flag racing for almost eight hours straight. At this point, the Cadillac of Wayne Taylor Racing started to exert a hold on the top spot. Driven by Renger van der Zande, Kamui Kobayashi, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon, it was slightly quicker than the other Cadillacs and the two Mazdas as temperatures cooled. The Cadillacs with their big V8 engines seemed to handle traffic slightly better as well. We would learn later in the post-race interview room, that the WTR (Wayne Taylor Racing) car had conserved their tyres for the first half of the race, by double stinting frequently, and other times only changing right side tyres. The engineers wanted new tyres all the time, but basically Wayne overruled them as he wanted the fresh tyres for Sunday and the end. We also learned that Kobayashi had suggested some changes to the traction control settings which might have explained the slight edge the WTR car seemed to have. Renger van der Zande at one point drove five straight stints in the night, giving his co-drivers some rest and building a nice cushion by daybreak.
By sun up, the WTR car had a lead of more than one minute. This was all lost however, when the Riley Mercedes went off at the turn 3 horseshoe, and had to be towed out. Briscoe then compounded the problem by getting a huge penalty by running through the red light at pit out during the yellow. So, they went from a minute lead to one lap down in an instant. Shortly after, they got a reprieve when the Lamborghini of Legge, Frey, Calderon and Nielsen (the all-woman team), caught fire after a long garage visit on its first lap out. Nielsen jumped out, but another caution was needed to collect the car from the back straight. This allowed the WTR car back onto the lead lap.
By Sunday morning, the GTLM battle was intense. The two Porsches, the #24 BMW, and the #3 Corvette seemed to be tied together with rope. They were never more than a second or two apart, as the racing was flat out. The second #25 BMW was well behind after some issues, but still running. The #4 Corvette was also well behind after a broken oil cooler had to be repaired, but both were still running as fast as the rest, just many laps down. The Risi Ferrari was on the lead lap but seemed to struggle to maintain the speed of the other four.
The GTD class had also turned into a four-car battle between the Audi, two Lamborghinis and the Wright Porsche all on the lead lap. The racing there was also flat out sprinting, with not much between them.
As the race wound down, it got warmer as the sun rose. The finish would be at 13h40 in the afternoon. As it got warmer, the BMW seemed to have a slight advantage over the Porsches, however after the last pit stops it came out in the middle of the two RSRs. Jesse Krohn, who was given the job of the last two hours said later, this was some of the hardest racing he had done, as he knew he needed to somehow pass the leader Nick Tandy, as Earl Bamber was on his bumper. We learned after, in the post-race, that the BMW had qualified on the medium tyre, so possibly had sacrificed some outright speed, but had good consistent performance over the length of the 50-minute fuel stint. Krohn managed to get by about halfway through the final stint to win by 14 seconds. He was no doubt helped slightly by the fact that Tandy and Bamber started battling each other towards the end, instead of working together to try and close the gap. The Corvette was right there at the end as well. The Risi Ferrari had a tyre blow with about one hour to go which caused damage that could not be repaired in the time remaining. So, the end result was BMW, Porsche, Porsche, Corvette.
In GTD, the Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini beat the GRT Magnus Lamborghini by 21 seconds. The Audi and Wright Porsche were one lap down, with the Black Swan Porsche was fifth, and the Pfaff Porsche, after some problems, was finished thirteenth.
LMP2 was won by Dragon Speed and Hendrik Hedman, over the similar car of PR1 Mathiasen and Ben Keating. In the post-race interview, Hedman was effusive in his praise for Keating. He acknowledged he (Hedman) had a lot of work to do to get to Keating’s level and he figured Keating, a bronze driver, is driving at a gold level.
It was a record distance race, most likely due to the lower number of yellow flags, and the good weather. Of the 38 starters, only six were not running at the end. An amazing finishing record, which talks to the reliability of this current generation of cars. As a comparison, in the 1972 event which was the ‘6-hour special’, only 21 cars were classified as finishers out of 58 starters.
Wayne Taylor remarked, he is ready to go to Le Mans in 2022, if Cadillac supports him, and if sponsors can be found. He felt good about his chances and who could argue with him, his team has now won the Daytona 24 in three out of the last four years!
Porsche had to have come away with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they fell 14 seconds short but managed to get the brand new 2020 RSRs to the podium in their first race and showed good speed. I think they are well positioned for the rest of the season. Their main competition may in fact come from the Corvette C8R, who also got two brand new cars to the finish in their first event. The new Porsche and Corvette can only get better with more miles on the car, but the secret will be to not get too much better. IMSA has deemed the BMW the ‘baseline’ car as it is the oldest car in the class, so any drastic improvements by the new cars will most likely get a call from the BOP engineers.
The next race on the IMSA schedule is another classic, the 12 hours of Sebring in March. It is a completely different kind of event and track, but should be just as good.
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Martin Raffauf and Mark Raffauf