In a big race like the Rolex 24 At Daytona, sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference. After 24 hours, 740 laps and 2,634.4 miles, the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona still came down to a seven-minute sprint to the checkered flag.
The fight for top honors was shaved to a four-car battle over the first third of the event. The No. 02 Ganassi car took the lead on the first lap, swapping it well into the night with the No. 01 Ganassi car, the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP, and the defending champion No. 5 Action Express Corvette DP, all of them staying within about 20 seconds of one another.
IndyCar star Scott Dixon drove the closing stint in the Ganassi car, carrying his three teammates — fellow IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan and NASCAR racers Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson — to the Prototype class and overall win. It was a 1.333-second victory over the defending Rolex 24 champion No. 5 Action Express Chevrolet Corvette DP. A Verizon IndyCar Series driver has been on the overall winning team for the past five years.
The victory makes Ganassi the winningest team owner in the history of the race, and allowed McMurray to join A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only drivers to have won the Rolex 24 and the Daytona 500.
“It’s such a team effort here,” Dixon said. “We kept the car clean, tried to look after it as much as possible. It’s great to get back here for Team Target and Ford EcoBoost. I’m just stoked for the whole team.”
“We had such a good group of guys driving, an awesome team,” McMurray said. “It’s about Scott Dixon to me. It’s really hard to appreciate the talent that guys have from other series until you race with them, and it’s crazy the pace that Scott is able to have in the car. It’s so much fun to sit up there and watch it.”
Sebastien Bourdais, another visiting IndyCar driver, drove the closing stint in the Action Express Corvette DP, taking a solid, but still disappointing, second with teammates Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa. The good news for the team: They are running for the season championship, but the No. 02 Ganassi car isn’t, so the Action Express car has a good jump on another season championship in the TUDOR series.
Just over a minute back was the third-place Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette, with brothers Ricky and Jordon Taylor sharing the car with veteran Max Angelelli. And it’s not all bad news for Wayne Taylor Racing: the team was invited to race Le Mans this year, and owner Wayne Taylor says he is lining up a car for the event. We can’t wait to see what they do.
The fourth-place Prototype was six laps back, so it was definitely a battle between the top-three finishers. The final car running in that class at the end in fifth was 35 laps down, and the field suffered a huge number of retirements. Only 5 of the 16 entries finished the race.
The seven minute, 30-second dash to the end was created by a crash, and then a fire, in the class-leading Prototype Challenge No. 54 CORE autosport Chevrolet-powered ORECA FLM09, which was being driven by Colin Braun.
Braun was forced off the track by a slower Daytona Prototype car, which apparently damaged the rear suspension. He tried to limp the car back to the pits, “but I think the suspension collapsed,” and he “hit the wall pretty hard.” The car then caught fire, but Braun thankfully escaped without injury.
In the GT Le Mans class it was another close one, with the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R taking the class win and a surprising fifth overall, just 0.478 seconds ahead of the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE. Antonio Garcia drove the winning Corvette home, and he shared the ride with Jan Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe. It is Corvette’s first Rolex 24 win since 2001.
Attrition through crashes and mechanicals wore down the field, but six hours into it there were still four different manufacturers on the lead lap, with Ryan Briscoe in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R ahead of Oliver Gavin in the sister No. 4 car followed by the works Porsche. After the last caution brought the field closer together the No. 3 C7.R raced the No. 24 Z4 GTE to the end, Garcia crossing the line only 0.478 in front of Dirk Werner. Third place went to the No. 4 Corvette and fourth to the No. 25 BMW.
“I’ve tried to win this race 11 times,” Magnussen said. This time, “we stayed out of trouble, made no mistakes, had no damage to the car, and had great pit stops.”
In GT Daytona, the No. 93 Dodge SRT Viper finished first in class, 13th overall, 7.6 seconds ahead of the No. 22 Alex Job Racing/WeatherTech Porsche 911 GT America. Dominik Farnbacher co-drove the Viper with Al Carter, Kuno Wittmer, Cameron Lawrence and team owner Ben Keating. Since the factory-backed Dodge Viper team ended its racing program after winning the GTLM title for the 2014 season, Keating said it was important to bring the car back to the Rolex 24.
“This one is for the Viper Nation!” Keating said.
Next up for the series: The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on March 21. However if you want to watch all the action from the 2015 event you can find race coverage below:
Thanks to Brent Smith Photography for the images from Daytona.