IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, round 1, 24 Hours of Daytona, USA
Fifty years after Porsche’s first overall victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Porsche GT Team fielded two 911 RSR this weekend at the long distance classic in Florida. The 510 hp racer with the starting number 912, driven by two-time overall Le Mans winner Earl Bamber (New Zealand), Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium) and Gianmaria Bruni (Italy), finished sixth in the strongly supported GTLM class. The second 911 RSR with the starting number 911, in which Patrick Pilet (France), Nick Tandy (Great Britain) and Frédéric Makowiecki (France) led the field at one point in the first third of the race, took the flag in eighth. Two pit stops for repairs after leaving the track in the Bus Stop chicane hampered a top result.
The two 911 RSR took up the 56th edition of the season’s first major sports car race on the 5.729-kilometre Daytona International Speedway from the second grid row. Facing strong opposition from BMW, Chevrolet, Ferrari and Ford, they were able to build on their good qualifying performance and maintain contact to the frontrunners on the tradition-steeped, challenging racetrack featuring two banked turns and a tight infield. After a brief downpour five hours into the race, the strategists at the pit wall made their move: unlike most of their rivals, the Porsche pilots did not switch to wet tyres but continued on slicks. Although their lap times were initially slower, they were spared from stopping twice for tyre changes. Thanks to this perfect strategy and his remarkable performance on a wet then slowly drying circuit, Patrick Pilet moved into the lead of the GT field after six hours. He only lost the front spot when he eventually came in for a scheduled driver change.
The pursuit that his teammate Nick Tandy then launched to retake the lead did not last long. After eight hours and 293 laps, the 2015 outright Le Mans winner lost control of his car in the Bus Stop chicane, slid at high speed over the still wet green strip next to the track, and impacted heavily with a stack of tyres. His 510 hp racer was so badly damaged that it had to be pushed straight into the garage for repairs after returning to the pits. The crew of mechanics immediately set to work and managed to get Tandy back on the track after 20 minutes. However, the 13 laps that he lost to the class leaders because of this incident proved impossible to regain. The dream of the 78th class win for Porsche was buried. His second impact at the same spot during the night cost more valuable time, but proved inconsequential due to the already significant gap.
The race for the #912 Porsche 911 RSR, shared by Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and Gianmaria Bruni, ran without issues. The trio made no major mistakes, however they were unable to match the pace of the frontrunners over the distance. In addition, the caution phases at this year’s Daytona race were few and far between, making it impossible to close the gap to the leaders behind the safety car. Especially in the USA, the race director uses this method after incidents on the track to herd the field together and thus keep suspense high. This year, however, there were only four caution phases compared to 21 in 2017.
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