Rolex 24 Provides Controversial Start to 2014 Racing Season

After 24 hours of racing at the Daytona International Speedway, racing fans came away from the 2014 Rolex 24 with a somewhat-sour taste in their mouths. Despite a late charge by Wayne Taylor Racing’s Max Angelelli, Action Express Racing’s Joao Barbosa led the #5 Corvette Daytona Prototype to the team’s second overall Rolex 24 win. The inaugural race for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (TUSCC) came down to a late race 10 minute sprint after a questionable yellow for Leh Keen’s #22 WeatherTech Porsche 911 GT America hitting a tire barrier. However, the controversies were not limited to the late race yellow.

Much of the talk leading up to the inaugural TUSCC race was the balance of performance between Daytona and Le Mans prototypes at the series’ most prestigious event. Or rather the imbalance. Despite efforts by sanctioning body IMSA, DPs held nearly a second advantage in qualifying and took nine out of the top ten spots. The race proved to hold the same speed disadvantage for the LMP cars as DPs swept the top four positions and a total of zero laps were led by the LMP teams. The highest finishing LMP was Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s #6 Nissan ORECA in 4th position. Early favorite Gainsco Racing’s #99 Corvette Prototype of Memo Gidley was knocked out early by a viscous crash with the #66 GT Le Mans Ferrari of Matteo Malucelli that ultimately sent both drivers to the hospital and stopped the race for roughly 40 minutes. After the red flag period the night time showed Action Express’ #5 and #9 and Wayne Taylor Racing’s #10 prototypes as the favorites for the overall win with Chip Ganassi Racing’s #02 Ford Riley DP briefly leading during the night before mechanical issues struck the defending race winners. The final 25 lead changes were between the Action Express and Wayne Taylor Racing cars before the #5 Corvette DP took the lead for the final 35 laps with Barbosa behind the wheel. Despite Angelelli’s best efforts to catch Barbosa, Angelelli’s second Rolex 24 win and owner Wayne Taylor’s third as a driver, the Italian ace ultimately came up 1.461 seconds short of the overall win.

GT Le Mans in it’s Daytona debut ultimately had a duel between #911 Porsche RSR and #55 BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE decided by slower traffic with two laps to go during the final sprint. Unveiling their new C7.R for the first time in endurance racing competition, Corvette Racing faced motor overheating and a transmission bearing failure for their #3 and #4 cars, respectively. The SRT Viper GTS-R #91 and #93 cars faced issues as well with steering failures and front bodywork damage knocking them from contention during the night. After the usual tumultuous Daytona night ended, the only two cars remaining on the lead lap were the #911 Porsche and #55 BMW Z4. Joey Hand attempted a late charge to the back of Patrick Pilet’s factory-backed Porsche but fell short during the final 10 minute run to the checkers.

The Prototype Challenge class, running at Daytona and a 24 hour event for the first time, was won by CORE Autosport after Jon Bennett spun the car from pole on the first lap. Sports car veteran Colin Braun helped bring the #54 ORECA FLM09 from last after the first lap spin up to eventually gapping the PC field by a lap late in the race. PC was the only class to not have multiple cars on the lead lap at the finish of the race.

The slowest of the four classes, GT Daytona, proved to have the most controversial finish at the Rolex 24. With a field spread by less than two seconds in qualifying, GTD easily held the title of most competitive class in the field. Several cars led GTD throughout the 24 hours of running but the finish came down to the #555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari F458 GT and #45 Flying Lizard Audi R8 LMS battling after the late restart. Contact between the two in the bus stop chicane damaged the #45 Flying Lizard and appeared to be the end of the lead battle until a mistake by Alesandro Pier Guidi in the bus stop allowed Markus Winkelhock to close in on the final lap. Entering the high-speed left-hand kink in the infield section of the course, an outside move by the Lizard didn’t stick and resulted in the #45 flying off into the grass along with the end of the battle for the lead. Then began the confusion after IMSA’s race director issued a stop-and-go plus 75 penalty for avoidable to the #555 Level 5 car after the finish, effectively nullifying the team’s win by adding 75 seconds to the #555’s finishing time and giving the win to the Flying Lizard team. However, the decision was overturned after the celebrations with the win being returned to Level 5 after IMSA officials determined no contact was involved in the incident in the kink.

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