DAYTONA BEACH – Two-time and reigning GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT Champion Jeff Segal didn’t have the easiest of starts for his championship defense at this past weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 26 – 27.
After qualifying 12th, Segal started the race 11th in the new No. 61 R.Ferri AIM Motorsport Racing with Ferrari F458 but was soon struck with early adversity. Electrical issues sent the No. 61 AIM/R.Ferri F458 to the garage in just the first hour, which took the talented lineup of Segal and teammates, Max Papis, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander, out of contention almost from the outset.
“We fought hard to try to get the positions back that we lost very early in the race,” Segal said. “Anytime we poked our heads into the top 15 we had some more trouble of one kind or another.”
Trouble seemed to lurk around most corners for Segal and the team in Daytona, but when it didn’t, the No. 61 AIM/R.Ferri F458 spent the race laying down a string of fast laps and working to overcome its issues. The car’s fastest lap of 1:48.171 was the second fastest lap in class, and the top one achieved by a Ferrari.
The first hour issues knocked Segal down to 31st in the 34-car class. But through a mix of hard work, pitside strategy calls and wave-arounds to get laps back – and running consistently faster than the leaders – Segal and his teammates eventually got back to 12th place.
It would have been a salvageable result for the championship before the electrical issues again surfaced in the second-to-last hour. A problem with the wire harness meant the car’s engine couldn’t run at more than 40mph, which forced Segal and the No. 61 AIM/R.Ferri car to retire from the race. The entry was classified 21st in the final results.
“Yeah, it was a collectively great effort,” Segal said. “We were all really disappointed that we leave here effectively empty-handed. The electrical issues seemed to be terminal.”
What the race did do was provide a major team-building exercise as the AIM Autosport squad expanded to two cars for the first time. Segal and his fellow two-time GT class co-champion Emil Assentato were split, Segal into the new No. 61 with Papis, while Assentato stayed on the No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD F458 with new full-time co-driver Anthony Lazzaro.
This marked the first time Segal had the chance to race with his new full season co- driver, Papis.
“It has been a great experience, racing not just with Max but also Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander,” Segal said. “They’re rock stars. The pace we had collectively through the night – we had this race. That’s nothing to take away from the other guys that have made it. It was a pleasure to drive with those guys and I’d welcome the opportunity to do it again. I look forward to getting to work with Max the rest of this year.”
The No. 69 led late in the race and was in contention for the class win, eventually ending in third place with drivers Lazzaro, Assentato, Nick Longhi and Mark Wilkins. From the AIM Autosport pit box, Segal was only too happy to root for his old car with the No. 61 struggling.
“With us out, the focus and emphasis was about cheering on the 69 car,” Segal said. “The AIM team is very strong in terms of engineering, depth and talent. The resources Ferrari has put behind this have been huge as well, so it’s not surprising to see the Ferrari effort running so well. I figured we’d play into it a little bit more, but the 69 guys did a great job.”