Rolex 24, Hour 16: Alonso leads after sensational wet stints
Fernando Alonso has produced one of the great drives of his career in the streaming conditions afflicting the Rolex 24 at Daytona, pulling away from his rivals at the rate of 2-3 seconds per lap.
The two-time Formula 1 World Champion was immediately on the pace as he began his second stint in the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, swiftly closing on Dane Cameron in the #6 Acura and diving past him at the Bus Stop chicane.
One lap later and in near-identical style, he put the #7 Acura of Ricky Taylor behind him, too.
The 10th full-course caution (to retrieve large pieces of debris from the track surface) that immediately followed would compress Alonso’s deficit to the erstwhile leader, Felipe Nasr in the Action Express Racing #31 Cadillac.
Following pitstops, Alonso was into the lead, ahead of Eric Curran who had replaced Nasr, and those pitstops also saw Cameron emerge ahead of teammate Taylor, as the #7 Acura acquired yet another new nose.
At the next restart both Acuras elbowed Curran back to fourth but they couldn’t match Alonso’s sensational pace up front, and nor could Taylor keep up with Cameron. Meanwhile, Curran would have an off, and his reduced pace thereafter saw him fall a lap behind Alonso.
Indeed, the ex-F1 driver had built up an amazing lead of 55 seconds by the time another full course yellow flew at 6am when Tommy Milner aquaplaned his Corvette into the tire barrier at Turn 1.
Cameron and Taylor would pit twice under caution, while Curran would stay out in order to get back on the same lap as Alonso, before handing over to Pipo Derani.
Rubens Barrichello in the #85 JDC-Miller Cadillac had an off when the rain first hit, necessitating a 15-minute trip behind the wall for repairs. That car, now eight laps down and with Tristan Vautier at the wheel, nonetheless holds sixth, albeit three laps behind Colin Braun in the Nissan DPi run by CORE autosport.
The GT Le Mans shuffle continues – partly through mistakes, partly through conditions, partly through strategy, but mainly through the amazing competitiveness of the class. Alessandro Pier Guidi has the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 in the lead ahead of Laurens Vanthoor in the #912 Porsche 911 RSR.
Bourdais was up to second in the GT Le Mans category in the #66 Ford GT and pressuring the Ferrari – then driven by James Calado – for the lead, but the heavy rain saw the Indy car ace skate off track at the 13h30m mark to make heavy head-on contact with the tire wall.
However, the debris caution and slick pitwork saw him stay on the lead lap, and the Corvette-caused caution allowed Bourdais’ co-driver Joey Hand up to third ahead of Frederic Makowiecki in the #911 Porsche.
No less remarkable has been the progress of the #67 Ford, Scott Dixon surviving a minor spin in the worst of the conditions to get back on the lead lap and hand over the car to Ryan Briscoe in fifth, just ahead of Connor De Phillippi in the #25 BMW M8.
Milner’s shunt, which resulted in a DNF, caps a dreadful race for Corvette Racing, as Garcia’s #3 runs seven laps down.
In GT Daytona, Felipe Fraga had already shown great speed in the wet in the #33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3, and Luca Stolz continued his fine work, albeit with a brief slide off at Turn 1.
Justin Marks was also impressive in the treacherous conditions, and so now has been able to hand off the #86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX to AJ Allmendinger in second position, with Nick Cassidy holding third in the #14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F in third.
The Land Motorsport Audi is still right in the mix, running fourth in Dries Vanthoor’s hands, just ahead of Marco Seefried in the Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R. Dominik Farnbacher in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 makes it six different marques filling the top six positions.
In LMP2, Ben Hanley leads DragonSpeed teammate Pastor Maldonado by three laps after an off from Maldonado’s co-driver Roberto Gonzalez.
The field reached the two-third mark still under caution as officials attempt to clear excess standing water.
Rolex 24, Hour 14: Rossi pressuring Nasr for lead
Rolex 24: Race resumes after lengthy red flag period