Felipe Nasr's Sunoco Rolex 24 at Daytona Challenge year came to a fairy tale end as the 19-year-old took the checkered flag to finish third overall in the 50th running of the Rolex 24.
After winning his race seat at Michael Shank Racing through the Sunoco Challenge as he cruised to the title in the British Formula Three International Championship Nasr impressed all concerned with his pace in testing before the event as he joined two fellow young South American Daytona rookies – Gustavo Yacaman and Jorge Goncalves – and Michael McDowell in the no.6 Riley-Ford for Michael Shank Racing.
“I felt like the old man of the group but it was great,” McDowell reflected on his role in the team. “These guys not having a lot of experience in endurance cars doesn't make them any less capable of running well and having patience and doing the things that we did in this race.”
“I have crashed a lot of these Rolex cars. So I could tell them exactly what not to do and who not to do it to. My first couple of years racing this series when I was 19, 20 years old, I tore up a lot of stuff so I definitely have a good feel for what not to do.”
McDowell – starting his sixth Rolex 24 – qualified the car in eighth and held position through the opening stint before ceding the driving seat to Nasr for his first racing laps of Daytona International Speedway.
“It was unbelievable. I passed more cars in that stint than in an entire season in F3!” said Nasr after handing the car over to Goncalves after a trouble free stint. “I am going to go get some sleep now and food before my next stint – the team are doing well, I hope we can stay in the mix. Things are looking good right now.”
For nearly 22 hours the quartet ran almost faultlessly, keeping in touch with the lead battle and rising up the leaderboard as the more fancied crews fell out of contention with mechanical issues.
Their efforts were rewarded when they regained the lead lap – becoming the fourth car on the lap – under a late caution. However, soon after the restart with Yacaman at the wheel the Riley suffered a punctured right-rear tyre, and though the Colombian made it back to the pits with little damage to the car the team slipped back two laps from the lead battle.
Another succession of cautions put the car back on the lead lap for the final stint, Nasr given the honour of driving beneath the Daytona flagstand at the end of the 24 Hours. With fourth place already representing a huge performance for the team Nasr picked up third place overall when the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates no.01, driven at the time by Rolex Series champion Scott Pruett, fell back with gearbox problems that eventually dropped them to sixth.
Nasr's – and the rest of the team's – third place capped off a stellar Rolex 24 for Michael Shank Racing, the team's lead car taking the overall victory – the first for Shank's team at the Rolex 24.
“It's been great,” concluded Nasr, “I'm so happy to be here with these guys, I think we all did a great job. For my first ever time doing a 24, I'm very surprised at the result. It was an unbelievable experience for me and I just can't wait to hopefully come back here next year.”
“The Sunoco Daytona Challenge is a great opportunity, everyone should enter and I only wish I could this year! Daytona is up there as one of the best experiences of my life so far.”