2015 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona: Hours 1-4 – Close at the top

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As darkness fell in the fourth hour of the 2015 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, only a second split the lead of the prototype class after Sage Karam spun #01 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford/Riley and lost a strong lead to the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP of Jordan Taylor.

Taylor wasn’t the only one to take advantage, as Jamie McMurray followed suit in the #02 Chip Ganassi racing Ford as Karam floundered over 30 seconds behind the duo as the cars head into the fifth hour.

It showed the consistency of the #2 car’s team as they decisively took the lead from the MSR Ligier of the Michael Shank Racing team on the outside.

It was one of the few dramas of a clean getaway from the flag but the action soon cranked up on the following laps. One of the early setbacks saw the #912 Porsche 911 RSR of Jorg Bergmeister forced into the pits with an alternator issue.

Meanwhile on track, the #0 DeltaWing driven by Andy Meyrick was hounding down the #01 car of Scott Pruett through the GTLM traffic. Despite the clear pace, the congestion prevented a chance to make a move.

While Pruett was sweating, Scott Dixon in the #02 Ford/Riley was able to enjoy the fruits of his labour as his series of fastest laps in the opening hours made sure he was unchallenged early on.

Traffic evaded Dixon but Shane Lewis’ mistake in the #66 RG Racing Riley DP turned up the heat on the grid. After steering wide on the chicane, Lewis’ bizzare attempt to rejoin the track saw quick reactions from the nearby racers, but the unsighted #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia clipped the #66 and averted further damage by taking to the grass.

However, the sight of the GTLM #911 Porsche moving through the field in the hands of Nick Tandy should have given the Ferrari team some solace of a comeback as the Brit pushed towards the top three of the class as he took Aston Martin Racing’s Pedro¬†Lamy and his fourth position.

As the first hour headed to a close, notable highlights saw Rubens Barichello lead the race on his Daytona 24 hour debut for the Starworks Motorsport team as the rest of the field began to pit early into the race.

As the racing resumed, it began a long running GTLM battle that would continue across the four hours as Tandy battled Jan Magnussen and Oliver Gavin in the #3 and #4 Corvette Racing cars.

Following Satoshi Hoshino’s spin in the #45 Flying Lizards Audi R8 LMS, the first yellow flag of the race halted the GTLM battles.

The return of the green flag was an instant restart for the class leaders as Gavin led team-mate Magnussen. The threat of Team Talken Tire’s Wolf Henzler in the #17 Porsche 911 RSR proved ominous for the Corvette pair.

Perhaps the pressure became too much, as the two yellow Corvette’s collided at bus stop near the two hour marker and opened the door to Henzler for a pass on Magnussen.

With one down, the German looked set to pounce on Gavin too in a class battle that stood alone at Daytona. In the other categories, Dixon was continuing to set the pace in the Protoype, while the BAR1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09 of Johnny Mowlem had led the way in the Prototype Challenge class for the majority of the race.

Last but not least, the GT Daytona class had a look of familiarity as Jeroen Bleekemolen continued to control the class in the Riley Motorsport Dodge Viper SRT.

Finally the close racing spread across the classes and there was to be another first at the Daytona. At the 53rd incarnation of the race, the #07 SpeedSource Mazda became the first ever diesel power car to lead the event.

With over two hours undertaken, the #62 Ferrari was at the top of the GTLM order and after a brief blip, Bleekemolen was on top of his as the #11 RSR Racing ORECA FLM09 had found its way to the Prototype Challenge lead.

It wasn’t to last for #11 driver, Chris Cummings, as Stephen Simpson’s similar ORECA of the Miller Motorsports team took the lead. GTD leader Bleekemolen suffered a similar fate when the #33 Dodge’s spin forced him onto the grass and cost him time.

There was soon to be a third yellow flag of the afternoon and once out the way the GTLM class once again provided the drama as the chain of the #62 Ferrari, #911 Porsche and the two Corvettes soon diced for the lead.

At the close of the four hours, Giancarlo Fisichella’s late spin in the #62 meant that Patrick Pillet put the Porsche top ahead of Tommy Milner and Antonio Garcia of the #4 and #3 Corvettes.

There was also late drama in the prototype class as Kerma’s spin minutes before handed Taylor and Murray first and second respectively.

Protoype Challenge meanwhile ended the four hours with James Gue of the #54 Core Autosport ORECA the class lead ahead of the #38 of Sean Johnston and the #8 of Filipe Albuerquerque.

GTD finished the four with the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia leading the way ahead of the #49 AF Corse Ferrari and the #33 Viper.

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