Differing strategies in the wet/dry conditions and an unnecessarily lengthy mid-hour caution led to an interesting seventh hour of the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona as the majority of the classes – barring the GT Daytona class – remained relatively stationary.
As the night hours truly set in, teams were faced with a difficult choice – stay out and persevere with the slicks, or come in for wets and risk losing positions in a race that was still relatively tight more than six hours in with no one wanting to lose points positions in this the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener.
For some, that choice was made for them as the GT Daytona leader – the #50 Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 of Cooper MacNeil – suffered a puncture early on in the hour and after sparking his way through the bus stop chicane he lost time in the pits with an unscheduled tyre change and inspection for any further damage from the flailing tyre.
At the same time, the #991 Porsche 911 GT3R of The Racer’s Group also suffered a puncture and had to limp round the bottom of the banking before that could crawl into the pits.
A third of the way through the hour and, with the Cadillacs continuing the power their way at the front of the race, the #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac was lucky not to be shunted into as the Prototype Challenge leader – the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports car – span at the International Horseshoe and almost reversed into Mike Conway.
That led to a more than 20 minute caution period, even though the car got re-fired and pulled away without issue, meaning the second third of the hour allowed a ‘free’ pitstop for a huge chunk of the field.
Another issue for the #31 Whelen Engineering-backed Cadillac reared its head during the caution, a failed starter motor meant the car had to be push started from pit road. Notionally against the rules, IMSA officials were still deciding on whether to allow it in these circumstances as hour seven rolled into hour eight.
The GT Le Mans class was having no such issues as the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs as Sebastien Bourdais in the #66 fought off the charge of Toni Villander in the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 who himself was being sandwiched by Scott Dixon in the #67 Ford GT.
In PC, the early spin for the #38 didn’t affect positions a great deal as Kyle Masson stretched the gap to the BAR1 Motorsport cars of Chapman Ducote and David Cheng respectively.
GTD was spearheaded by a pair of Audi R8 LMSs as Connor De Phillippi in the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport machine pulled out more than one second per lap on Robin Liddell in the Stevenson Motorsports machine.
Finally, in the main Prototype Class, it is probably not surprising to learn that Cadillacs still lead with Filipe Albuquerque in the Mustang Sampling Racing machine holding off the Whelen car.
Top 3 by class after 7 hours
5 Mustang Sampling Racing – Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, Filipe Albuquerque
31 Whelen Engineering Racing – Dane Cameron, Eric Curran, Michael Conway, Seb Morris
10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta – Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor ,Max Angelelli, Jeff Gordon
38 Performance Tech Motorsports James French, Patricio OWard, Kyle Masson, Nicholas Boulle
20 BAR1 Motorsports – Don Yount, Buddy Rice, Mark Kvamme, Chapman Ducote,Gustavo Yacaman
26 BAR1 Motorsports – Tom Papadopoulos, Johnny Mowlem, Adam Merzon, Trent Hindman, David Cheng
66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing – Dirk Mueller, Joey Hand, Sebastien Bourdais
62 Risi Competizione – Toni Villander, Giancarlo Fisichella, James Calado
67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing – Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon
29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport – Connor De Phillippi, Christopher Mies, Jules Gounon, Jeffrey Schmidt
57 Stevenson Motorsports – Robin Liddell, Matt Bell, Andrew Davis, Lawson Aschenbach
33 Riley Motorsports Team AMG – Jereon Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Mario Farnbacher, Adam Christodoulou