That said, Mazda performed a miracle to come from three laps down to score a podium finish, but Chip Ganassi Racing was on the flipside of fortune, suffering heartbreak as it picked up a right-rear puncture while Renger van der Zande had the leader in his sights.
In LMP2, Era Motorsport beat Tower Motorsport by Starworks, Corvette Racing scored a 1-2 in GT Le Mans – its first Rolex 24 win since 2016 – while Riley Motorsports took LMP3 honors by three laps, and HTP Winward Racing and SunEnergy1 scored a GT Daytona 1-2 for Mercedes.
The final 3 hours
The 22nd hour started dramatically for the #48 Action Express Racing Ally-sponsored Cadillac DPi-V.R which had been running second in Mike Rockenfeller’s hands. Just before he was due for a scheduled pitstop, Rocky suffered a puncture, enforcing a slow in-lap. He handed off to Kamui Kobayashi, but the Japanese driver now had only a nine second margin over the charging Scott Dixon in the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac.
Ricky Taylor, meanwhile took over the leading Wayne Taylor Racing Acura from Filipe Albuquerque and kept a dozen second lead at first. In fourth, Dane Cameron had fallen 10sec behind Dixon at the start of the stint.
Then with 2hr25min to go, with Taylor’s lead over Kobayashi down to 8sec and Dixon less than seven seconds behind that, the Ganassi Cadillac suffered a right-rear puncture. Dixon, being a master of self restraint, cruised gently back to the pits without causing the flapping tire to wreck the rear bodywork or fall off the rim. He emerged from the pits down in fifth, and then stopped again under the yellow – along with all the other Prototypes – to fit the other three fresh tires and to be replaced in the cockpit by Renger van der Zande.
Meyer Shank Racing did the best job in pitlane, boosting Dane Cameron to the front ahead of the other Acura of Taylor, while Mazda Motorsports had jumped Jarvis ahead of Kobayashi’s Cadillac.
At the restart with 2hr08mins to go, Taylor dived down the inside of Cameron at the Bus Stop chicane, and Jarvis and Kobayashi followed him through half a lap later. The Acura, Mazda and Cadillac kept pulling away from Cameron – and covered only by 1.5sec – when the 12th caution flew for debris on the track.
The next restart saw the first three maintain position but van der Zande moved the Ganassi Cadillac past Cameron’s MSR Acura into fourth. By the next stops, Taylor had pulled 3.8sec over Jarvis. They were replaced by their teammates, Filipe Albuquerque and Harry Tincknell respectively.
Ganassi did a fantastic job to get van der Zande out ahead of both Tincknell and Kobayashi, and put him onto the tail of Albuquerque, although the WTR Acura started pulling away, and a charging Tincknell started applying the pressure to the Ganassi Cadillac, while dropping the Ally AXR Cadillac. With 80mins to go, Tincknell duly snagged second and started trying to close the 3sec deficit to Albuquerque.
With an hour to go, the WTR Acura’s lead remained intact and they pitted together with 55mins to go. They emerged with 5sec between them, but both had been jumped by the earlier stopping Cadillacs of van der Zande and Kobayashi. The Japanese driver was filling the mirrors of the Ganassi driver with 40mins to go, the pair of them 4.5sec ahead of Albuquerque who was just about maintaining his 5sec margin over Tincknell.
Van der Zande and Kobayashi made their final stops with 33mins to go, taking on four new tires etc, but Albuquerque only took on two new tires when he and Tincknell made their final stops next time by.
The extra heat in his one-lap-old tires allowed van der Zande to dive past Tincknell for second but he was still five seconds behind leader Albuquerque. However, with 15mins to go, he had shaved the WTR Acura’s lead down to near-nothing, and Albuquerque was having to take some defensive lines into the tighter corners. Then with six minutes to go, another right-rear puncture sent van der Zande limping to the pits, eventually to emerge in fifth.
Kobayashi had gained a second wind in the final stint and passed Tincknell for second place, and while the Mazda driver fought back, he came up 1.8sec short. Nonetheless, from three laps down, it had been a remarkable performance by the RT24-P drivers. Meyer Shank Racing’s Juan Pablo Montoya came home 50sec further adrift.
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