Mazda Motorsports’ #55 DPi is going it alone this year.
Photo by Jake Galstad (LAT Images)
Daytona’s 24-hour Sprint
Season Opens with New Class, two Astons, but Just One Mazda
by Jack Webster, Eddie LePine & James Edmonds
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Jan. 30-31 — Forty-nine cars, more than 190 drivers and more than 1,000 crewmen, a classic and challenging Daytona International Speedway, 24 hours of racing – it all added up to a Rolex 24 for the ages.
The winning #10 Acura DPi completed 807 laps (2872.920 miles) and took a scant 4.074-sec. victory over the #48 Cadillac DPi placing 2nd. Completing the podium was the AER-powered #55 Mazda DPi, co-piloted by familiar names Oliver Jarvis, Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell.
Three different manufacturers in the top three, separated at the finish by only 6.562 seconds. Amazing.
It wasn’t just this close at the finish, it was literally this close the entire 24 hours — almost like a sprint race. Long gone are the days when a team sends one of its cars out as the “rabbit” to lead and force others into errors or mechanical problems. The cars are so bulletproof now, and the drivers so close in talent, that the only strategy is to go flat out from green flag to checkered flag, and rely on superior pit work and racecraft.
And luck. As winning Acura driver Felipe Albuquerque was to comment after the race, “There is no one who won Daytona or any championship ever without luck.”
Daytona sets the pace
As the first “real” event on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC) schedule, this year’s Rolex 24 introduced a few changes.
There is a new prototype class this season, LMP3. Reminiscent of the Prototype Challenge, with spec chassis running spec engines, LMP3 teams have their choice of a handful of racing tub manufacturers on which to run sealed, Nissan-developed 5-liter V8s. Daytona was the first time LMP3 cars entered a race as long as 24 hours, and commentators were wondering whether they’d hold up. They did.
British Marque’s favorite DPis because of their British engine connection, Mazdas #55 and #77, are down a car. This season it will be #55 only, driven by Jarvis and Tincknell, with Bomarito on hand for the endurance races.
The Heart of Racing team had one of the Aston Martin Vantages in the race...
Photo by Larry Schmidt
And Aston Martin Racing is seen living up to its strategy of keeping focused on Formula 1 while lending strong support to “customer” (partner) teams in other series, such as the Heart of Racing and TF Sport in the IWSC.
At Daytona, three-time Le Mans class winner Darren Turner and works driver Ross Gunn were drafted to co-drive Heart of Racing’s #23 GTD Aston with team regulars Ian James and Roman De Angelis. TF Sport, the GTE Am class-winning team at Le Mans last year, brought drivers Charlie Eastwood and Richard Westbrook to join Rolex 24 veteran Ben Keating and student racer Max Root in the #97 GTD Aston.
Meanwhile, LMP2 ran its own class powered exclusively by U.K.-sourced Gibson V8s, and mostly on ORECA chassis. Unlike years ago when they ran in the same class as the DPis, LMP2 cars are now gridded separately. This maintains their eligibility to compete at Le Mans and make modifications according to FIA rules.
Speaking of the grid, that was determined by a 100-minute qualifying race the weekend before called the “Roar Before the 24.” The only track sessions at the Rolex 24 were four practice runs before the big day.
Nothing was settled in the first 23 hours at Daytona that allowed any one team an easy cruise to the checkered flag. The final hour, in fact, was shaping up to be a monumental battle.
After their final pit stops, Filipe Albuquerque in the #10 Acura DPi was on point, with Renger van der Zande in the #01 Cadillac DPi hunting him down. Perhaps with some fire in his eyes, Renger, who had been dismissed in the off season by Albuquerque’s team, Wayne Taylor Racing, kept gaining and gaining on him.
...and Le Mans class winner TF Sport had the other.
Photo by Larry Schmidt
However, with a bare seven-and-a-half minutes remaining and with the Cadillac on the rear wing of the Acura, the Renger van der Zande challenge for the win abruptly concluded when the Cadillac suffered a cut down the right rear tire.
After the race, Albuquerque mused, “I always thought of him to be catching me. He was very fast. But physics tells us that, when you push too hard, something happens. When he blew, we were lucky, definitely.”
As the man said, there was no one who won Daytona or any championship ever without luck.
Now Albuquerque just had to drive smoothly and not let up for the final seven minutes, holding off the hard-charging Kamui Kobayashi in another Cadillac DPi. (Kobayashi had also been let go last year by Wayne Taylor Racing.) And, of course, there was that #55 Mazda running 3rd, ready to move up should either Albuquerque or Kobayashi slip.
The top five finishers overall in the Rolex 24 were DPis. But each of these races is a race within a race, and class winners are saluted as well.
In LMP2, the Era Motorsport squad brought their #18 ORECA-Gibson home first, with a better than 19-sec. win. Drivers Paul-Loup Chatin, Ryan Daiziel, Kyle Tilley and Dwight Merriman combined for a fine, trouble-free run.
In LMP3, it was the Riley Motorsports Ligier-Nissan of Gar Robinson, Scott Andrews, Oliver Askew and Spencer Pigot on top, winning their class by three laps.
Pigot’s post-race comment addressed the skepticism about the rookie class: “It was a pretty smooth race, to be honest. We stayed out of trouble and just did our own thing. That was kind of the plan all along. No one knew how reliable these LMP3 cars would be.”
Darren Turner is looking forward to Sebring.
Photo by James Edmonds
GTLM saw a handful of cars competing, as compared to GTD with 19. Jordan Taylor co-drove Corvette Racing’s winning #3 C8.R, making it a great weekend all around for the Taylor family — dad Wayne, Albuquerque’s co-driver Ricky, and now brother Jordan.
Finally, in GTD, Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars finished both 1st and 2nd, besting the large and competitive field. Winward Racing took the top spot by just over 16 seconds, with the drive shared by Russell Ward, Philip Ellis, Indy Dontje and Maro Engel.
Heart of Racing’s #23 Aston finished the race in 5th in the hotly-contested class. The team ran solid laps for most of the race, and despite some minor mechanical issues, they stayed in touch with the fast runners — so much so, that with an hour to go, they were in 1st place.
After the race, driver Darren Turner was philosophical.
“We just weren’t there at the end,” he told us. “We were only in 1st due to pit stop rotations. But the car was good and we got a few points. Back at it at Sebring!”
Daytona represented another solid performance for European circuit favourite TF Sport, with a finish just off the lead lap in 7th place — and still in front of most of the GTD field. Ben Keating had a spin at Turn 7 about 16 hours into the race, a Porsche penalized for causing it.
Incidentally, Team Seattle/Heart of Racing, which began partnering with Aston Martin Racing with its #23 Vantage in GTD last year, combines 25 years of racing passion with fundraising for the Seattle Children’s Hospital. To date they have raised over $6 million.
More from DT
Darren Turner does a lot of development work for Aston Martin nowadays as he transitions more towards that role and away from racing. What’s up next?
“I did the three last races here with IMSA, now this one, and after that I actually don’t know what’s going on. My current contract runs to the end of the year and after that…
“Well, the road car stuff is getting more and more involved,” he continued. “I’ve been five years into a road car contract that’s been sitting on the side besides the racing. As Aston continues to go forward under the new structure with Lawrence [Stroll], I’m sure there will be more and more.”
The “road car stuff” to which DT was referring is the development of the Aston Martin Valkyrie, a limited-production hybrid sports car that is essentially a track car that can be used on the street.
We will be sure to chat with him again in March, and hopefully get some news on Aston Martin F1!
[Many thanks to James for providing this coverage, which originally appeared in The Motorsport Diaries, www.themotosportdiaries.com. Additional comments were provided by Druha Nahoda.]
Who was that masked man? Kuno Wittmer, who put the #13 AWA McLaren on pole.
Photo by Michael Levitt (LAT Images)
IMPC 1st Round to McLaren
by Bruce Vild
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kuno Wittmer took a McLaren 570S GT4 to pole for the second time in as many years in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge (IMPC) race at Daytona International Speedway.
But unlike last year, when race day brought a disappointing 26th-place finish, he and his partner Orey Fidani went on to win the IMPC’s first contest of the season for their Ontario-based team, AWA.
Depending on whom you ask, victory came as a result of shrewd pit strategy or the McLaren’s straight-line performance. Wittmer credited the win to dialing the car in just right when it was needed the most.
“Every car has a sweet spot as to where you want to accelerate,” Wittmer commented after the race. “I put the thing right in the sweet spot. As soon as we had the clearance to accelerate in the acceleration zone, I took it.”
But he had to get there first.
He and Fidani started from the front, lost position in a penalty, but managed to move back up the field by taking advantage of a pit stop rotation in the race’s final hour. The lead was regained with a crafty pass around a Camaro, but then lost during a full-course caution.
The restart (green flag) came with five minutes to go, and Wittmer found the sweet spot and kept the McLaren there until the checkered flag.
The next four places were taken by BMWs that had been vying for runner-up and a shot at the win. Ironically for them, this particular round of the IMPC was called the BMW Endurance Challenge.
This was a four-hour race, one of the longer ones on the schedule — the typical IMPC session is two hours. AWA, Wittmer and Fidani intend to go the whole season.
Other British cars in the Challenge included Motorsports in Action’s #3 McLaren, which Spencer Pigot qualified 4th and he and Sheena Monk finished 9th.
There were also three Aston Martin teams — Notlad Racing by RS1, Automatic Racing and VOLT Racing with Archangel. RS1 achieved the best result, finishing 14th.
Wittmer had a tip for all IMPC contenders: it’s not just the drivers. It’s really a team effort.
“The only way you can win these races is by spending the least amount of time in the pit lane,” he said. “That’s what we did today.”
[From IMSA and other reports.]
Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, south of the rally’s start at John O’Groats.
Photo by Allison & Peter Cotes
South by Southwest
It’s Scotland, England and Wales this Time for the Cotes Rally Team
by Peter Cotes
2020 was not a good year for rallies. Allison and I had planned to go to China, Tibet and Nepal in April, but that got cancelled in late January so we booked a trip to Italy — which was also cancelled.
Then the Tibet organisers cancelled a 2021 rally to Mongolia and announced they were giving up rallies to spend more time with their spouses and gardens!
So, when “John O’Groats to Lands End” (Scotland, England, Wales) came along as the post-lockdown rally (or should that be inter-lockdown rally?), we were up for it.
Events were still conspiring as our 4-year-old collie, Quinn, needed an operation to remove a grass seed from his thigh. We couldn’t leave him and his new wound in a kennel as he would soon lick it raw — so he had to come too, along with collar (renamed airbag) and “lampshade.”
Two adults and a collie in a Lotus Elan is not comfortable, however, so our Škoda had to substitute. There was a rest day part way through, so the plan was to take Quinn to a kennel then, retire the Škoda, and finish the rally in the Elan — at least that bit worked!
Off on the rally
There were eight cars in the rally and only one, a TR6 with fuel injection, had real problems. They had already ordered a spare manifold to be sent to Ullswater for assembly on the rest day, but that didn’t solve the problem and they would retire in Bath.
Whilst we knew most of the participants, only one car had been on previous rallies with us — the DB6, last seen in Kazakhstan. One mechanic we knew from previous rallies but not the other. He had heard of us — via his father, a Lotus owner and avid reader of our articles in Club Lotus U.K. News!
The rally start was just outside Inverness, Scotland, with a run to John O’Groats and overnight in Thurso. Flagging-off was from the signpost at John O’Groats, but the organiser wasn’t having any photos of Škodas in his gallery so our low-key start saw just man and dog in his souvenir picture.
Before that we visited the deserted village of Badbea — a relic of the Highland Clearances of 1750-1810, when tenants were forced off the land in favour of sheep, and dumped on windswept cliffs to learn to fish. Castle Sinclair Girnigoe has been a ruin since 1680 but was worth a visit. Unlike the ruins further south it was free to enter and there was no need to book ahead.
Quinn relaxes at Loch Doon Castle.
Photo by Allison & Peter Cotes
A new feature of this rally was the need to plan everything ahead — meals, evening and lunch, dog walks and the “dog-friendly” status of each hotel/restaurant. No more rolling up and assuming you’d get a seat. A phone call a couple of days ahead was needed and you had to give your name, arrival time/date and contact phone number — so you could be contacted if another guest later developed the virus. Even breakfasts were timetabled.
Most of the Scottish rally hotels were dog-friendly. One said they loved dogs but not in rooms, although they could go to the bar — helpfully adding that the bar was closed because of the virus. We didn’t stay in that hotel! Another refused dogs, and because we arrived late we were placed in the annex. After the late-night dog walk, however, it seems there was a navigational error — that didn’t end in the dog sleeping in the car.
From Thurso we went west via Castle Varrich and Smoo Cave, cursing the RVs that struggled to maintain any sort of speed as they inched past other RVs — and this was the main road! Later it got much worse as we drove on single-track roads from passing place to passing place. The rally organiser liked narrow roads.
We miscalculated how long the loop to the Old Man of Stoer Lighthouse would take, so we got to the Lighthouse but not the Old Man rock formation. Heading south and west again via Ardwreck Castle, our stop was in Gairloch, and here we found the most dog-friendly pub of the whole trip — the dog’s water arrived with our beer! Another new feature was ‘table service only’. You had to wait at the door and, wearing your mask, be ushered to a table. Going to the bar to collect a drink — a centuries-old U.K. tradition — was strictly not allowed.
Day 3 took us to Applecross and Fort William, Glencoe, and, seeking 007 and Skyfall, to Glen Etive before an overnight stop at Port Appin on Loch Linnhe. On Day 4 we deviated from the route to avoid the ‘Forest Drive’ and Inveraray Castle (no dogs) to visit Kilmartin, then on to the Crinan Canal and Castle Lachlan. That evening we were in another hotel outside Tighnabruaich (Bute), though we had to visit the main rally hotel for our ferry tickets to get across the Firth of Clyde.
Day 5 was the last in Scotland and took us down the coast to Galloway. We stopped at the Electric Brae, a stretch of road where the topography makes you believe your car is rolling uphill. It was called ‘electric’ as it was believed to be caused by electrical or magnetic forces — but it’s only an illusion.
Through the Galloway Forest Park we reached Loch Doon Castle (before it rained). The Castle was built by Robert the Bruce (or his father), but on an island in the Loch, and the remains relocated in 1935 before the area was flooded in a hydroelectric scheme. Our overnight stop was in a cabin in a deserted wedding venue overlooking Wigtown Bay.
Stops in Wales included the tourist attraction Portmeirion, made famous by the TV series The Prisoner.
Photo by Allison & Peter Cotes.
Next day we crossed Hadrian’s Wall and into a damp and drizzly England. We tried to visit Hermitage Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots visited her lover Bothwell — but it was closed due to the virus. Instead we went off-route to Hexham Abbey, where my great grandfather was instrumental in rebuilding the Nave in 1908. We got wet again visiting the old lead smelting furnaces near Nenthead before arriving in Ullswater in the Lake District, and the end of the rally for the Škoda and Quinn.
Enter the Elan
The Elan engine had been noisy so I had replaced most valve shims and reset the timing chain tension to 1/2 inch, but it was still noisy so I tightened the tensioner by a turn and hoped it wouldn’t be too tight. Please note, it’s still running!
The east coast of Norfolk to the west coast of Wales is 290 miles, and we were late leaving as we couldn’t drop the dog off before 10 o’clock. We did reach Portmeirion in time to wander round the Italianate folly in the dull evening drizzle. The rally, now complete with the arrival of the Elan, was staying in the Castell, and newly dog-free we were able to eat in the Hotel Portmeirion estuary-side restaurant — in carefully plastic-screened isolation from other tables.
We left the coast for the Hellfire Pass (Bwlch y Groes), a 1930s testing ground for Austin and Standard Triumph, before more single-track roads took us on to the bleak moorland east of Aberystwyth. We failed to get to the Elan Valley — shame! The closest we got was Strata Florida Abbey, resting place of various Welsh princes of the 13th century.
Another hill pass took us to the overnight stop at Llyswen. The hotel restaurant was vastly expensive so we ate out — joined by pure coincidence by another pair of exiles. There had been concern about more lockdowns in Wales so there was relief all round when we were able to leave for England without being pushed.
Next stop was Bath, England, via Gospel Pass and Tintern Abbey. Entry to the Abbey was ticket-only even though it’s a ruin, so we booked on-line the previous evening. When we arrived the car park was full but the Abbey fairly empty — no idea where all the visitors got to between the car park and the gate! We arrived in Bath in time for a wander round the city and a last-minute entry to a museum.
Back at the hotel, the TR6 was being worked on but the problem was terminal.
At Nant-y-Moch Reservoir, also in Wales.
Photo by Allison & Peter Cotes
Our last rally night was Rock in Cornwall. Before then we stopped in Lynton to see the 1888 water-powered cliff railway, built on the simple concept of two carriages attached by cables on a steep slope. One has 700 gallons of water in its tank and the other does not. The water comes off the moors so no need to pump it back up — it’s the braking system that’s complicated!
And then it was on to Tintagel, legendary home of King Arthur. By now it was wet and cloudy. My jacket kept my top dry, but as we clambered over the ruins my trousers and shoes got wetter and wetter, the clouds thickened and visibility diminished. Who would really want to build a palace in this place? Seemingly the Earl of Cornwall in 1230 — maybe he hoped to acquire a slice of Arthur and his magic?
Next day we drove the organiser’s route of narrow roads with high banks and incompetent RVs towards Lands End. It was busier than other locations we’d visited. The traffic was stop/start, the electric cooling fan died (along with the horn and handbrake, but they were less important just now!), and we had had enough when we reached the massive car park and declined its £7 fee for a brief photo op before the final rally lunch back at St Michaels Mount.
Then we headed home, a brief rally for the Elan and a new experience requiring organisation and planning as we all try to escape COVID — but as Canute could not stop the tide, can we stop the virus?
What about 2021? As Mongolia has been cancelled, we have booked with Scenic Car Tours for Chernobyl in Ukraine, site of a nuclear power station accident in 1986 and now a tourist destination. What could possibly go wrong?
[Peter and Allison Cotes have taken their Elans to challenging rallies all over the world, sharing their experiences with us in British Marque for several years running. Many thanks and best wishes to them for continued safe journeys and many more to come!]
The MINI JCW Team line-up, with Mark Pombo’s #61 in front. Pombo took the car to 2nd place in the Friday race and 3rd on Sunday, helping cement titles for himself and the team.
Photo courtesy MINI JCW Team
Now It’s MINI’s Turn
MINI JCW Team Takes Manufacturers’ Title in SRO TC America,
also Two of the Top Three in Driver Standings
From Marque Combined Sources
WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J., Oct. 5 — Right on the heels of Aston Martin and the win at Le Mans, another British marque gained serious motorsport bragging rights — this time at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
MINI USA and the MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) Team captured the Manufacturers’ Title in the 2020 SRO TC America series, for the second year in a row.
In addition, drivers Tomas Mejia and Mark Pombo finished the season 2nd and 3rd respectively in the Driver standings, giving the team much to celebrate in the series’ finale weekend at Indy.
The team also won the Manufacturers’ Title and five total race victories during the successful debut season in TC America in 2019, making this year’s finish a back-to-back triumph.
Actually, make that back-to-back-to-back, as MINI also won the Manufacturers’ Championship in the final season of the Street Tuner class of IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series back in 2018.
The MINI JCW Team came to Indy, the home track for the Brownsburg, Ind.-based outfit and its owner/operator, LAP Motorsports, with a 64-point lead in the Manufacturers’ Title standings, and maintained that lead to take home the trophy.
Three cars in two races
The team, competing in the TCA class, fielded three cars for the finale, with Tomas Mejia piloting the #60 MINI, Mark Pombo in #61, and Clayton Williams in #62.
TCA teams had to compete in two races that weekend. Race 1 on the Friday found a cold road surface that caused many cars to have difficulties staying on the track, but Pombo persevered in #61 and skillfully crossed the finish line to take 2nd place.
Teammate Mejia was not so lucky. Early in the race he made contact with another car that sent #60 upright on two wheels for several seconds. The car was so high up that the impact back down on the racing surface broke the clutch, ending the race for Mejia after only seven laps.
Clay Williams meanwhile finished 9th on Friday in #62.
The MINI crew was able to repair Mejia’s vehicle in time for him to race again on Sunday, where he finished in 4th place. Pombo placed 3rd in this one, and Williams helped round out a top-five finish in 5th.
The results, even with Mejia’s disappointment in Race 1, assured a 2nd-place finish among Drivers for himself, a 3rd-place for Pombo, and ultimately the Manufacturer’s Title for MINI.
A great year for the team
The MINI JCW Team has had a strong season. They opened at the Circuit of the Americas with Pombo and Mejia in a 1-2 finish in the first race, and Mejia winning the second race. At Virginia International Raceway in early July, the team took home six podiums in three races, including two wins by Pombo and a 1-2 finish with teammate Mejia. The team then took home five podium spots at Sonoma Raceway.
Here’s looking forward to 2021!
[From a press release from MINI USA and the MINI JCW Team, and reports from the SRO TC America website.]