Race Weekend Central

Wayne Taylor Racing Wins Qualifying Race, Claims Rolex 24 at Daytona Pole

Wayne Taylor Racing’s Ricky Taylor was able to avoid a last-ditch effort from JDC-Miller MotorSports’ Richard Westbrook on the final lap to win the Rolex 24 Qualifying Race Sunday (Jan. 23) at Daytona International Speedway.  The victory grants the Konica Minolta-sponsored Acura ARX-05 of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque, Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens the overall pole for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“It is always nice to be in victory lane at Daytona,” Taylor explained after the race.  “Although it isn’t the 24, it still means a lot.  I think the team did a great job and we’ve had our ups and downs already this weekend.  The team stayed on track and executed really well.  Thanks to Acura and HPD for always providing us with a great car and thanks to all the Konica Minolta boys on the strategy.  The stops were flawless, they put me in the lead twice and thankfully we held on for the win at the end.  It’s always really special here at Daytona and to start on the pole is really cool. We’ll have our work cut out for us, but that’s why they don’t give you trophies. You have to work for them.”

Albuquerque dropped to the rear of the DPi class after qualifying second due to changing tires for the race.  JDC-Miller Motorsports’ Tristan Vautier led the field to green, but the star at the start was Chip Ganassi Racing’s Renger van der Zande.  After starting at the rear of the class due to a crash on Saturday, van der Zande swept to the outside and moved up to second on the first lap.

With the scrum behind, Vautier was able to pull out to a two-second lead over van der Zande.  By the time the rest of the pack caught up, it was time for the first pit stops of the day.  There was a split strategy in play where teams such as Action Express Racing’s No. 31 pitted early, while others waited a few more laps.

Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian’s Tom Blomqvist inherited the lead after the stops as Taylor continued to make gains.  However, it was a swell final stop that allowed Taylor to move up into contention for the win.

The race came down to a duel between Taylor and Westbrook, who drove together as teammates for Spirit of Daytona Racing in 2013 in the former Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series.  Westbrook’s Cadillac appeared to have more downforce than Taylor’s Acura.  As a result, Westbrook was able to gain time in the infield.  However, once the drivers got back out onto the tri-oval, Taylor was able to pull away.

The X-factor was traffic.  With over 50 other cars on-track late in the race, catching slower traffic in the wrong place could be disastrous.  Exiting the bus stop coming to the white flag, Taylor ran up on the No. 69 ORECA 07-Gibson driven by G-Drive Racing by APR’s James Allen.  Taylor had to balk slightly, which gave Westbrook a small run on Taylor’s Acura.

With the white flag flying, Westbrook made what amounted to a desperation move into turns 1 and 2.  Contact was made, resulting in Westbrook spinning out and Taylor continuing on his way.

With Westbrook out of the way, Taylor was able to easily hold on for the win.  Taylor and Albuquerque’s margin of victory was 7.9 seconds over Westbrook and Vautier once the British racer recovered from the spin.  Action Express Racing’s Jimmie Johnson and Kamui Kobayashi finished third in their Cadillac, followed by Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis.  Van der Zande and Sebastien Bourdais finished fifth.

Much like the majority of 2021, the LMP2 class was dominated by PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports.  Ben Keating started from the pole in his No. 52, but lost the advantage on the first lap to teammate Steven Thomas in the No. 11.  A couple of laps later, Keating was able to retake the lead in traffic and was able to hold onto the advantage until their first pit stop 32 minutes into the race.  At that point, Mikkel Jensen took over.

Outside of pit stops, no one was able to take the No. 52 out of the class lead.  Jensen was able to coast to a relatively easy victory to put the No. 52 on the LMP2 pole.  Keating and Jensen ended up 20.050 seconds ahead of Thomas and Jonathan Bomarito at the finish.  G-Drive Racing by APR’s Francois Heriau and Rene Rast will start third in class, followed by High Class Racing’s Dennis Andersen and Fabio Scherer, who were on an alternate pit strategy and were the only LMP2 drivers outside of PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports to lead the class during the event.  DragonSpeed’s Devlin DeFrancesco and Eric Lux finished fifth.

In LMP3, teams had a number of issues during the day.  CORE autosport never even started the race due to mechanical issues.

Riley Motorsports, the defending LMP3 champions, were done after just five laps due to mechanical issues.  Performance Tech Motorsports also pulled behind the wall around halfway with an undisclosed issue.

Muehlner Motorsports America’s Cameron Shields started from the class pole and dominated the first half of the race.  However, when it came time for Shields to pits and hand over to Ugo de Wilde, trouble struck.  The team took the engine cover off and spent multiple laps in the pits trying to diagnose the issue.  They would resume and eventually finished sixth in class, eight laps down.

The issues for Muehlner Motorsports America’s No. 26 gave the lead over to Andretti Autosport’s Josh BurdonJarett Andretti had run second to Shields for his entire stint, but was not really on Shields’ pace.  Andretti’s pace was still much faster than the rest of the class.

When the round of pit stops finished up, Burdon had a lead of more than a minute over second-place.  From there, he easily coasted to victory.

Andretti and Burdon’s margin of victory was officially a full lap over Muehlner Motorsports America’s No. 6 for Moritz Kranz and Ayrton Ori due to the position of the overall leaders, but Burdon was 65.1 seconds ahead of Kranz when he took the white flag.  The No. 6 team had to recover from early trouble for Ori that put the No. 6 outside of the top 50 overall in the opening laps.  Andrew Wojteczko Autosport’s Orey Fidani and Kuno Wittmer were third, while Forty7 Motorsports’ Mark Kvamme and Antoine Doquin were a distant fourth.

In GTD Pro, KCMG’s Alexandre Imperatori started his Porsche on pole, but quickly lost the lead on the first lap to Pfaff Motorsports’ Mathieu Jaminet.  Unlike the prototype teams, the GTD and GTD Pro teams only needed to make one pit stop during the 100-minute race.  Jaminet was able to hold onto the advantage until he stopped 46 minutes into the race for fuel, tires and a change to Felipe Nasr.

After the stops, Nasr still had the lead, but WeatherTech Racing’s Alessio Picariello was able to run him down.  The two drivers ended up having contact in West Bend, which allowed Picariello to take the class lead while Nasr began to fade, eventually losing second to TR3 Racing’s Mirko Bortolotti.

In the final 20 minutes, Bortolotti ran down Picariello and staged a hard battle for the lead.  With 15 minutes to go, Bortolotti was able to get past Picariello exiting the infield to take the lead.  From there, Bortolotti held off Picariello to take the win and the GTD Pro class pole.

Bortolotti and Andrea Caldarelli ended up just 0.475 of a second ahead of Picairello and Julien Andlauer at the finish.  Jaminet and Nasr were still close by at the finish in third.  Maro Engel and Jules Gounon in WeatherTech Racing’s No. 97 Mercedes were fourth, while Austin Cindric and Dirk Mueller were fifth.

GTD saw the defending race champions get off to a good start.  SunEnergy1 Racing’s Kenny Habul started from the pole with HTP Winward Motorsport’s Russell Ward giving chase.  On lap 4, Ward was able to take his Mercedes to the lead, getting by the similar SunEnergy1 entry.  Crucial Motorsports’ Jon Miller followed past into second a couple of laps later.  It was these two teams that would battle at the front for nearly the entire race.

Further back, there were some issues for The Heart of Racing and Turner Motorsport.  First, Roman DeAngelis went straight at the Kink and bounded across the grass before spinning his Aston Martin out.  The team was fairly light-hearted about this incident.

DeAngelis was able to continue, but dropped from ninth to 14th as a result of the spin.  Later on, the team’s race came to an end when Tom Gamble ended up having contact with Turner Motorsport’s Bill Auberlen entering West Bend.  For Auberlen, the contact cut his right front tire.  The veteran racer was forced to limp his way around the track back to the pits.  While he did make it back, he did not return to the race.  Gamble pulled off to the right at turn 6 and parked himself out of harm’s way.  Eventually, he made his way back to the garage via the exit on the outside of the International Horseshoe.

The race ultimately came down to a duel between Lucas Auer in the Winward Mercedes and Crucial Motorsports owner-driver Paul Holton.  Holton was able to get within a couple of car lengths late in the race, but could not prevent Auer from taking the victory and 35 points for HTP Winward Motorsport.  The No. 57 Mercedes ended up finishing fourth out of the 35 GT3 cars that started.

Auer and Ward won by just a half-second over Holton and Miller.  Wright Motorsports’ Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen were third in their Porsche with Vasser Sullivan’s Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo close behind.  Habul and Raffaele Marciello ended up fifth.


Teams will keep their equipment in Daytona over the next few days and debrief.  Practice for the Rolex 24 at Daytona is scheduled to begin at 11:05 a.m. ET Thursday morning.  Frontstretch will be on-site at Daytona for the entire weekend to bring you all the action on the 3.56-mile road course.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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