Friday April 19th, 2024 9:08PM

Last chance before the big dance at the Rolex 24

By Mark Robinson - IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Provided a final opportunity to work out the last kinks in preparation for this weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, 53 of the 59 entered teams took advantage of Friday’s one-hour practice on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

And for the fourth straight time over two days, Cadillac set the pace. This time it was Jack Aitken in the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R, with a best lap Friday morning of 1 minute, 35.983 seconds (133.523 mph). Along with the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac, the two Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) cars have paced every session in this week’s warmer conditions, following Pipo Derani putting the No. 31 on the pole last Sunday for the 62nd running of the iconic 24-hour race that starts Saturday afternoon.

Aitken’s pacesetter on Friday was 0.239 seconds better than Connor De Phillippi in the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 and the sixth-best lap overall through the four practices. Many of the teams that went on track Friday ran limited laps, using the time to work on other important aspects of race preparation.

“We’re just using it as driver change practice, do some pit stop practice for the team and maybe scrub some sets of tires,” said Renger van der Zande, co-driver of the No. 01 Cadillac that turned 16 laps and was third fastest overall with Sebastien Bourdais at the wheel. “That’s it.”

Some, however, were seeking pace. Mikkel Jensen was fastest in the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class with a 1:39.078 lap (129.352 mph) in the No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA LMP2 07 that ranked as best through all the practices this week.

Porsche reigned atop the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) classes in the final practice, with Thomas Preining logging the best lap in the No. 43 Andretti Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R (1:47.072/119.695 mph). He was followed closely by GTD PRO leader Matteo Cairoli in the No. 60 Iron Lynx Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO2 (1:47.239/119.508 mph).

With no more track time before the green flag waves at 1:40 p.m. ET Saturday, teams will spend the hours leading up to the race scouring the latest information to see what will help them be at their most ready for the 24-hour classic.

“We still struggle a little bit to find some pace, I feel like on car (No.) 6,” said Mathieu Jaminet, who’s sharing the Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 this week with Nick Tandy, Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor. Tandy placed the No. 6 sixth on the speed chart Friday with a lap of 1:37.456.

“There is still a little bit of work to do and some data to be analyzed from the last practice,” Jaminet added. “So yeah, we’ll see how we go in the race. Nobody ever really knows going into the 24. You always feel like you’re kind of ready and prepared, but until the race starts and the race goes, you never know how good you are.”

Ganassi Yearns Return To Top Step Of Podium

The man whose team fields the No. 01 Cadillac that’s been overall quickest in practice this week is used to winning. Chip Ganassi Racing entries have laid claim to eight Rolex 24 wins. Six of those have been overall in the top prototype class, but the last came in 2015.

The boss feels CGR is overdue for another overall win and believes he has the car and driver lineup to do it in van der Zande, Bourdais, Scott Dixon and Alex Palou. But he doesn’t want to jinx it.

“It’s like, ‘Man, we’ve got a good car, we’ve got a good group of guys, seem to be pretty fast,” Ganassi said Friday. “We sure don’t wanna (mess) this up!’ If we’re there at 23 hours and one piece (breaks), that’s all it takes.”

And just how does his team get back to victory lane?

“Lots of talking, lots of just getting everybody in the same room, everybody on the same page, everybody rowing the boat in the right direction – in sync,” Ganassi said. “There’s no magic to it. It’s just do the obvious things right. There’s no pixie dust around here. It’s just good, solid blocking and tackling.

And what would it mean to the team owner to be on the top step of the Rolex 24 podium once again?

“It would feel pretty good,” he said. “I kind of miss it there, it’s been a while since we’ve won so I’m about ready.”

NBC network’s live coverage of the 62nd Rolex 24 begins at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The action switches to USA Network from 2:30-8 p.m., 10 p.m.-midnight and then again from 6 a.m.-noon Sunday. NBC has the race conclusion airing from noon-2 p.m. Sunday. Flag-to-flag streaming coverage is also available on Peacock.

  • Associated Categories: Sports, NASCAR News, Other Motorsports
  • Associated Tags: motorsports, Auto Racing, Asphalt, road course, IMSA, sports cars, daytona, WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Rolex 24
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