2016 WeatherTech USCC: 24 Hours of Daytona race report
For the third year in succession, Porsche proved to be a major player in the battle for GTLM and GTD victory at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona – the season opener for the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
However, like last season, neither of the two factory Porsche North America Racing 911 RSRs could repeat their famous victory of 2014 nor could the host of new Porsche 991 GT3 Rs in the pro-am GTD class.
Starting from first and second in class (having been the fastest two cars overall in qualifying) the works Porsche 911 RSR duo were at the forefront of the GTLM battle from the get-go.
The no. 911 RSR, started by Nick Tandy led the opening hour and remained at the sharp end in the hands of Patrick Pilet and Kévin Estre while the no. 912 machine of Earl Bamber, Frédéric Makowiecki and Michael Christensen waited in the wings while battling the Corvette and BMW duos.
Overnight, the no. 912 machine moved ahead of its stablemate thanks to a slightly different pit sequence during the full course caution periods however, both factory Porsche 911 RSRs remained the only GTLM car able to take the fight to the two Corvette C7.Rs (the BMWs having faltered in the darkness).
With three quarters of the 54th Rolex 24 run, Tandy was back in the lead however, having just handed over to Estre with around five hours to go, the no. 911 RSR suddenly slowed on Daytona’s famous banking, the Frenchman radioing back that a driveshaft had broken.
After lengthy repairs behind the wall, Pilet returned the no. 911 Porsche to track to take an eventual eighth place, securing championship points that could prove vital come the end of the seaon.
This left Bamber, Makowiecki and Christensen to fight the two Corvettes alone, something that initially looked difficult as the two GM chargers paired up to draft in tandem, pulling a lead of up to ten seconds at times.
However, after the last round of pitstops with just under an hour to go, Bamber found himself with a slender lead over the no. 4 Corvette helmed by Oliver Gavin while Antonio Garcia in the no. 3 Chevrolet was a further seven seconds in arrears.
The Kiwi – one of Porsche’s 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans winners – held on valiantly for a few laps before an optimistic lunge by Gavin at the turn five hairpin saw the Porsche 911 RSR nerfed out of the way.
Bamber didn’t have the pace to stick with the no. 4 car and soon found himself under similar pressure from Garcia in the sister Corvette, the Spaniard finding a way through around the outside at the Bus Stop chicane with around half an hour remaining.
The two Corvettes battled wheel-to-wheel for victory, leaving Bamber in the box seat, ready to pick up the pieces however, Gavin and Garcia never came to blows, with Bamber bringing the no. 912 Porsche 911 home in third, a solid haul of points for his and Makowiecki’s 2016 WSCC title tilt.
In GTD, the new Porsche 991 GT3 R proved as competitive as its GTLM big brother with the no. 22 Alex Job Racing entry and the no. 540 Black Swan Racing GT3 R both in contention for victory during the closing stages.
The former was dragged back into the lead battle by Leh Keen, Cooper MacNeil, Shane van Gisbergen and Gunnar Jeannette having gone a lap down early on. However, a rear wing failure in the final hours saw the no. 22 machine drop down the order.
The no. 540 Porsche came into the picture late one, taking second when the leading Lamborghini ran out of fuel. Nicky Catsburg, Andy Pilgrim, Tim Pappas and Patrick Long could have won it though, closing down Magnus Racing in the final laps as the latter’s Audi R8 crossed the finish line on fumes.
For all the latest Porsche news and race reports from the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, make sure you check out our dedicated motorsport section now.