3:00 PM, Sunday: Thank you for following Road & Track's live coverage of the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona. The complete live blog is archived below.
2:41 PM: The rains never fall and the Cadillacs survive. Action Express Racing's #5 wins overall, the #31 makes its way to second to complete a 1-2. What was once a two lap lead ends with three cars on the lead lap as the #54 CORE Autosport car finishes third, likely a winner in a race that goes for another hour.
Ford finishes a 1-2 that looked easy in GTLM, with the #67 Chip Ganassi Racing GT leading the way ahead of the #66. Corvette Racing C7.R #3 completes the podium.
In GTD, the #11 Grasser Lamborghini takes what had been the most hotly contested class of the day, leading the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX and #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini, a car that was rebuilt and shaken down for the first time on a short track intended for late models on Friday night, to the class podium.
The total race distance of 808 laps completed by the leaders is comfortably a new distance record for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, thanks in no small part to an uncharacteristically low count of just four full course yellows over the length of the race.
IMSA's season continues with another classic endurance race in Florida, the 12 Hours of Sebring, on March 17th.
2:39 PM: White flag. The faces in the Action Express pits are painted with concern, but their #5 Cadillac has a minute of lead to burn through.
2:31 PM: Comfortable leads now in GTLM and GTD for the #67 Ford GT and the #11 Lamborghini, respectively. Something would have to change drastically in the next seven minutes for those categories to open up again.
2:19 PM: The last fiftieth of a 24 hour race make for such desperate times that the Land Motorsport Audi GTD car blew a right-rear tire and chose to replace it with a wet tire under completely dry conditions. Not a full set of wet tires, just one. Like a fix-a-flat, but for a race car.
2:09 PM: In GTD, the off-strategy #33 Mercedes-AMG is just a second off the leading #11 Grasser Lamborghini. If that strategy pays off, the Riley Motorsports-run Mercedes could be in position to disrupt a class Lamborghinis have had control over since dawn. If not, the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX is just 22 seconds behind.
2:05 PM: The #5's engine issues are acting up. Since it has a massive lead and a teammate in second, it will run a conservative last thirty minutes and focus on keeping that engine well cooled. Will this be a Toyota at Le Mans in 2016 situation?
1:53 PM: The rain has not worsened yet, but the #37 Jackie Chan Jota Prototype did blow a right-rear tire. That's the corner that has been trouble for so many teams today.
1:46 PM: The overall leader has broken the distance record for this race. Presumably, this will set the new record for longest total distance traveled over 24 hours at Daytona.
1:41 PM: One hour to go.
1:35 PM: Those past few hours of planning may well have been for nothing. Rain is beginning to fall, and with thunderstorms projected later in the afternoon, it could come down hard.
1:09 PM: Not much happening on track, but this has been a banner race for in-race press releases. First, Continental has had to defend its Prototype tires multiple times. Now, BMW is announcing that it will receive Balance of Performance benefits before Sebring, apparently determined before the end of Daytona.
12:58 PM: Juan Pablo Montoya has had a few incidents with GTD cars over the past few hours. That's not surprising, given the reputation he developed in his part-time runs in a Chip Ganassi Racing Daytona Prototype in Grand-Am, but it seems like a vexing decision to take those sorts of risks in what is very much a lost race for Penske's Acura program.
Anyway, Montoya has yet to succeed in wrecking GT traffic with carelessness, but he did send the Land Motorsports Audi through the infield and earn himself a penalty.
11:55 AM: The #15 Lexus RC-F is beached in one of the infield walls. David Heinemeier Hansson seems to have just missed his braking zone, but he rejoins with what seems to be minor damage. Notably, that's the car Rolex 24 win record holder Scott Pruett is driving in his final professional race, so it being repairable means he should be able to finish his final start.
11:45 AM: Nothing of note has happened on track in the past 90 minutes.
Teams are scheduling their last stops and preparing to get their best drivers behind the wheel for those last stints. Until then, the leaders will try to maintain striking distance in class without risking anything catastrophic.
10:51 AM: An update on Wayne Taylor Racing's chronic right-rear punctures from Continental, who had previously claimed that all suffering issues were operating outside of their suggested limits:
10:15 AM: Perhaps the most impressive part of the dominant run in GTLM by Chip Ganassi Racing's Ford GTs is that they've never really separated and neither car has proven themselves consistently quicker than the other. The #66 and #67 have built up a 20 second lead on the #3 Corvette, but neither can build a lead on their teammate.
9:45 AM: The #11 Grasser Lamborghini moves into the lead in GTD outright after having swapped that position with the #33 Mercedes AMG every time one would stop over the past few hours. The top four in GTD are all within ten seconds.
9:26 AM: The #32's issue was simply with clutch pressure, but it could be a problem on future stops. That car rejoins seven laps down of the overall leaders, three laps behind the #54 CORE Autosport entry that leads all teams without recent major engine concerns.
9:20 AM: Just as the window of opportunity opened for the #32 United Autosport Prototype, it seems to be closing. That car is stalled on the pit lane with some sort of issue and the engine cover is off.
9:14 AM: Not great news for Action Express Racing as the #31 Cadillac has gone to the garage under green to replenish the same cooling systems that are struggling on the #5 Cadillac. It returns after losing a lap, but both of the remaining contenders on pace have reason to believe that they have what could be a major engine issue.
Suddenly, United Autosport and CORE Autosport, two teams who have done little more than try to survive as the leaders overwhelmed their LMP2-based cars on speed, could win this race overall.
9:03 AM: The #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari, which had been running fifth and on the lead lap in GTD, has backed into the tire barrier just past the backstretch chicane. The back of the car is heavily damaged and at least one tire is flat.
8:54 AM: Thanks to that last safety car, the #3 Corvette is within half a lap of the Ford GTs for the first time of this calendar day. The Corvette has been slower all race, but it has kept pace through a few laps, and it was quicker in the rain. Somehow, they're still in this GTLM race.
8:45 AM: Back to green. The #5 Cadillac lost its lap advantage, so it has only a few lapped cars between it and the #31 Cadillac for the overall lead.
In GTD, the Team Riley #33 Mercedes-AMG leads in class over the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX and pair of Lamborghini Huracans that have led for most of the night.
The Ford GT pair continue to hold a comfortable lead in GTLM.
8:30 AM, Safety Car 4: The #5 Cadillac, the overall leader by a lap, goes straight to the garage once given the chance and the engine cover immediately comes off. After about a minute, the cover goes back on and the car goes back out onto the track with just a quick refuel.
Fox Sports reports that the issue is related to a cooling problem the car has had throughout the night. Though this is the second season for the Cadillac DPi program, this is a new engine specification, and this may well be a case of Action Express Racing choosing to be more conservative than they normally would. Given that they have a one lap lead, also own the car running second, and have just seen Spirit of Daytona lose one of these new Cadillac engines mid-race, this was almost certainly the right choice.
8:23 AM, Safety Car 4: Just the fourth full course caution of the race comes out in hour 18, called for debris in turn 6 and on the NASCAR back straight.
8:18 AM: GTD has its first dramas in a few hours as the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX of Katherine Legge goes off-track, bumped off after a simple issue with lap traffic. The spin looked significant, but Legge is back on track and still putting up competitive times. That car still runs third in class.
8:16 AM: Now fully into the morning, the official retirement of the #55 Mazda means just five cars failed to survive the night. All five retirements are factory-supported DPi entries.
7:53 AM: The #55 Mazda Prototype has a minor issue and that issue is that it is moderately on fire. The car stops, the fire is extinguished, and that's day over for the quicker and more reliable of the two Mazdas.
7:46 AM: Not too many official retirements in the race, but among the few that have called their days early are three entries that were expected to be real contenders for the overall win. Both Extreme Speed Motorsport Nissan DPIs have ended their races already, and now the #10 of Wayne Taylor Racing is headed home as well.
7:22 AM: It's been a few hours, but the #10 Cadillac has again returned to its old ways, again blowing a right-rear tire at full speed. That corner has been an issue for most of the field today, but the persistent issues have hit that car and the #55 Mazda particularly often.
7:00 AM: The sun rises over Daytona. Nearly a third of the race remains.
6:50 AM: The #7 Acura returns to the track. That car is 23 laps down.
6:27 AM: Team Penske reports that the that damaged the #7 Acura was with the #31 Action Express Cadillac. Yes, that's the car it would have been racing against for second overall and the teammate of the leader. Action Express now runs 1-2 as that #7 is still behind the wall undergoing repairs.
6:22 AM: Just a bad hour for Acuras as the #69 HART GTD entry is undergoing suspension repairs on the pit lane. That car is run by Honda employees and had run its way into the top five earlier in the race after starting in fifteenth.
6:18 AM: The #7 Penske Acura is in the garage after sustaining some damage from with another car. Few details are available at this time but this leaves just the #5 Action Express Cadillac DPI on the lead lap and just the #31 Action Express Cadillac DPI within a lap of it.
6:04 AM: Back to green after that caution for, uh, a lightly damaged GTD car that continued without leaving any debris on the racing line.
5:44 AM, Safety Car 3: We have a car, the #73 GTD Porsche of Park Place Motorsport, driving through the infield. That car rejoins with no real issue, but the safety car was called nonetheless and we are under a full course yellow for just the third time today.
5:21 AM: With the overnight hours about to come to a close, the GTD leaders are completing their brake changes. Expect some instability in that class over the next few hours while those changes cycle out.
4:53 AM: The #6 Acura returns to the track, 25 laps down on the leading trio.
4:48 AM: The #31 Cadillac, one of three leaders left up front in Prototype, stops and undergoes a rear wing change. The change goes off without a hitch and returns to the track with minimal delay.
4:33 AM: The #6 Acura is still behind the wall. Effectively, that car has dropped out of contention unless the cars in front of it have issues of their own.
4:13 AM: Right-rear punctures are BACK! It's the #78 Jackie Chan Jota Prototype this time. That car was many laps down before the issue and will remain many laps down, but it runs seventh in class and overall.
4:10 AM: That #6 Acura is now behind the wall undergoing an alternator change. This is disastrous, and effectively bumps the Prototype field down to just three cars running competitive laps within reach of the overall lead.
4:04 AM: A long stop for the #6 Penske Acura, which had an electrical issue that left it with just one functional headlight.
3:56 AM: Another left-rear tire puncture for the #55 Mazda. You know that car is struggling with balance because it's having the same problem as everyone else but having it on the wrong side.
3:42 AM: Yes, that's a double retirement for Extreme Speed Motorsports. Their Nissan DPi cars ran quickly enough to keep up with the leading Acuras and Cadillacs, but they are both out by hour fourteen.
3:41 AM: The #22 Extreme Speed Motorsports Nissan DPi is on fire in the pits. The teammate to that car is retired and driver Pipo Derani is walking out of the car on pit lane with no replacement ready to go. Not a good sign for that entry.
3:19 AM: The game has changed: Instead of blowing a right-rear tire, the #55 Mazda DPi has blown a left-rear tire. The car remains many laps down.
3:13 AM: The #2 Extreme Speed Motorsports Nissan has retired:
3:06 AM: Contact between the #85 JDC-Miller Prototype and the #58 Wright Motorsport Porsche in turn one creates some minor damage to a few cars.
2:55 AM: The #78 Jackie Chan Jota Racing LMP2-based car is rolling back into the pits without its rear wing assembly and a significant amount of its left-rear corner. Impressively, it does not have a flat right-rear tire.
2:50 AM, Halfway Update:
We're down to just a single trip around the of the clock left. Your cars in contention:
Prototype: #31, #6, #5, #7, #22 (one lap down), #37 (one lap down), #32 (two laps down), #54 (four laps down), #78 (four laps down)
GT Le Mans: #66, #67, #3 (one lap down), #4 (two laps down), #912 (two laps down)
GT Daytona: #86, #11, #48, #44, #64, #51, #33, 15 (two laps down), #29 (three laps down), #75 (three laps down)
2:46 AM: The first cycle of stops post-Rahal spin is complete at just past halfway and the new overall leader is the #31 Action Express Cadillac of Mike Conway. The #6 Penske Acura runs second, the #5 Action Express Cadillac is in third. Rahal runs fourth, but the top four overall are under just a 20 second blanket. Pipo Derani has the #22 Extreme Speed Nissan DPi, the lone entry from that team still running competitive laps, one lap down in fifth, leading the gaggle of healthy-but-slow LMP2-based prototypes.
2:41 AM: Right-rear tires blowing out is the theme of the night. It's the #99 JDC-Miller prototype suffering this time.
2:30 AM: The late hours are fickle at Daytona. For most, these times are quiet and relatively slow. The incidents don't discriminate by how well your car is running, however.
Graham Rahal chose to exemplify this, spinning the race-leading #7 Acura. He sustains no significant damage and rejoins, losing much of that car's dominant lead.
2:00 AM: A mostly quiet hour on track, as is wont to happen in these overnight segments. That, unfortunately, was very much not the case for the #29 Land Motorsport Audi that had led most of the race in GTD. That car was already laps down after a five minute stop and hold penalty, and it only gets worse as the car loses its rear wing on track.
This is Fred Smith leading you through to the end, by the way. Thanks to Chris Perkins for his fantastic work from the track over the past few hours.
1:05 AM: Fernando Alonso in the #23 United Autosport car pulled into the pits, and his McLaren teammate Lando Norris hopped in. Trevor Foster from the team said a brake master cylinder failed, so the car is headed to the garage for repair, which should take 20 mins.
12:50 AM: Ten hours and ten minutes down and the race's second full-course yellow has ended. Acura leads the Prototype class with Ricky Taylor—who, reminder, is getting over the flu—in the #7 up front, followed by teammate Simon Pagenaud in the #6. The #5 Cadillac of Joao Barbosa is in third.
Ford still dominates GTLM with Joey Hand in the #66 ahead of Ryan Briscoe in the #67. The #3 Corvette of Mike Rockenfeller is still in third. Katherine Legge in the #86 Acura NSX leads GTLM ahead of the #48 Lamborghini of Bryan Sellers and the #11 Lamborghini of Rik Bruekers. The #44 Land Racing Audi R8 was handed a penalty, which knocked it down to 7th, though John Potter has raced his way up to 5th.
12:00 AM: Yet another right-rear tire failure as Saturday becomes Sunday. This time its the Action Express #31 Cadillac of Felipe Nasr. He managed to get it into the pits with minimal damage, and is already on his way back out on track.
Programming Note: Our liveblog might be quiet for a few minutes. I’m headed out to take a few pictures, and Fred will be back online at 1:30 am ET.
11:55 PM: Nick Tandy is getting back into the #911 Porsche RSR after a bad shunt at the Bus Stop. The #90 Cadillac is still in the garage, and unfortunately, things don't look good for it.
11:48 PM: Continental Tire tweeted out a statement addressing the multiple punctures we've seen throughout the race:
11:42 PM: Nine hours down, 15 to go. Trouble for the #911 Porsche RSR of Nick Tandy, who spun in the Bus Stop. He ended up in the tires, and the rear wing was torn off completely. The #911 is in the garage now.
In other trouble-related news, IMSA Radio reports that the #90 Cadillac is in the garage because of a misfire.
11:35 PM: The number #10 Cadillac has left the garage with Van der Zande behind the wheel, but it's 10 laps behind the leader. The two Ford GTs lead the GTLM field with the #66 of Joey Hand in the lead—the #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner is a lap behind. The #29 Audi still leads GTD with the #86 Acura NSX of Jeffrey Schmidt and #33 Mercedes-AMG of Ben Keating in 2nd and 3rd, respectively.
11:22 PM: Cadillac dominated the early hours of the race, but now the #90 Spirit of Daytona entrant is in the garage for repairs. Albequerque is still way out ahead of the #7 Acura.
11:15 PM: Another hour, another right-rear tire puncture. This time it's the defending champion, the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi. Renger van der Zande, making his Wayne Taylor debut, was P3 when the tire failed. He nursed it into the pits, and what appears to be a coolant leak and bodywork damage has forced the car into the garage.
10:58 PM: Ricky Taylor takes over for Catroneves in the #7 Acura. Taylor, in his debut race for Acura and Team Penske, is getting over .
10:55 PM: With a comfortable lead over Castroneves, Albuquerque brings the Action Express Cadillac into the pits for fresh tires and fuel. Ben Keating, driving the #33 Mercedes-AMG GT3, just displayed some sideways heroics through the Bus Stop as he made way for faster traffic.
10:35 PM: Castroneves driving the #7 Acura DPi has ceded the lead to the #5 Cadillac of Filipe Albuquerque, who's on fresher tires. Joey Hand in the #66 Ford GT is still leading GTLM, while Sheldon van der Linde leads GTD in the #29 Audi R8.
We're approaching the eight hour mark here at Daytona, which means there's still two-thirds of the race left.
10:20 PM: Trouble for the #23 United Autosport entry when the left rear tire blew out before entering the Bus Stop. Phil Hanson was behind the wheel, and managed to nurse it back in the pits, but there was significant bodywork damage, necessitating the replacement of the rear fender and the engine cover. Fernando Alonso is in now.
By the way, this is Web Editor Chris Perkins here. I've been at the track taking in the scene, but I'm going to take over for Fred for a little bit. The man needs a break!
10:04 PM: It's a dominant lead for the Fords in GTLM, but they struggled during the brief storm a few hours ago. Can they maintain that lead when the expected rains come early Sunday morning?
9:35 PM: That noise piece change was very much planned for the Penske Acuras:
9:25 PM: Don't look now, but the #7 Acura might actually have a shot at this. It leads and has kept pace with the Cadillacs since the rain began to dry.
9:09 PM: Well, that explains that.
8:38 PM: We have a non-Ford leader for the first time tonight in GTLM. It's the #911 Porsche, which leads the two Fords by just a few seconds after the last cycle of stops on a drying track.
8:26 PM: That car is going to the garage area. The right-front corner has suffered major suspension damage.
8:21 PM: We have our first major incident in the GTLM class. It's the #25 BMW 8-Series, which has had a strong but unspectacular debut through its first few hours. Those cars have managed to stay on the lead lap, but the right-front tire blew spectacularly in NASCAR turn 2.
The car made no with the wall and made its way back to the pit lane safely, but the right-front corner sustained major damage from the puncture.
8:10 PM: After all that, and all the cars taking chances on dry tires, the three class leaders are the same. The disparity in track conditions between the quick-drying banking and the slow-to-dry infield will be an issue for those still on wet tires, but it certainly seems like the risk those who chose not to change tires at all has not paid off for anyone.
8:00 PM: The rain has subsided, but the track will take a few laps to dry out. A few cars stayed on slicks and, shockingly, none of those cars have had a major incident.
7:48 PM: That light rain is now heavy rain, and the entire field stops for wets. The track is fully soaked, and anyone left out will have an issue.
7:39 PM: Light rains beginning to fall. The track is nowhere near wet enough to switch to intermediates and this storm is expected to last just a few minutes. Heavier rains are expected overnight and into Sunday.
7:30 PM: It's a disastrous right-rear puncture for the #10 Cadillac, the sort that risks damage to the underside of the car. Fortunately for Wayne Taylor Racing, the tire blew near the pit entrance, so damage is likely minimal. They return to the track with no investigation of potential damage.
The tire blew on the banking in NASCAR turn 3. The car was running second before that unscheduled stop.
7:21 PM: Fox Sports 2 is currently airing ads proclaiming that, while you may not be a "Prepper" now, "You will be!".
IMSA: It prepares you for apocalyptic scenarios. You don't get that in World Challenge!
7:15 PM: The Land Audi is back into the GTD lead after the last cycle of stops. That car and the #33 Mercedes-AMG have swapped the lead a few times in the past few hours.
6:48 PM: Not much happening out there, which is probably a good thing given how the first few hours of this race went for some top contenders in Prototype and GTD. Your class leaders are the #5 Cadillac, the #66 Ford GT, and #33 Mercedes-AMG GT3.
6:30 PM: The #77 Mazda has a flat left-rear tire. Not a great debut race for Joest with Mazda through four hours.
6:14 PM: Night has fully fallen over Daytona. As you'll no doubt hear plenty of times over the next few hours, this race is known for its long and not particularly dark night, the result of a race being held in the middle of Winter at a track with lights all the way around the majority of the course.
6:08 PM: Simon Pagenaud spins the #6 Acura, thanks in no small part to a bit of from the #31 Cadillac of Stuart Middleton. Both cars remain on the lead lap, but Middleton was given a drive-through penalty. That pushes both cars out of the top five, but we still have three different manufacturers in the top three: The #5 Cadillac, the #2 Nissan, and the #7 Acura.
6:02 PM: That's a right-rear puncture for the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari, their GTLM entry. That same car had a door issue after the last safety car, so this second unscheduled stop this hour is a killer in their attempts to remain in the hunt in that ultra-competitive class.
5:52 PM: As Derani notes, both punctures on that #22 Nissan DPI have been on the same corner. The car is three laps down and has been back on track for a few laps, but because the stop was rushed, the team does not know how extensive the damage underneath the car is.
5:47 PM: The #22 made it back to the pits but will have to undergo some repairs, possibly significant ones. They can get a few laps back with cautions here, so if they can fully repair the car, their race isn't over. Nevertheless, this is an absolutely massive setback for what is possibly the non-Cadillac with the best shot at an overall win.
Rusty Wallace is telling the world about a time he watched the Indianapolis 500.
5:43 PM: A bad right-rear puncture for the #22 Extreme Speed Motorsports car, previously running second overall, has that car limping back to the garage. The tire is shredding the right-rear corner and may cause some significant damage.
Rusty Wallace, who has driven in a top level endurance race exactly once, is diagnosing the issue.
5:40 PM: Not saying that things are quiet on track at the moment, but Rusty Wallace is currently being interviewed about a time he ran a Ferrari Challenge car.
5:35 PM: The 3GT Racing Lexus pair had to stop for a lap to reset a software issue under the last safety car, so those cars have fallen from second and third to eleventh and twelfth. They remain on the lead lap.
5:28 PM: Derani is catching the overall leader, while the #6 Penske Acura has moved into fourth. The Cadillacs seem to be either losing their pace advantage or dialing back their speed as the sun sets.
5:24 PM: Back to green. Pipo Derani is now in the #22 Extreme Speed Motorsports Nissan DPI, restarting in second overall but five cars behind the overall leading #5 Action Express Cadillac DPI.
5:20 PM, Safety Car 1: Another door issue, this time the #62 Risi Competizione GTLM Ferrari. That car was running in the top five and on the lead lap in class.
5:10 PM, Safety Car 1: We have our first full course caution of the day as the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports LMP2 car, which had been the leading LMP2-based car for most of the day, is stopped on track in NASCAR turn 1.
5:00 PM: The #29 Land Motorsports Audi is finally beginning to pull away for the class lead in GTD. That gap, under a second for much of the race, is now up to eleven seconds ahead of the pair of Lexus GTD entries.
4:40 PM: Not a great hour for the Mazda program! The #55 is slow in the banking in NASCAR turns 1 and 2. It's back to full speed by the backstretch chicane and the issue seems to be resolved.
4:30 PM: An absolute disaster for the #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari, which catches fire in the pit lane. That's their GTD entry, a car that had led that class for the entire first stint of the race.
4:23 PM: The #2 Extreme Speed Nissan has a flat left-rear tire and takes an unscheduled stop from sixth. Looks like there aren't any other issues with that car and it's away without any bodywork repairs.
4:20 PM: The #77 Mazda is slow on the pit lane. That marks an hour 2 issue for both of those Joest Mazdas.
4:17 PM: The #22 and #2 Nissan DPi-based cars of Extreme Speed Motorsports have moved into fifth and sixth, respectively, ahead of the #38 Performance Tech Oreca LMP2 car. That makes a 1-2-3-4-5-6 run for the DPi-type cars, with four Cadillacs leading two Nissans. Troubles in the pits have moved his teammate down the order, but Juan Pablo Montoya has what is now the leading Penske Acura in eighth.
4:11 PM: After 90 minutes, Ford's lead in GTLM is up to 16 seconds on the two Corvettes. In GTD, the lead is just half a second for the #29 Land Motorsports Audi over the quickest of the 3GT Lexus entries from the team formerly known as Rocketsport.
4:05 PM: Taylor stops the #7 to fix that door. It appears to be an issue with the latch, perhaps the simplest possible thing to break on an overwhelmingly complicated car.
4:00 PM: More second stop issues for historically great teams as the #7 Acura of Penske Racing has an unlatched driver's side door fluttering open in the infield. Driver Ricky Taylor can't seem to get it closed.
3:57 PM: The #55 Mazda is being run for the first time by Joest Racing, the iconic team that has won so many races overall at Le Mans with Audi.
On a related note, the #55 Mazda has already lost a left-front wheel on the out lap after a stop. An uncharacteristic mistake for a team known for not making any mistakes, but at least it gives the viewers at home a chance to see fans asleep in their lawn chair just past hour 1 right behind where the loose wheel ended up.
See, Mazda? There's silver linings in even the most careless gaffes.
3:44 PM: The leading non-Cadillac, the #38 Oreca LMP2 car of Performance Tech, has a telemetry issue and will undergo a reset under this next scheduled stop. It's early for a simple tech issue. and a little disconcerting for a team with a real shot at an overall win after years of running in the Prototype Challenge class.
3:34 PM: A little bit of in a contested battle for second and the #90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac is into that position overall. The Cadillacs may be the dominant force in these conditions, but they are four cars run by three teams, and there certainly aren't any team orders between the group. This has been an issue for this group of teams since they were all running Corvette Daytona Prototypes in Grand-Am and looks like it will be an issue again today.
3:27 PM: We have our first in-race issue of the day as the #20 BAR1 Motorsports LMP2 car is driving slowly around the apron. Driver Brendan Gaughan (Yes, the longtime funded NASCAR driver, he happens to be a decent road racer) is limping the car home.
GT entries in both classes are beginning their pit cycles at around minute 50.
3:14 PM: Scheduled stops beginning for the leaders now, with all four Cadillacs having stopped before the 36 minute mark in the race. Filipe Albuquerque comes out with the overall lead for Action Express Racing, pushing the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac to second.
3:08 PM: An unscheduled stop for the #78 Jackie Chan Jota Oreca LMP2 entry, which undergoes some under-the-bumper repairs. A disconcerting start for one of the best LMP2 teams, and with how quick the four Cadillacs have looked early, endurance may be the only strength of that group.
3:00 PM: Castroneves is down to fourth, soon to be fifth, as all four Cadillacs look to pass the lead Acura. They are the clear favorites in this race.
2:50 PM, Saturday: Finally, Felipe Nasr gets the #31 Cadillac DPi past the Acura of Castroneves. He's into second, and it only took three laps of constant pressure in a much faster car to do it.
As 2013 Takuma Sato will tell you, Helio Castroneves is good at blocking.
2:44 PM, Saturday: Felipe Nasr is charging now in the second Action Express Racing Cadillac, up into third and pressuring Castroneves for second. It's a Ford 1-2 in GTLM, while the #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari leads in GTD.
2:40 PM, Saturday: We're green! Immediately, Filipe Albuquerque moves the Action Express Cadillac into second overall, but Helio Castroneves gets the lead Penske Acura back into that position. Cadillacs hold four of the top five positions overall, while all three polesitters escape lap 1 with their respective leads.
2:35 PM, Saturday: Pace laps have begun. This year's race is beginning on network television, so there won't be much of a pre-race show.
It's an inauspicious start for the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche in GTD, which is already heavily damaged. How? Good question! Nobody seems to know. It'll start the race in the garage.
2:30 PM, Saturday: On paper, little has changed since last year's Rolex 24 at Daytona. The crown jewel of the IMSA season is in its second season under Daytona Prototype International (Styled as DPi, because at some point in the past ten years we've all just sort of accepted that "i" is always lower-case), a class that takes the platforms that make up the LMP2 category internationally and gives manufacturers the freedom to design unique bodies and engines with no restrictions on factory support for individual teams. The category's leaders are still Cadillac, with pole-sitting Wayne Taylor Racing and Grand-Am stalwarts Action Express Racing their two strongest programs, and Nissan, which boasts a program run by 2016 Rolex 24 winners Extreme Speed Motorsports, but the rest of the class has gotten overwhelmingly stronger over the offseason. Mazda has contracted Joest Racing, the outfit that ran Audi's overwhelming LMP1 program at Le Mans, to run their DPi debuted last season, while Acura and Penske Racing have partnered to debut the HPD-designed ARX-05, a cutting edge pair of cars that boast a six-driver lineup that would put Totoya's top-flight LMP1 lineup to shame.
Thanks to an influx of both domestic and international LMP2 entries joining the factory-supported DPi cars, the class will boast 20 total prototypes, with that group headlined by CORE Autosport, the dominant team in the now-defunct Prototype Challenge class, two cars from the Jackie Chan Jota Sport program that won Le Mans in class last year, and a two-car entry from United Autosport that will mark the sports car debut for, among others, future McLaren star Lando Norris and current McLaren star Fernando Alonso.
GT Le Mans is the strongest nine-car class one could assemble, made up entirely of factory and factory-supported efforts from Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, and Corvette. Though Rahal-Letterman has struggled in the debut of their new BMW 8-Series racers, the other four manufacturers have all brought previous proven race winners, and only Risi Competizione's Ferrari 488 is not backed up by a second entry.
GT Daytona is the field's biggest class, 21-deep with GT3-based entries. One-year exceptions for factory support in this class have expired, meaning that its Acura NSX and Lexus RC-F programs are no longer supported on the level of a GT Le Mans program as they were last year, but the class still claims a deep field with strong entries from those programs as well as a diverse field of Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes-AMGs.
There are 50 entries in total, each with a legitimate shot at winning their class. In 24 hours, there will be just three winners.
Additional reporting by Chris Perkins.