Augusto Farfus, Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng, and Colton Herta in the #25 Team RLL M8 GTE won the competitive GTLM class in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 2019 season opener for the IMSA WeatherTech Series. The #24 M8 GTE driven by John Edwards, Jesse Krohn, Chaz Mostert, and Alex Zanardi, set back by a mechanical problem early in the race, finished ninth in class. The Turner Motorsport M6 GT3 driven by Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley, Jens Klingmann, and Dillon Machavern, finished tenth in the GTD class after the car had to make two stops for repairs in the overnight hours.
The #25 car stayed out of trouble and ran near the front of the GTLM class much of the way. Herta, running his first-ever IMSA race, set the fastest lap in the class. The race was dry until just before 5:00 AM on Sunday, with almost fifteen hours completed. But then the rain came. The track went yellow at 6:00, and the race was red-flagged at 7:22 AM. After an hour and forty-five minutes the cars went back out and the track went green. Then, the race went through a succession of green flag periods in treacherous conditions, punctuated by full-course yellows after cars spun and crashed out. Farfus got by James Calado in the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3 for second with just over two hours remaining in the race.
Richard Westbrook in the #67 Ford GT, who had not pitted with other GTLM cars during the next-to-last caution period, led the class, but he had to make one more stop for fuel. He ran so low on fuel that he had to come in for an emergency stop under yellow before the pits were open. The rules say that when a team does this, it has to return for another stop after the pits open. Westbrook returned to the track in third behind Farfus and Calado. Then, with conditions worsening, IMSA threw a second red flag before the Ford could make its required second stop. The race was eventually checkered during the red flag period, so the #25 BMW won, ahead of the Ferrari that Calado shared with Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina, and Alessandro Pier Guidi. Ford GT #67, the only other car to finish on the lead lap, was demoted to fourth because it did not make the mandated stop. The #912 Porsche, running a lap down, was classified third.
The win was an emotional one for BMW, as word had come on Thursday that Charly Lamm, long-time head of BMW Team Schnitzer and a revered figure in BMW motorsport, had passed away unexpectedly at age 63. Farfus had won Lamm’s last race as a team manager, the FIA GT World Cup race in Macau in November. The team dedicated its win to Lamm’s memory.
The legendary Alex Zanardi, whose talent, focus, and positive attitude captivated both the media and fans at Daytona, ran strong on all of his stints in car #24. In practice the team had perfected driver changes, and had mastered the change of the steering wheel required to enable Zanardi to drive with hand controls. But when Zanardi put the wheel in place as he got in for his first stint, the car was dropped off the air jacks. The steering column was damaged as a result; it was an issue that had never appeared in extensive practice. The problem manifested itself when Jesse Krohn took over from Zanardi and the car came to a stop on the pit exit road. The car was taken to the garage, where the steering column was replaced; the problem was solved, but #24 had lost multiple laps. It came in for two more long stops for other issues over the course of the night, and finished ninth, eighteen laps down from #25.
The Turner Motorsport M6 GT3 started at the back of the pack as an electrical problem prevented it from turning a qualifying lap. The team made its way through the pack, leading at times. But a stop to replace a broken left rear shock, and a second stop for a broken wheel and flat tire set it back. It was two laps down both before and after the first red flag period, but had made one of its laps back and moved up to tenth in class by the time the final red flag was flown.
BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt said “What a race, and what an emotional win – and during such difficult days for the entire BMW Motorsport family. To stand on the top step of the podium here at Daytona after such an eventful and unpredictable 24 Hours is absolutely fantastic. Congratulations to Connor De Phillippi, Augusto Farfus, Philipp Eng, Colton Herta and everyone at BMW Team RLL. Congratulations also to our team in Munich, who have molded the BMW M8 GTE into a real winner. We can be very proud of this success. Although the drivers of the #24 car had to settle for ninth place, after enduring a lot of misfortune during the race, they made BMW Motorsport history together. Alessandro Zanardi’s appearance sent a buzz through the racing community at Daytona and beyond. Together with Jesse Krohn, John Edwards and Chaz Mostert, Alex battled like a lion and refused to be disheartened by the set-backs in the race. That is precisely what makes him so special, and why the fans love him. Alex and his fellow drivers can also feel like winners after this race. We would like to dedicate this success to Charly Lamm. His loss is just as painful today as it was on Thursday, when we received news of his death. He would have wanted us to fight to the final lap here. We did that – and won it for him.”
IMSA competition in the WeatherTech Series resumes at Sebring in March.—Brian Morgan
[Photos courtesy BMW AG, Brian Morgan.]