This running of the Daytona 24-hours marks the start of the 50th anniversary season for IMSA and has the making of a full blown Classic. From the outstanding record-breaking qualifying lap set by Oliver Jarvis in the gorgeous deep red chameleon #77 Mazda run by the ever efficient Team Joest to the wall brushing GTLM pole time of Nick Tandy in the works Porsche RSR the scene was set for a spectacular start.
Oliver Jarvis in the lead DPi #77 took the flag and jumped away from the field, but was reeled in by the Penske Acuras both #6 & #7 in hot pursuit, as the first pit stops occurred that lead swapped around, and the Cadillacs started to make their presence felt. Unlike the preceding year where only 4 full course yellows (FCYs) impacted on the 24-hours, there have already been five in the first six hours. The #10 Taylor and #31 Whelan Cadillacs have been most prevalent at the front of the field, with the other Caddys lapping consistently but seemingly keeping their cars in reserve.
The Wayne Taylor Racing #10 squad has of course been joined by the Toyota stars of Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi, neither at this time has disappointed. Jordan Taylor started the car and completed just over 60 laps before handing over to Fernando Alonso who delivered stunning consistency over a subsequent 94-lap eff. quad stint. As remarkable as his pace and consistency was, when he handed over to Kamui Kobayashi, Kamui decided to rinse the car of everything it had, smashing his way into the ‘only driver in the 34s’ category with a 1:34.598 ! Only two other cars have achieved sub-35s both a quarter of a second off Kamui’s time.
Notably six-hours in and over 200 laps completed and we still have 13 Prototypes (DPi + LMP2) running at the head of this field with not one retirement. Roger Penske went early, pre-race with a weather forecast that predicts rain from around day break at 0715 local throughout Sunday. So whilst the current progress is fast and furious in cool conditions we will likely see some challenging conditions on sunday that may blott that outstanding reliability record so far.
Of course we start 2019 with LMP2 as a separate category giving way to logic over the ability to balance the budget restrained global category LMP2 with the IMSA inspired DPi group. With a total of four LMP2s (all Orecas) IMSA must be grateful for the participation of the Dragonspeed team swelling the category by two cars. Sadly it seems likely to be a very limited season, but with a rather nice watch for each category winner you would take those LMP2 odds. The lead LMP2 #18 Dragonspeed is 3 laps adrift of the DPi leader pace, but all are running well in their own little race. Just prior to the 6th hour the #52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsport Oreca connect with one of the Acura DPis at Turn 1 and sustained heavy damage and was spun around resulting in a fifth FCY
GTLM is remarkably well BoPped both Porsche #911 and Ford #66 have had their time at the front, and have now been joined by the works crewed Ferrari entry Risi Competitione #62. Thats right a classic Ford, Ferrari, Porsche battle is in full flight and should they drop the lead baton, BMW and Corvette are sat just a lap a drift ready to pounce on any slip. Woes have be fallen the #912 Porsche and the #67 Ford GT. The Porsche had very early issues in the first hour with brake and tyre issues leading to a splitter change which appeared to require further attention. The Ford GT #67 had an early trip behind the wall to the garage, and it has now returned to the track, but at this pace any delay is difficult to recover, they are some 3-laps behind the GTLM pack. Should the weather go the way of the forecast, the renowned balance of the Porsche RSR and prowess of one Nick Tandy may well emerge as a game-changer..
GTD has consistently been led in this first quarter of the race by the Lexus RC F GT3 #14 however BMW, Ferrari, Audi, Acura and Mercedes are all on the category lead lap. As we clicked through 6-hours and returned to green flag running, it is the Mercedes AMG GT3 #71 in the hands of Maxi Buhk that leads pursued by the Spirit of Race Ferrari #51 of that tried and tested combo of Pedro Lamy, Matthais Lauda, Paul Dalla Lana and Daniel Serra
With the weather conditions expected to deteriorate on Sunday keep an eye on the four wheel drive of the Audi R8 LMS GT3 #8 or #88
To follow along try the excellent radio coverage on www.radiolemans.com If you have time to watch there is streamed video (and RLM comms) on IMSA.TV Should social media be your thing find us at the Facebook Endurance Racing Fans Group or @SportsCarGlobal on Twitter.