DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a twice-around-the-clock classic that was ultra-competitive, chaotic, and perhaps confusing at the end, Porsche Penske Motorsport found itself in the right place at the right time.
The team’s No. 7 Porsche 963 prototype – wheeled in the closing stages by two-time premier class champion Felipe Nasr – snuck to the front during the final pit stop of the 62nd Rolex 24 at Daytona and then held off every challenge that Whelen Action Express Racing’s Tom Blomqvist could muster.
Nasr was, in a phrase, “Penske Perfect” over the 32-minute sprint that closed out the action at historic Daytona Int’l Speedway en route to the overall and Grand Touring Prototype class victories.
Helped to victory by full-season co-driver Dane Cameron, as well as endurance additions Matt Campbell and defending Indianapolis 500 champion Josef Newgarden, the breakthrough triumph Sunday afternoon marked Nasr’s long-awaited first overall victory in the legendary 24-hour race at Daytona.
“It’s just incredible to think that we pulled this one off,” said Nasr, who topped the GTD Pro class in the Rolex 24 with Pfaff Motorsports two years ago.
Of additional note, it was the 19th Rolex 24 victory overall for Porsche as a manufacturer and the first Rolex 24 win for owner Roger Penske since 1969, when Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons teamed to win in the iconic Sunoco-branded Lola T70 Mk.3B-Chevrolet as part of the International Championship for Makes.
The winning moment came after the final full-course yellow of the race, which waved with 52 minutes remaining when the No. 12 Vasser-Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 of Parker Thompson burst into flames at the exit of pit lane, forcing the GT Daytona class driver to make a hasty escape and ending his race.
That led to the final of 32 pit stops for the race leaders, who came down off the banking with 43 minutes and 37 seconds to go. Though Nasr and the Penske-owned Porsche came into the pits second behind Blomqvist’s leading Action Express Cadillac V-Series.R, Nasr just beat Blomqvist to the fast lane on exit.
With IMSA’s right-of-way rules during pit stops giving the advantage to the leading driver when there is no side-by-side overlap, it allowed Nasr to take a lead that he wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way.
“It all came down to the fuel game, pretty much,” explained Nasr, who pitted three laps later than Blomqvist during the penultimate round of pit service and thus needed less fuel during the final stop. “I felt like we had what it took if we had the position at the front … and we were able to get to the finish.”
Confusion reigned for a few moments at the finish, as the checkered flag was seemingly called down by race control prior to the expiration of the 24-hour clock.
Per Article 49.1.3 of the IMSA Rule Book – should the checkered flag be inadvertently or otherwise displayed … before the prescribed time has been completed, the race is nevertheless deemed official.
Thus, the final results stood, though another lap likely wouldn’t have changed the outcome.
The winning Porsche 963 completed 791 laps around the 3.56-mile road course that incorporates portions of the iconic 2.5-mile superspeedway banking at Daytona, as well as the infield twists and turns.
That equated to a full-race distance of 2,815.96 miles over the course of 24 hours.
Nasr’s pass on pit road came on lap 768 of 791, and he led the final 24 laps despite consistent pressure from Blomqvist until the very end. His winning margin at the checkered flag was 2.112 seconds.
Cameron, a two-time IMSA Prototype champion who’d won nearly everything in American sports car racing except the Rolex 24, finally captured his first overall and class victories in the historic race as well.
“[It took] 15 years to get here,” an emotional Cameron noted in victory lane. “It’s a long time. I thought a lot about it. I’m so proud of these guys. We had so many issues in the long races last year; I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to get this thing tuned up the way we needed, but these guys are awesome.”
Australian Campbell, who previously claimed a GTE Am class win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2018, an overall victory in the 2019 Bathurst 12 Hour, and his 2022 Rolex 24 class win alongside Nasr, noted that it was “a sweet feeling” to be atop the entire Daytona field this time around after 24 hours.
“It’s incredible, the way this race ebbed and flowed and how we took it to the Cadillac at the end,” admitted Campbell. “They really gave it to us, but to finally get a big victory for this car is amazing. We finally got it done, a year in the making. I couldn’t be prouder of all these guys.”
Newgarden’s first Rolex Daytona Cosmograph came as part of a whirlwind eight-month stretch that began with his first Indianapolis 500 triumph last May – part of a four-win NTT IndyCar Series campaign for the two-time champion.
However, it was just his third career IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship appearance and second in the Rolex 24, after an LMP2 start last January with Tower Motorsport.
“I just showed up; that’s it,” stressed Newgarden. “That’s all I did. I don’t know what to say. Porsche and Team Penske deliver the biggest results on the biggest stages. Felipe, the way he drove at the end, and Matt … those guys won this race. I was just happy to be here. What an unbelievable group.”
Blomqvist actually took the lead with an hour and 12 minutes remaining – after a gutsy three-wide pass around Nasr and a slower GTD Ferrari – and appeared to be in the driver’s seat for the overall win at that point.
However, once he was put into the trailing position, Blomqvist just couldn’t get close enough in traffic over the waning minutes and was forced to settle for second, alongside co-drivers Pipo Derani and Jack Aitken.
The closest that Blomqvist could get was on the 779th lap, two laps after he’d set the overall fastest lap of the race at 1:35.554, when he was on Nasr’s rear wing through the International Horseshoe and looked to have a fighting chance.
Nasr was better on the speedway banking, however, and pulled back away from that point onward.
The Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti No. 40 Acura ARX-06 completed the GTP podium, taken to the finish by Louis Deletraz and shared by Jordan Taylor, NTT IndyCar Series young gun Colton Herta, and past Formula One star Jenson Button.
Fourth in the GTP class was the sister No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport entry of Nick Tandy, Mathieu Jaminet, Kevin Estre, and Laurens Vanthoor, with the Proton Competition Porsche 963 of Gianmaria Bruni, Neel Jani, Alessio Picariello, and Romain Duma crossing fifth as the final car on the lead lap.
Winning honors in the Le Mans Prototype 2 class went to the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA 07 driven down the stretch by Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen.
Rasmussen steadily drove away from the No. 04 Crowdstrike Racing by APR ORECA 07 of Malthe Jakobsen during the final stretch en route to a 6.8-second victory.
“This is awesome. [Winning at Daytona] was a huge bucket list item for me,” said Rasmussen, who co-drove to the win alongside Dwight Merriman, longtime sports car ace Ryan Dalziel, and 17-year-old Mazda MX-5 Cup prodigy Connor Zilisch.
“I’ve been with Era Motorsport since last year, and we couldn’t get a win, so to get my first endurance win in the Rolex 24 is amazing. I’m over the moon,” he added. “These guys are amazing. They’ve done an amazing job all week. We were strong all race long. We proved we had the pace; we got the strategy right when it mattered, and just cruised to the finish.”
For Rasmussen and Zilisch, Sunday’s finish marked their first Rolex 24 class victories, while it was the second in four years for Merriman and Dalziel after they co-drove to the LMP2 class win in 2021.
The winning LMP2 entry ran 767 laps over 24 hours, with five cars on the lead lap in class at the end.
Jakobsen shared runner-up honors with George Kurtz, Colin Braun, and Toby Sowery, with the Riley Motorsports ORECA 07 shared by Gar Robinson, Felipe Fraga, Josh Burdon, and Formula One veteran Felipe Massa completing the LMP2 class podium.
Massa’s third-place finish in class came in his debut appearance in a major endurance sports car race.
Grand Touring class victories were earned by the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 in GTD PRO and the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 in GT Daytona.
Daniel Serra, Davide Rigon, James Calado, and Alessandro Pier Guidi teamed to win the GTD PRO class.
Co-driving to victory in GT Daytona were Daniel Morad, Indy Dontje, Philip Ellis, and Russell Ward.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season continues March 13-16 with the 72nd Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring (Fla.) Int’l Raceway.
Great NEWS! We have taken the green flag and have officially launched our Race Face Digital Kickstarter crowdfunding. To make your pledge click on the button below. Pledges start at $10.