The largest attended Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in the 61-year history of the event was treated to a thrilling twice-round-the-clock race. The ones that braved the annual endurance race until the end witnessed history with Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 Acura being victorious under the Florida sun on Sunday afternoon.
The 2023 edition was one that will be talked about for years to come. It was the debut of the new GTP cars for which left all nine of these cars living with moments of uncertainty from the moment that the checkered flag dropped on the 2022 season finale.
With so much work ahead and the reliability issues that could occur, especially over the course of a 24-hour event, MSR left little doubt when it was all said and done.
Despite two late race restarts, they were untouchable as Tom Blomqvist drove the Acura to their third straight overall win in the Rolex 24. Blomqvist beat the Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Acura by 4.190-sec in the end.
Here’s how they won and my takeaways from the 61-car race in the 61st annual event at the World Center of Racing.
Helio Castroneves Enters Rare Air
Helio Castroneves absolutely needs to enter the Daytona 500 in the very near future. While he admitted this past week that this year’s prospects of doing so have been shut, he’s very much still interested in finding way to race in the NASCAR Cup Series race on the high-speed oval. After a third straight win in the Rolex, he definitely should find a way to run the Great American Race now.
Castroneves is the only driver in the history of this storied event to win this race on an overall basis in three straight years. No one else has accomplished that feat. Only Pedro Rodriguez (63, 64, 70, 71), Bob Wollek (83, 85, 89, 91), Peter Gregg (73, 75, 76, 78) and Rolf Stommelen (68, 78, 80, 82), Scott Pruett (94, 07, 08, 11, 13) and Hurley Haywood (73, 75, 77, 79, 91) have more overall Rolex wins than Castroneves now has.
Factor that with four Indianapolis 500 triumphs and you get Castroneves in rare air in a crowded motorsports record book.
Acura Left Little Doubt, Building Dynasty Now
The 2023 edition was back to the future to IMSA. A return to the Grand Touring Protype name that was used from the early 80’s (debuted in 1981) and ended in the early 90’s (1993) is back. However, this class also has a futuristic side to it as well with the new hybrid technology. According to IMSA, this is an entirely new rule book. This class features new powertrains marrying traditional internal combustion engines with Bosch’s Motor Generation Unit, an energy recovery system including batteries supplied by WAE Technologies and an Xtrac gearbox. There’s a new tire, new parts and each of them being scarce in supply, this class is the fastest but will also get the most attention for those previous factors in and of itself.
Could they last all 24 hours?
During testing, most of the teams were having troubles. Was this becoming a survival of the fittest? How many of the 9 cars in this class can make it to the end?
With a 1-2 finish by Acura, they left little doubt in an overall event filled with uncertainty. From the start of last weekend’s Roar to the end of Sunday’s Rolex 24, Acura looked like the class of the 61 car field. However, with this new technology on these GTP cars, how reliable would speed actually be for the race?
Meyer Shank Racing topped most of the speed charts in practice. They won the pole. They were always shadowed by Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Acura. Combined, these two organizations came into 2023 having won 5 of the last 6 Rolex 24’s.
The each had the speed, but did they have the reliability?
Even with a minor hiccup by WTR overnight (more on this later), they still rebounded to finish runner-up to give Acura a 1-2 finish in the end. MSR and WTR have combined to have won every Rolex with the exception of one since 2017 including five straight. The last two were 1-2 efforts at that.
The other teams mostly had issues to deal with.
The Porsche’s had troubles with the No. 6 car having a spin in the 16th hour and lost three laps for repairs. While the No. 7 car had their engine shut down in the second hour and even with a reset, had a battery problem in the sixth hour.
The No. 31 Action Express Cadillac had a gear box issue in the 15th hour.
The BMW’s never had the pace with the No. 25 entry having an electrical malfunction in the first hour. With less than three hours left, the No. 24 entry went behind the wall for a brake change. That basically left this as a Ganassi Cadillac tandem vs. the Meyer Shank Racing entry once the sun rose. They were the only three cars on the lead lap with the WTR car (more on them next) running a lap down in 4th.
The No. 6 Porsche exited the track late in the race, just as the No. 24 BMW did. That left a four car battle for the win for which the Acura’s were just that much better than the Cadillac’s.
Wayne Taylor Racing Overcomes Issue
WTR has been the top IMSA team at Daytona in recent history. However, they were just average to begin the race and just remained in the top five for much of the first half of the event. Then came an oil issue overnight. In the 13th hour, both Acura’s hit pit lane under caution to do some fluid maintenance. However, the No. 10 Acura at WTR had a broken oil fill tube and had to go behind the wall to fully repair. The ended up in a multi lap deficit.
As the sun rose, they were hovering between 1 and 2 laps down through stints. Then, they caught a break in the closing hours with a pair of cautions to completely turn their race back around. They got a lap back with a caution flying with 1hr, 35min left. Then, a short green flag stint would next occur before a second caution came out again. That bunched the field and gave WTR new life.
They were now back on the lead lap and used that Acura power to get by both Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac’s to finish second again.
Meyer Shank Racing The Little Team No More
MSR has always been that fun underdog story. Now though, they’re no longer the little brother. They’re the powerhouse. Sunday’s win was their 3rd overall in this race but combine that with a championship last year in IMSA and the 2021 Indy 500 victory, no more can we just look over MSR. They’ve entered the chat in one of the most complete teams in motorsports.
3 of the 4 drivers from last year’s team were back this time around.
Old School Endurance Race
Due to the possibility of reliability issues arising at any moment, this weekend’s Rolex was back to a true endurance race. No longer would these drivers and cars easily make it to the completion with the only issues arising being mental mistakes, this was a true test on if these cars could really make it all 24 hours in length. Even with a lead in the end, MSR still wondered, would we be next?
So instead of qualifying laps for 24 hours, these drivers had to baby these cars. They had to ensure that these cars made it so in order to finish first, you have to first finish. So what better way to finish than to ease the cars to the finish as best as possible.
On top of that, tires were limited which meant all the teams had to double stint tires multiple times. As a result of that, you had to use strategy and not be too hard on the tires on out laps too.
This was a race that had a feel and pace of an old school endurance race, with a futuristic aspect on the line as well.
The finish to the LMP2 category was a sight to behold.