Mixed feelings for our Canadians in IMSA WeatherTech at the Rolex 24


It had looked promising, even from the Roar a couple of weeks back for our Canadians in GTLM and GTD Class. With Pfaff Motorsports consistently towards the top of the leaderboard since the Roar and a great drive from Zach Robichon to get Pole and lap record in GTD driving the Porsche 911 GT3 R on Friday. The WRT Speedstar Audi Sport with the Audi R8 LMS GT3 looked better prepared for their second appearance at Daytona and it showed on track as well with Daniel Morad and his teammates keeping up with the pace of the GTD class even topping one of the sessions and had started the race in sixth. Heart of Racing’s Aston Martin program with Roman De Angelis were still learning the new package of the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 but still were confident in the race. They had started form 13th place and were looking at the Rolex 24 in the long run.

Then, we had Bruno Spengler with BMW Team RLL that also did well back at the Roar and had qualified sixth ahead of the sister car.

Came the green flag and Pfaff Motorsports continued their dominance leading the first 5 hours of the race to only fall back a couple of places due miscommunications. They regained the lead in hours nine and ten. They had been in constant battle with eventual winner the #48 Paul Miller Racing’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3 with only seconds even tenth of seconds separating them.

Around the 15th hour came the blow for any hopes for Pfaff Motorsports to get the win. In the early hours of the morning, an axle broke and caused heavy damaged to the car as it was traveling in excess of +270km/hr on the banking .

“The car was running perfectly all race,” Olsen said, “but then all of a sudden I heard a loud bang and something rattling hard in the back, so I immediately knew something happened.”

They brought the car back to the garage for extensive repairs as the Pfaff Motorsports’ crew worked hard to get the car back on track as quickly as possible. By the time they rejoined the track, they were shown some 50 laps down.

We spoke with team manager Steve Bortollotti following the race to get a summary of the incident.

“The race was going really well starting from pole, we managed the car, our pace and fuel mileage. All the goals we had set out before the race we kept working on them and apart from a slight miscommunication which threw us back a bit, it did not take time to recuperate from it and get back to the front.”

“Then, we had the incident where an axle broke on the car as it was at speed of 275km/h and caused quite a bit of damage to the car. It took us over an hour to repair it as everywhere we looked there were more damages. It was unfortunate but I guess there is some comfort in the fact we got to the end of the 24 hour race.

“Unfortunately, we had a mechanical failure on a part that typically doesn’t fail. Sometimes you just have bad luck, and it’s really unfortunate it happened here.” So, we can be comfortable with the fact we did our best and sometimes things happen and a car part fails and we just move on.”

Porsche Factory driver, Patrick Pilet, who was brought in to complete the driver line-up for the Rolex 24 was still very positive about his experience with Pfaff Motorsports: “Everything was perfect until the issue we encountered,” the Frenchman said. “It’s a mechanical sport, so this kind of thing happens sometimes. I’m pretty sure nobody has had an issue like this at the race before – it wasn’t a mistake on anybody’s part, just a bit of bad luck. 

“The car was really a rocket all race long, especially at the moment we needed at the end of the race,” Pilet continued. “But my teammates and our pit stops were great. The atmosphere here has been really good and everyone can be really proud of the work here as they look towards the season championship.” 

As we know, at the checkered flag, Pfaff Motorsports ended in 13th place and 48 laps down.

Having started sixth, WRT Speedstar were quietly moving up the ranks and by the ninth hour were shown in third place. They were even shown in the lead at the 19th hour. The #88 Audi R8 LMS GT3 team was also in a fight with race winner #48 Paul Miller Racing’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3 and #44 GRT Magnus Lamborghini Huracan GT3 for the remainder of the race. But, for a second year in a row, it was to be a third place finish for the WRT Speedstar Audi Sport team.

Coming off the podium, we asked Daniel Morad how it felt to be on the podium again at Daytona: “Feels pretty good considering three for three now in my participation at the Rolex 24. I mean, it really comes down to having a great team. And I’ve been fortunate to be part of three great teams of my three Daytona starts. And the reflection of that is having three podium finishes. (Third) It’s obviously not the position I want to finish in and none of us want to finish third, but, you know, after 24 hours, it’s a super tough event. We can all be really proud that we grinded through one of the toughest 24 with the most intense pace ever, and really show our true speed and teamwork and our composure to come back from few mishaps that happened earlier in the race, but just a great team, really proud to be part of it with Audi Canada. Being a Canadian, it’s cool that Audi Canada is supporting it so much and are really involved.”

“We were leading for a while. It was going back and forth. Our my main issue was with fueling. We just were too long on fueling for some reason. The team had an issue with our fuel rig or with the way the car was accepting the fuel. It got better as we were six seconds slower than the other cars in the first stops up until like eight hours into the race. Then they adjusted the fuel restrictor on the rig and we got within two seconds of fueling to the other cars but we were still losing out so we go to the lead and then we drop down to P2 or P3 and have to re overtake. It just wasn’t ideal and I think in the end that would have really cost us if it was a full course yellow and, both Lamborghini and us stopping at the same time, we we would have for sure come out behind. At the end, our pace went away as the rear wing started to fail a little bit as it was acting a little like DRS(Drag Reduction System, NDLR). So we were completely running no wing in the rear at the end. It was really quick on the straight but Mirko had his hands full everywhere else. It really prevented him from pushing at the end.”

For Roman De Angelis, it was a short lived Rolex 24. After the fourth hour, the team was shown in 16th place. And then, the car sustained damage following an incident close to pit entry with the #47 Precision Performance Motorsports Lamborghini Huracan at close to the 5-hours mark. Although the damage was repairable, they could not do it at the track.

A consolation to the team, in a way, is the fact the team came to Daytona to raise awareness and funds for the 501(c)(3) Team Seattle Guild, which funds equipment for the pediatric cardiology unit of Seattle Children’s Hospital as well as research and training of doctors and surgeons worldwide. Thanks to the team and the Guild’s efforts this weekend, a figure of over $100,000 has been raised so far.

As for our only Canadian in GTLM driving the BMW M8 GTE for BMW Team RLL, Bruno Spengler, it was far away from the expected result as the car ran over debris which damaged an oil line in the early stages of the race. That necessitated a long stop for repairs which saw the #25 drop well down the field and finally finishing in fifth place and more importantly accumulating point for the championship.

“We were really unlucky in this race. Even early on in the race we were 13 laps off the pace and with no chance of making much progress through the field. However, the car was superb and the whole team did a fantastic job. I am very happy for the crew and my team-mates that we won with the #24 car. The guys deserve that. Congratulations on a great performance.”

Now, all are moving on to Sebring preparation for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring scheduled on March 18-21.

As Steve Bortolloti mentioned, there are turning their focus on getting ready for the 12 hour race.

“We have some off track testing coming up on the Multimatics shaker rig to prepare for Sebring.
We were really good there last year. We were super strong in the wet and dry conditions and even led at one time. We’ll see what happens for BoP after this weekend. Hopefully we will not have any changes.”

“Lars will be back with us for Sebring. He did a great job this week. Zach and Dennis get along really well, they work along great together.”

As for Patrick Pilet, he is on his way to drive a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Absolute Racing at the Bathurst 12 hour in the A-PRO class

For Daniel Morad, there will a short vacation at Disney World before testing at Sebring, amongst other things.

“There’s not much time to rest. Some time off at Disney World, then we’re going to be testing at Sebring in two weeks and there is preparing for the Moradness Karting Championship also.”

As we were preparing this Rolex 24 recap, Roman De Angelis a last minute deal to join Garage 59 squad for the Bathurst 12 hour this coming weekend in the A-SILVER class. At the time we contacted him he was getting on the plane to Bathurst. We will certainly get more information and keep you informed of his experience in the Aston Martin Vantage GT3.

Image: Patrice Marchessault / PMstills Photography

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