Relive last year’s Rolex 24 GTLM finish

January 23, 2018

Relive last year’s Rolex 24 GTLM finish

January 23, 2018

The 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona finish in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans class was always going to be hard to top. The two Corvette Racing Corvette C7.Rs, driven by Oliver Gavin and Antonio Garcia, fought tooth-and-nail and were separated by only 0.034 of a second at the finish.

But last year came close, and added more marques to the mix, with four of the five entered in class fighting over bragging rights and a new Rolex watch for the victory.

Garcia emerged from a pit stop sequence in the lead in his No. 3 Corvette C7.R, before James Calado’s No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE powered past him after a restart. Unfortunately for Calado, he soon fell victim to the ultimate deciding move of the race.

When all was said and done it came down to Ford and Porsche, two names inextricably linked with winning at Daytona, who decided the race.

Dirk Mueller spearheaded Ford’s charge in his No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, while Patrick Pilet did so for Porsche in its first race with its newest 911 RSR, which placed the engine in front of the rear axle.

Calado fell victim to Mueller’s attack in the final 34 minutes of the race. The Englishman left the door open to the inside of Turn 1, where Mueller swept through, and an opportunistic Pilet followed him into second.

Mueller recapped the decisive move that stood as the final lead change.

“At the end I took advantage, and dive bombed into Turn 1 where he wasn’t expecting it,” Mueller said. “You could see it was a nice and easy in, and he didn’t expect me to do it, so it just took the momentum away from him.”

Another full-course caution brought Pilet right to Mueller’s rear bumper, and with fuel saving not required for the final dash, the 2015 GT Le Mans class champion was licking his chops.

“We knew we had worked very hard to make the car reliable, but it was a big fight until the end,” Pilet said.

“I’d restarted P5 earlier, and then made it just behind the Ford. He was a bit quicker to be honest. I followed him in the draft, but it was hard to put the pressure on.”

Mueller, expecting Pilet to dart any which way and force him into a mistake, was guided from above by his spotter.

“I only remember that after the full course yellow, Pilet was attacking from behind. To his credit, and to my spotter’s, Robbie Fast, he informed me where he is. I could basically place the car where I wanted, and glide it out.”

Mueller praised his adversary as he built the gap to more than a second at the checkered flag, with Pilet then needing to hold off Calado for second.

“Pilet had opportunities to bump me off, but he never did,” Mueller said. “He looked to have an advantage early on, but I figured I’d just maintain the gap.

“There was a lot of silence on the radio because they knew that couldn’t help me. It was just Robbie and me. I knew I needed to have a little gap to break the slipstream.

“I was just praying, ‘Please, no full course yellow after the last one!’ No caution came out. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps!”

Ganassi’s managing director, Mike Hull, had the blessing – or curse – of watching the final battle from the timing stand. Like his driver, he had nothing but compliments to bestow on both combatants.

“There were two quality race drivers that were getting together,” Hull said. “Really talented race drivers like Dirk have ‘overdrive’ at the right time.

“(Alex) Zanardi used to say it best, ‘I always kept a little bit in my pocket,’ and Dirk kept a little bit in his pocket for last year’s race.

“He proved he could separate us from the pack when it counted the most. That’s exactly what he did for us.”

Check out the action in the final hour, below.

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