Scott Sharp’s ESM team wins Rolex 24 at Daytona as Corvettes thrill crowd
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Scott Sharp celebrated a second win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona 20 years after his first victory in a race that saw most of the top contenders fall apart during the twice-around-the-clock endurance race.
Sharp’s Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsports gave Honda its first win at Daytona with a convincing 26-second margin of victory over Wayne Taylor Racing. Only two cars finished on the lead lap, with the tightest battle far behind the leaders in the GT Le Mans class between the pair of Corvette Racing entries.
Corvette gave drivers Oliver Gavin and Antonio Garcia the go-ahead to race each other hard over the final 30 minutes. The two yellow Corvettes battled several times side-by-side before Gavin nipped Garcia at the finish by .034 seconds.
“It was crazy. Antonio was coming so quickly,” Gavin said. “I knew I was going to have a battle on my hands. Then when he caught me, he tried to pass me around the outside in Turn 1 and he was almost sideways. I was still trying to get the spot back. It was as close as it possibly could get to us touching. He’s a fantastic teammate and an amazing guy. I wouldn’t want to race anybody else. He kept it super clean.”
The ESM winning team was Sharp, Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and newcomer Luis Felipe Derani, a Brazilian in his first career sports car race. It was Derani who did the bulk of the work for ESM, driving the Honda-powered Ligier to the lead almost every time the 22-year-old got behind the wheel.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it’s amazing,” said Sharp. “It’s truly amazing. I’ve come so close to winning this race a couple of times. Words can’t describe it.”
Sharp won in 1996 as a co-driver for Wayne Taylor Racing.
The ESM victory was helped, though, when most of its top competitors had a multitude of problems.
Action Express Racing, the 2014 winners, broke an axel with just under four hours remaining in the endurance race. The No. 5 Corvette was leading when the car pulled off the track and went straight to the garage Sunday.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s “star car” was out of contention to defend last year's win when a brake problem put it 10 laps down during the overnight session. The No. 02 eventually was knocked from the race when Kyle Larson appeared to have a brake issue that sent him crashing hard into a tire barrier.
This was Ganassi’s final shot at an overall Rolex victory because Daytona was the last race the owner planned to field cars in the Prototype class. He’s switching his focus to a two-car effort in the GT class. It's part of Ford’s return to Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of the manufacturer going 1-2-3 in the prestigious race. Ganassi’s GT entries are the cornerstone of Ford's return.
Michael Shank Racing was leading the race when the engine failed during Oswaldo Negri Jr.’s driving stint. The Shank entry had led 99 laps before the failure.
“It was going exactly how we had planned; we were literally dead on where we wanted to be,” team owner Mike Shank said. “When you have everything performing like it was, and to have it all go away in a split second, with no warning at all, I don’t even know where to begin.”
So it basically became a battle between ESM and Wayne Taylor Racing, which had its own issues as star driver Jordan Taylor has battled a pair of infections for two weeks. The team made the late decision to bring in former Formula One driver Rubens Barrichello as a fourth driver because of uncertainty over Taylor’s health.
He drove an early stint then was given the night off—a rarity for a driver who usually pulls a heavy load in the endurance races. Taylor is relied upon so much, the team was disqualified last year when a miscalculation put him in the driver seat beyond his allowed amount of time.
Although he did one short stint late Sunday afternoon, it was Max Angelelli who was trying to chase down Derani in the final 30 minutes. After the race, IMSA said Angelelli had been taken to a local hospital but gave no indication as to what he was being treated for. But, Ricky Taylor was not feeling well when he exited the car and Jordan Taylor said he thought fumes were leaking into the cockpit.
The GT Daytona class was won by Magnus Racing and the lineup of Andy Lally, John Potter, Marco Seefried and Rene Rast in an Audi R8. It’s Lally’s fifth class victory, and he vowed to give the commemorative Rolex watch to his little sister.
The Prototype Challenge class was won by JDC-Miller Motorsports, which finished 18th overall. The team was comprised of Chris Miller, Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg and Kenton Koch in an Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet.