Story and photo by Patrick Reynolds
Daytona Beach, FL- The 55th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona raced into its fifth hour with Cadillacs setting the pace and being the only three cars on the lead lap. The Wayne Taylor Racing entry led the way with Max Angelelli behind the wheel and he had just replaced NASCAR star Jeff Gordon.
“The car felt good and strong,” said Gordon as Angelelli led fellow Cadillac-powered driver Eric Curran by three seconds.
The pole sitting Cadillac driven by Joao Barbosa took the lead at the start. Ricky Taylor worked the Taylor Racing ride into the lead around the race’s two-hour mark, and then turned the driving duty over to Gordon.
“My first restart in one of these cars, I can honestly say it might be crazier than NASCAR racing,” said Gordon following his first driving stint in the race. “In tying to restart when you have some GTs and PCs in front of you so… and you’re on cold tires. That was bit of a challenge and I lost some time. I went wide on the outside and that was the wrong move.”
“It’s so hard to go out on cold tires and that’s the one thing I didn’t do a very good job of,” Gordon said. “I lost a lot of time.”
He estimated he fell about six to eight seconds behind on his out lap.
Gordon said, “I don’t have enough experience in these cars on restarts. I just didn’t know which way they (other competitors) were going to go.”
“I was happy with some of my laps in clean traffic, so mission accomplished. I’ve got to work on traffic. If we get another restart I look forward to the challenge,” said Gordon.
The forecast of possible rain during the Saturday night hours has Gordon and Wayne Taylor Racing planning ahead.
“I’ve heard that double stints are a better call in the rain because it’s so technical, you’re so on edge and it is just mentally and physically draining in the rain because it is so intense and you’re just on the edge of the grip level,” Gordon said.
The four-time NASCAR Champion recalled racing in Daytona’s 24 hour race in 2007 in extremely heavy rain.
“It was a horrendous experience. I was out at nighttime in a downpour. It was a monsoon. They told me they don’t even race in conditions like that anymore,” said Gordon. “I was on slicks and I had to come in (the pits) and just not wreck, and then I went back out on rain tires and to me it didn’t drive a whole lot better.”
Gordon did have an opportunity to practice in wet conditions while testing a few weeks ago.
“What I’m thankful of, is that I got a chance to drive in the rain at the Roar at night, or maybe before it got dark which is nice to know where the water puddles (up) and where the line is,” said Gordon. “I feel this team is so much more prepared this time around, so am I, and I’m not petrified of the rain if I have to get out there in it.”
Angelelli passed the Whelen Engineering Cadillac of Curran for the lead at the five-hour and fifteen minute mark. Felipe Albuquerque held third position in the Mustang Sampling as the only other car on the lead lap.
- Jordan Taylor was the fourth teammate scheduled to drive in the Taylor Racing car.
- Scott Pruett brought out the second full-course caution period of the race around the 45-minute mark with a spin and crash near the exit of pit road.
- Matt McMurry driving for Park Place Motorsports and Starworks’ John Falb had a crash off the backstretch chicane with a hard hit for McMurry.
- 55 cars took the green flag at 2:30 pm ET Saturday afternoon with the checkered flag waiting at the same time Sunday afternoon.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Speedway Report Mondays 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT on http://speedwayreport.wpengine.com/ . Follow on Twitter @SpeedwayPat.