Accident free running by AMR teams in Rolex 24 Qualifying Race

Monday, January 25, 2021


Yesterday’s first running of IMSA’s new Motul Pole Award 100 Qualifying Race from Daytona International Speedway probably raised more questions than it answered as the Series looked for new ways to kick of their 2021 Weathertech Sportscar Championship.

With the Roar before the 24 traditionally a purely testing event a couple of weeks in advance of the season opening Rolex 24, this year has seen the two events scheduled just a week apart and in the hope of saving some track time on leading up to the actual main race weekend, it was decided to have a Qualifying session on the Saturday of the Roar ahead of a 100 minute Qualifying Race on Sunday to determine the starting positions for the Rolex 24.

With the younger and less experienced drivers within the GTD Class runners required to first Qualify and the drive in the Qualifying race, that left Max Root at the wheel of the #97 TF Sport Aston Martin Racing GTD and Ian James at the wheel of the #23 Heart of Racing AMR Vantage GTD doing the Qualifying and then the opening stint of the Qualifying race.

Originally, the #23 car would Qualify in P5 and the #97 in P9 on Saturday afternoon but a technical issue for the #1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini on the grid on Sunday meant for a one place elevation up the starting line for all cars from P2 back and for the first time over the weekend, the drivers would have to deal with both a rain-soaked track and a cold air and track temperature for at least the start of the 100-minute race.

With up to 35 Championship points being awarded to the winners of each class, that was supposed to have been the inducement for teams to race like they always did but for some, it was clear that self-preservation was the order of the day whilst others maybe didn’t compete as hard as was expected or indeed over excelled in performance as seen prior to this event!!

Yes, that right – allegations involving sandbags were quickly to be heard across all classes.

Taking things rightly steady at the start, both Astons dropped a place each in the opening laps as the remnants of any racing ‘rust’ was quickly got rid of by the forty-seven runners. An early Full Course Yellow for three spinning LMP cars loaded the gun for the inevitable green flag drama as the #23 car was lucky to survive an over ambitious move from the #88 Porsche at the Bus stop that saw the Porsche go off heavily into the tyre wall and James lucky not to have followed it. A badly damaged car at this stage of the proceedings would have been chaotic.

A second and very long FCY to recover that stranded car lead to the first wave around for the cars stuck between the Safety car and the overall leader behind and at some point during this (and unforeseen on camera) had the #97 fall foul of the rule book, earning themselves a hefty stop and three minute hold in pit lane for their error and whilst the other GTD cars pitted for full service and driver change – they could pit for service but would have to come back in to serve their penalty under green – something that would ultimately destroy their race plan.

By now Roman De Angelis had stepped into the #23 HoRT car and he had little over an hour to consolidate and improve his position as the track continued to dry and all cars had reverted to slicks. Whilst Charlie Eastwood had now dropped right down to P14 in class as a result of their penalty, De Angelis was able to hang out between P3 and P5 in class for much of the remainder before each car ultimately they both finished P13 and P7 respectively.

For the Heart of Racing team, their new and lighter Balance of Performance suggested greater performance than last year when the AMR Vantage GTD was literally brand new and unseen to the Championship. Ever improving race mileage last season with both James and De Angelis was noticeable from them at the Roar so with the added benefit and experience of both Darren Turner and Ross Gunn, the #23 car should be in a good place when it comes to the Rolex 24 this weekend.

For the #97 TF Sport AMR, they came to the Roar before the 24 as complete novices within the IMSA Championship and rule set. That error with the wave around was a scenario never faced before by the team and driver so whilst obviously regrettable for them, that was an error best served in the build-up event than in the 24 hour race itself.

For both Root and Eastwood as well as fellow co-drivers in Ben Keating and Richard Westbrook, there is much more to be seen from the very distinctively liveried #97 car come the start of the Rolex 24 as long as small, but significant errors can be kept to a minimum.

For the Weathertech Sportscar Championship runners, track action starts with three Free Practice sessions on Thursday ahead of a final one-hour session on Friday before the start of the Rolex 24 at 15:40Hrs local on Saturday.

Photo credits – HoRT / TF Sport / Jamey Price / Lagunas photo / AMR / CSJ
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