Acura takes first and second in Rolex 24 at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — What a year for Helio Castroneves, the ageless Spiderman of motorsports.

Castroneves climbed the fence for the third time this calendar year Sunday after earning another crown jewel victory, this time a second consecutive win in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The Brazilian closed out the race for Meyer Shank Racing, the team that helped him win a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 last May.

Castroneves in the No. 60 Acura held off Ricky Taylor over the final hour of the twice-round-the-clock race — an ironic close because Castroneves won his first career Rolex watch 365 days ago as Taylor’s teammate in the No. 10 Acura.

Castroneves denied Wayne Taylor Racing a fourth consecutive win at Daytona International Speedway, where he of course climbed the fence with his team in celebration. Now rival team owner Taylor went to victory lane to congratulate Castroneves.

The win for Michael Shank came on the 10th anniversary of Shank’s first victory in North America’s most prestigious sports car race. That win in the 50th running of the Rolex with the late Justin Wilson and NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger gave Shank’s fledgling program credibility, and Castroneves since May has helped Shank show the team is a legitimate force.

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The 24-hour race was full of surprises and put the teams through a unique situation due to the weather. Unseasonably cold temperatures caused major grip issues with the tires. Since tire warmers are not allowed, teams had to go out with tires that drivers described to us as “driving on ice.” In order to become grippy and useful, you need temperature in the tires, which meant the first lap on new tires was a sketchy one for every driver. We witnessed more than a few scary moments, skids and crashes that you could attribute to the super-low tire temps — racing in sub-freezing weather is not normal.
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Both the GTD Pro Corvettes and DPi Cadillacs had tough days. But even though the DPi Cadillacs finished third and forth, the race between GM and Acura remained close for the entire 24 hours. At the end, it was only seconds that stood between Cadillac and victory. A final stint of about 30 minutes where both Acura and Cadillac were on even footing just proved that Acura had more pace at Daytona this year.
As for the fan turnout, the cold weather didn’t do too much to dampen spirits. Attendees filled the grid walk and track walk prior to race start, signing their names and expressing well-wishes to their favorite drivers and teams on the start/finish line. Thankfully for the drivers, they only had the cold to deal with, as rain that had plagued Daytona near to race never threatened the entire weekend. It’s a good thing, too, because precipitation in a certain window overnight would’ve been snow, not rain.
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Even with the lack of rain, Daytona took its share of punches, as full-course cautions were frequent occurrences. Luckily for Acura, the two teams stayed clean all race long and had no reliability issues that plagued their races.

Castroneves will drive the full IndyCar season for Shank this year in a two-car effort that includes his former Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud. Shank grabbed both Castroneves and Pagenaud to help his fulltime IMSA sports car drivers Olivier Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist win the 60th running of the Rolex.

The 24-hour race remarkably came down to the final minutes in four of the five classes at Daytona. And it was a huge day for the IndyCar Series, which had five drivers claim Rolex watches.

Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward and IndyCar rookie Devlin DeFrancesco rallied DragonSpeed USA from several laps down to win the LMP2 class, with Herta going door-to-door in the final minutes with Tower Motorsport. Herta came out the victor when the two cars almost touched and Louis Deletraz went off course.

The new GTD Pro class was decided by a frantic battle between a pair of Porsches, and Pfaff Motorsports, which enlisted IMSA reigning co-champion Felipe Nasr as its endurance driver, earned the win. The final hours of the race saw those two Porsches going wheel-to-wheel, lap after lap, and their battle almost ended in last-lap disaster for Acura, as the two 911s made contact through the bus stop chicane.

Riley Motorsports won the LMP 3 class and Wright Motorsports won the GT Daytona class.

The field featured 61 cars, the most since 2014, and was run in record-low temperatures, but it was a mild 53 degrees and sunny when Castroneves climbed yet another fence.

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This story contains material from the Associated Press.

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