24H Daytona, 20h update: Gradient Racing moves up to P7, Racers Edge keep 4th despite penalty
The Gradient Racing Acura of Katherine Legge, Sheena Monk, Marc Miller and Mario Farnbacher gained a position in GTD and are now up to seventh, while the Racers Edge Motorsports with WTR Acura survived a penalty drama to keep fourth in class, with four hours left on the clock. More setbacks for Iron Dames.
The sun has set over the Daytona International Speedway, as the 61st running of the 24 Hour race enters its 21st hour of action. After a rather hectic first stages, positions settled through after the 16th hour, despite multiple cars remaining on the lead lap and in contention in most of the classes. In the previous four hours, Racers Edge Motorsports had clinched fourth place in GTD with its drivers Ashton Harrison, Kyle Marcelli, Danny Formal and Ryan Briscoe all logged great lap times as they attempted to chase a potential podium finish. Ryan Briscoe handed over to Danny Formal and then Kyle Marcelli – as the team led laps during the pit stop cycles. Unfortunately, during the 21st pit stop, the #93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura received a drive through penalty for having too many crew members over the wall. The penalty dropped Marcelli from fourth to fifth in class. The #66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX also had a strong first half of the race, after a brilliant GT3 debut by Sheena Monk, aided by her coach and racing legend Katherine Legge, Marc Miller and Mario Farnbacher. Monk took the start of the race and the team opted to send the GTD rookie out on track as the sun went down. Sheena, who graduated from the GT4-based Michelin Pilot Challenge, had sterling double stints, found her rhythm and managed the traffic well, handing back the wheel to Katherine Legge and then Marc Miller. The #66 JG Wentworth-sponsored Acura always ran in the top ten, initially slotting into ninth and then making its way up in the experienced hands of Katherine Legge, who was up to sixth just before the pit stops. Legge and teammates eventually settled in eighth throughout the following hours and, albeit a lap down during the night, they hoped for a well-timed caution to catch back the leading lap in GTD. Miller waited for that caution that unfortunately came a bit too late, when Katherine Legge had just taken over the wheel, and which put the #66 entry one further lap down. Legge still completed really fast stints and, with positions settled, had to hope for some full course yellows to close back the gap. From then on, the race went on uninterrupted and rather uneventfully, so Legge pitted again for fuel and for a driver change to Mario Farnbacher. Both the #93 and #66 Acuras gained a position when the #32 Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes – one of the early front runners and protagonists of the GTD class – hit trouble and lost sereval laps behind the wall. This allowed Marcelli – then succeeded by Formal – to claim back his fourth place after the drive through, as well as Farnbacher and teammates to move into seventh place. It was surely not the IMSA debut that the Iron Dames had anticipated. After an early drive through and a technical issue that cost them almost 20 laps, Rahel Frey, Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Doriane Pin could only recover from 20th to 17th. Nevertheless, the history-making quartet never gave up and continued to push in every stint, as the team and drivers continue to learn the new car and complete important milaeage. With 7 hours and a half to go, there was more drama for Iron Dames, as Doriane Pin had to limp back to the pits. The car was quickly back underway and Pin could keep 17th in GTD. Rahel Frey then took over the pink Huracan. The Swiss driver, prior to the first hour troubles, had managed to break into the top ten.
Unfortunately, the #83 Lamborghini had more setbacks with five hours to go: Frey brought the car back to the pits and Iron Dames slipped from 17th to 19th, having been stationary for over 20 further laps. The #57 Winward Mercedes incredibly leads the race in class, after Lucas Auer sustained a massive accident in practice that forced the driver to sit out the race and the car to be rebuilt. After a chassis change, the #57 entry started from the back of the grid but navigated through the field to take the lead. The Mercedes leads The Heart of Racing Aston Martin, who also fought for the top spot earlier in the race and that survived a small issue with six hours to go. In the overall classification, technical gremlins have taken out of contention both the BMW RLL and the Porsches, who now run with several lap gaps. A strong contender, the #10 Konica Minolta Acura was brought back behind the wall for repairs during the night and is now 2 laps down. Only the two Cadillacs and the Meyer Shank Racing Acura remain on the lead lap. Renger van der Zande (#01 Cadillac) extended his lead over Tom Blomqvist and Richard Westbrook and positions remained unchanged also after driver changes: Scott Dixon was then followed by Pagenaud and Lynn and, even though the #60 Acura closed the gap, the yellow-liveried Cadillac continued to lead with four hours to go.