24H Daytona, 4h update: Harrison fights at the top of GTD, Monk completes first GT3 stint
Four hours into the 24H of Daytona, Ashton Harrison briefly led in GTD and continues to run steadily in the top ten in class, as GT3 rookie Sheena Monk completed her first stints after taking the start in the #66 Gradient Racing Acura. Both Acuras are currently in the top 10, while the Iron Dames are recovering from an early penalty.
With seven female drivers on the grid of one of the world's most important sports car races on the planet, the 61st running of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona is already destined to make history. IMSA – North America's premier sports car championship – is effectively entering a new era, with most of the eyes set on the GTP top class, where the new LMDH machines are making headlines. But there is certainly no lack of exciting stories all across the 61-car grid – including one of the most competitive GTD fields ever. Among them, three teams are fielding female drivers: the record-breaking team Iron Dames – at their IMSA debut and first race with Lamborghini equipment - and two equally impressive teams running the Acura NSX GT3 EVO: Gradient Racing and Racers Edge Motorsports with WTR. Rahel Frey - at her second participation in the 24 hours of Daytona – qualified the #83 Lamborghini Huracan in P15, but took the start from P13 after two cars were moved to the back of the field. The #93 Acura qualified by Kyle Marcelli started from the second row of the grid in third place, one place ahead of the #66 Gradient Racing Acura, which fields sportscar ace Katherine Legge and GT3 rookie Sheena Monk. And it was Monk, at her first ever weekend since stepping up from Michelin Pilot Challenge, to take the start in the green JG Wentworth-sponsored Acura, in just one of the ten cars that opted to field their bronze-rated driver at the green flag. At the start, Blomqvist (#60 Acura) led Bourdais (#01 Cadillac) and Nasr (#7 Porsche) in the overall classification; a LMP2 drama brought out the first caution as soon as on lap 2, when the #8 Tower Motorsport LMP2 of Farano came to a halt at turn 6. At the restart, the Mayer Shank Racing Acura held the lead and tried to pull away, while Nick Tandy (#6 Porsche) recovered to fifth after Ricky Taylor made a small mistake in the #10 Konica Minolta Acura. After a remarkable ROAR week, Sheena Monk continued to learn the machinery and to manage traffic; in her first stint, Monk found her rhythm and, while losing a few places, remained in the pack. Meanwhile, Rahel Frey was recovering steadily and, towards the end of her stint, she had broken into the top ten in class before handing over to Sarah Bovy. Unfortunately, the #83 Iron Dames Lamborghini received a drive through for "too many crew over the wall working on the car" – a penalty that also hit a couple of other GTD cars, including the #19 sister car. The penalty cost Bovy a lap, as the Belgian had to build up again her recovery from P17. After the first stops, Kyle Marcelli and Sheena Monk stayed behind the wheel and continued to make up ground: at the one hour mark, the #93 Racers Edge Motorsports with WTR Acura was leading the race in class, after the previously-leading #32 Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes of Skeen went off and lost two positions. There was early drama for the GTP cars, as reliability started to be an important factor: the #25 RLL BMW came to a halt and lost over 80 laps for a potential gearbox issue; soon after, the #7 Porsche Penske of Nasr switched off – but the car was back to life after a reset. Acuras kept the lead overall, while the Cadillacs swapped places and then closed in again on the leaders. After a great first double-stint for Kyle Marcelli, Ashton Harrison took over the #93 Racers Edge Acura from the GTD lead. Sheena Monk also completed her first ever GT3 stints and Marc Miller got behind the wheel of the #66 Gradient Acura from P12. After the Iron Dames' second stop, Sarah Bovy remained at the helm of the #83 Lamborghini, in P15. The third hour of racing opened with a Full Course Yellow, when the #42 NTE Sport Lamborghini hit the tyre barriers at Turn 1. After the restart, Ashton Harrison held on to the GTD lead for a few laps, then slotted in fifth. Miller moved from P12 to ninth. Bovy found some speed and got closer to Julien Andlauer in the Kelly Moss Racing Porsche. The #32 Mercedes – now with Kenton Koch behind the wheel – reclaimed the lead in GTD after passing the #12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus, before another caution neutralized the race, caused by the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW. Sarah Bovy had just pitted and handed over to Michelle Gatting. Harrison also had just entered pit lane for her fourth stop. At the restart, Marc Miller was ninth in class thanks to a clean pit stop by the Gradient crew and Harrison found herself in tenth position. Gatting rejoined in 16th. As the clock marked the four hour of racing and the sun set over the Florida racetrack, overall leader Colin Braun made a mistake and locked up while passing GTD traffic and gave the opportunity to Mathieau Jaminet (#6 Porsche) to have a go for the lead. Braun defended, and Deletraz (#10 Acura) seized the opportunity to move into second - as the top 6 were separated by less than 10 seconds.