Aurora Straus charges from last to 6th in IMPC opener at Daytona
Aurora Straus made a remarkable comeback to the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Daytona, bringing the new McLaren Artura GT4 to its racing debut – and charging from the back of the grid to sixth place overall.
IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge kicked off its 2023 season at Daytona International Speedway – one of the most iconic racing venues in the world – supporting as per tradition the Rolex 24 Hours. The series – which includes GT4 entries as well as TCR – is widely considered one of the most competitive in the North American sports car scene, and represents the ultimate stepping stone to the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.
IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge has been a platform for several female drivers as well – including two-time TCR champion Taylor Hagler and Sheena Monk, who just graduated from the GS class to GT3 and contested her first IMSA GTD race at the 24 Hours of Daytona, claiming a remarkable fourth place.
On the grid of last week's season opener, three talented women were ready to tackle the 4-hour BMW M Endurance Challenge: reigning TCR champion Hagler, NASCAR star Hailie Deegan and Aurora Straus.
Straus, 24, is no newbie to the series, but rather an experienced GT4 racer.
A Harvard graduate, she started her professional motor racing journey at the wheel of spec Mazda MX-5 cars in 2015, before progressing into the 2016 Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge and then Pirelli World Challenge Sprint-X series in 2018, where she claimed two victories and finished runner up in the class standings.
She then returned to the IMSA Pilot Challenge Daytona opener in 2018, 2019 and 2020, always in the GS class.
As she returns to GT4 after racing in the Radical Cup North America in 2022, Straus joined Crucial Motorsports alongside Michael De Quesada and Henry O’Hara, who shared the wheel of the brand-new McLaren Artura GT4, at its worldwide racing debut.
The Artura GT4 replaces the 570S GT4, now equipped with a 3.0L V6 engine and approximately 100kg lighter compared to its predecessor.
The week leading up to the race proved to be a bit of a challenge for the new car and its minor gremlins to fix; the trio of drivers therefore entered the 4-hour competition with limited track time and starting from the back of the field, in 44h position overall.
O'Hara was the selected driver to take the start in #58 McLaren and, when the first caution neutralized the race after 15 minutes of green flag action, he had already gained 5 places to slot in P27 in class. The GS field completed the first round of pit stops early on, making the most out of the caution – but bad luck continued to haunt the #58 Crucial Motorsports' crew, as O'Hara was handed a drive through penalty for a pit lane infringement, which he served on lap 24.
At the one hour mark, Aurora Straus climbed in the driving seat of the #58 Artura while in P30 in the GS class. Straus started to progressively move up the order, setting fast and consistent lap times and surviving two more Full Course Yellows.
Despite one fewer set of new tyres compared to the other teams, Straus was able to charge from 30th to 13th in class, having ran as high as eleventh.
After a 1 hour and 20 minutes double-stint of clean racing, Aurora Straus handed over to Michael De Quesada for the final hour and a half of racing.
Initially P21 after the round of pit stops, De Quesada was on a mission and charged back, almost breaking in the top-ten before the final caution, which was triggered by the Porsche of Westphal, which suffered a tyre blow at high speed while in second place overall, luckily to no consequences for the driver. The #58 Crucial Motorsports McLaren Artura driven by Michael De Quesada pitted under yellow on lap 85.
In the final 30 minutes of racing, De Quesada managed fuel and, with 15 minutes left on the clock, was ready for the final charge: when the leading #47 Porsche of Skeen grinded to a halt, the FP Racing Ford Mustangs of Burton and Rhodes took the lead and positions in the top ten were shuffled – as also several cars were short on fuel.
But after a brilliant race, the #58 Crucial Motorsports McLaren Artura GT4 continued to make its way up and crossed the finish line in sixth place – an outstanding result for Michael De Quesada, Aurora Straus and Henry O’Hara, after a start from the back of the pack.
"It was an honor being a part of the new McLaren Artura’s debut race at Daytona. We had some serious uphill battles leading up to the race, and we started the 4-hour race with somewhat limited track time and one fewer set of tires than everyone else", Aurora told us after the race.
"But thanks to the incredible work by the McLaren team and Crucial Motorsports, the car handled really well and was extremely consistent, enabling Michael, Henry and myself to bring the car from last to 6th place!" – she added, describing the feeling like a win.
"I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent McLaren Orlando, Mayors Jewelers, and Richard Mille, and I’m glad we were able to do them justice."
While it was not Straus' best ever result in the series – having scored a fifth place in class at Sebring and a fourth place at Daytona in 2017 – the sixth place conquered in 2023 represents her best finish overall, in the top class of IMSA Pilot Challenge.
While there is no official confirmation of what the rest of the racing season will look like for Straus, she proved once again that despite limited track time, the young American consistently delivers.