Daytona 24H: Katherine Legge & Team Hardpoint clinch last minute class Top-10
Despite early troubles for the #99 Hardpoint Porsche, Katherine Legge and her team fought back and clinched a class top-10 in the crazy final stages of an action-filled Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.
The motorsport season has just started but 2022 already brought us a classic with the latest Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. In an epic edition, the battles for the win in every class went down to the wire - to the very last lap – and crowned the Meyer Shank Racing Acura of Helio Castroneves, Oliver Jarvis, Tom Blomqvist and Simon Pagenaud in the overall classification. In an equally exciting finish, DragonSpeed sealed victory in LMP2, and the Pfaff Racing Porsche emerged victorious in the GTD-Pro class from a highly-spectacular duel with the KCMG Porsche, only resolved at the last braking point of the final lap In the most crowded field in recent memory at Daytona, out of the 61 crews, only one woman was present on the starting grid: British racing icon Katherine Legge, at her ninth start at the legendary race. Legge will in fact compete for the second year in a row for Team Hardpoint in the full IMSA season, sharing a GTD Porsche 911 GT3R entry with driver/owner Rob Ferriol. At the team's first ever participation in 2021, Legge and Ferriol were joined by Earl Bamber and Christina Nielsen, ultimately claiming a very encouraging top-10. At the team's second season in the series, Legge was confident about more progress: "As a team we have gone from strength to strength and I’m proud to be part of an effort with so much heart", she stated. "We have made some off-season changes that I believe will enable us to capitalize on the strengths of the team, and Rob [Ferriol] and I are determined and motivated to get that elusive podium soon." Unfortunately, qualifying turned out to be a bit of a challenge for Team Hardpoint, as Stefan Wilson and Nick Boulle started the 90-minute qualifying race in the #99 GridRival/Gnarly Jerky/de Boulle Porsche from P18 in class, following a contact with the barrier i pre-qualifying. Boulle – the 2021 IMSA Prototype Challenge champion – started the ROAR Before the Rolex qualifying race and took no unnecessary risks, handing the car over to Stefan Wilson in P15. The former Indy 500 driver would gain one more place to finish 14th in GTD, which put Team Hardpoint four places higher. The 60th edition of the Daytona 24 Hours – one of the crown jewels of motor racing – was marked by several cautions and some big crashes, mostly caused by the very cold temperatures that made for difficult grip conditions as drivers struggled to get the tyres up to temperature. Some early front-runners such as the #48 Ally Cadillac of Rockenfeller / Kobayashi / Johnson / Lopez and the #01 Cadillac of van der Zande / Bourdais / Dixon / Palou hit trouble and lost chances of victory during the night, for either contacts or technical issues. After 23 hours of intense racing, though, the top-four DPi contenders were separated by a few seconds. The #10 and #60 Acuras led in the final hour, with Helio Castroneves getting behind the wheel for the final stint in the purple Meyer Shank Racing prototype in a great position for the victory also thanks to a perfect strategy call ahead of the final Full Course Yellow. Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi, Filipe Albuquerque and Will Stevens recovered from an early tyre puncture to lead in the latter stages, but it would be Castroneves to get ahead of Alexander Rossi and Mike Conway (Whelen Engineering Cadillac) after an extremely tight battle. Duval/Westrbrook/Vautier/Keating clinched the final step of the podium for JDC Miller Motorsports as everything was decided in the final laps. A race-long battle between the Pfaff and KCMG Porsche resulted in some epic elbows-out racing, with a last lap contact that allowed past the Risi Competizione Ferrari GT3R of Pier Guidi/Calado/Serra/Rigon. Jaminet and Vanthoor, in fact, had swapped placed at the top for most of the final hours and collided at the Bus Stop Chicane with few seconds to go; Jaminet/Campbell/Nasr could seal the win in a class that also had 4 cars across the finish line within 10 seconds. Indycar stars Colton Herta and Pato O'Ward - alongside Devlin De Francesco and Eric Lux - snatched the LMP2 lead in similar fashion, as Herta forced his way past the Tower Motorsport Oreca of Deletraz with less than 10 minutes left on the clock. Racing Team Nederland (Van Eerd/van der Garde/Murry/Veekay) would eventually claim second and Keating/Jensen/Huffaker/Lapierre were fourth, just 1.358 seconds behind.
Four cars were in contention for the win in GTD as well, with the #16 Wright Motorsport Porsche having the better end from the #44 Magnus Racing Aston Martin. For the #99 Hardpoint Porsche of Legge, Ferriol, Boulle and Wilson it was a promising yet disappointing race: the quartet was protagonist of a great recovery in the opening hours and managed to break into the Top-5, with pace for a podium finish. Nick Boulle took the start of the race from P14 in the strong 22-car field in GTD and was able to move up to 11th place in class when Stefan Wilson got behind the wheel for two more stints. Wilson, as his 24-hour debut, would run as high as second during the pit stop cycles and settled in fourth place. Unfortunately, the progress was wiped away after a LMP2 car made contact with Ferriol, approximately six hours into the race; the prototype had run wide at Turn 3 and hit the side of the #99 Hardpoint Porsche, damaging the splitter, front right damper and bending the steering rack. Ferriol made it back to the pitlane and the team was forced to a 1 hour and 15 minute stop for repairs. The team crew never gave up and worked tirelessly to fix the car: Ferriol resumed the race, albeit 37 laps down. When Katherine Legge started her first stint, her race was already mostly compromised; the Brit, who had been runner-up at Daytona before, still completed some great stints and signed the team's fastest lap of the race in 1:45.895, matching the top-5 in class. With three more double-stints throughout the race, Katherine Legge showed once again impressive speed and handed over to Rob Ferriol for the final hour. Consistent pace by all four drivers resulted in yet another recovery up the order, from 17th to 11th in GTD. When the TR3 Racing Lamborghini of Sweedler/Megrue/Altoè/Segal came to a halt in the final stages, Ferriol had to battle with time to complete enough laps to get into the Top 10 – a mission that he accomplished with three minutes left on the clock. Having completed 672 laps around the 5.729 km course, the team conquered another Top 10 which leaves its drivers with a bittersweet taste. "This showed the promise and how much we had grown since last year because we were fast." – said Legge after the race. "If we hadn’t sustained the damage we could have been in with a shot at the podium and the win." "So I’m disappointed for that but really impressed with Rob’s pace" – continued Legge, who already looks ahead to the next rounds. "Especially his last couple of stints, he was doing the same pace as the leaders and that’s really good news, too. This team fights and they never give up and I think we’ll show them at some point soon what we’re made of and what we’re capable of." “We’d be a DNF if it weren’t for the guys and gals behind the wall here" – stressed Ferriol, praising the team's efforts. "We lost 30 laps after the incident with the P-car and they put it back together. They replaced shocks, splitters, bumpers, diffusers, the steering rack, and got us back out on track so that we could fight and got it back up to P10." "In racing, one single moment, one error, can change the entire outcome of the race. We had a great car, we had a great lineup, everyone was competitive, and we were very racy. Unfortunately, the incident last night put us behind and I think without that we would have had a really good position. We’ll take that P10 and the positives that come with it and roll on to Sebring." Katherine Legge, Rob Ferriol and Stefan Wilson – who will run alongside the two regular drivers in three more events of the Michelin Endurance Cup – will try to claim Hardpoint's first podium at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway, on March 16/19.