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  • Writer's pictureRACERS

Heartbreak for Gradient Racing after stellar performance at Daytona 24H

“We had the team and the drivers to be able to take the fight to our competitors but unfortunately it just wasn’t meant to be" - After a superb qualifying, Gradient Racing's Katherine Legge, Tatiana Calderon, Sheena Monk and Stevan McAleer were chasing history at Daytona, but an electrical issue halted their dreams mid-way through the race.

Sheena Monk, Tatiana Calderon, Katherine Legge, Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3, Daytona 24 Hours 2024, IMSA
Photo courtesy: Gradient Racing

Entering the 62nd running of the Rolex 24 of Daytona, the #66 Acura NSX GT3 certainly looked like a strong contender in the GTD class. Gradient Racing's extraordinary work ahead of the endurance classic had resulted in the JG Wentworth-sponsored machine being among the fastest on track and the ROAR Before the 24 test days had clearly proven that with a clean race, the crew would have been among the ones to beat.

Katherine Legge, Sheena Monk and Tatiana Calderon - joined at Daytona by Stevan McAleer - certainly had everything it takes to make history; a spectacular lap by Legge in qualifying had resulted in a start from third place, after she held the provisional pole for most of the session. Legge was also fastest in several practice sessions, consistently keeping behind most of the GTD-Pro entries as well.

Monk and Calderon both entered their second Daytona 24 Hours; the former would aim to build upon her brilliant rookie season last year, where she tackled one of the most challenging and proving races in the world at her very first GT3 outing. For Calderon, it would be her second participation after the 2020 edition, where she teamed up with Legge, Frey and Nielsen in another all-female effort - although their race came to an early halt for an engine issue.

Legge's experience and everyone's speed shown in the build-up to the race set the stage of a promising race: "Qualifying went really well", commented Legge after her great qualifying lap. "The car performs superbly in cooler conditions, which we tried to capitalize on".

"It’s a 24-hour race, and this was only a few laps of qualifying, so we’re hoping to have a clean race and make it to be in the fight at the end."

"I'm really excited to put our Acura NSX among the top contenders", continued Sheena Monk expressing her enthusiasm before the race: "We have a strong car and we are hopeful for its consistency. Our car has its strong suits, yet there are areas where it may not match up to others. With the multi-class traffic, our aim is to maintain our pace, stay out of trouble, and win some watches this year.”

At her first time working with the team and with not as much GT3 experience - having mainly raced formulas and prototypes - Calderon had quickly adapted and was looking forward to refining the setup: "We still have set-up work to do, but I’m happy and excited with what we have done so far. Hats off to the team and my teammates."

Sheena Monk, Tatiana Calderon, Katherine Legge, Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3, Daytona 24 Hours 2024, IMSA
Photo credits: Jake Galstad

The story of the race

Having shown great speed throughout the week, Katherine Legge took the start of the 24 hour race for Gradient Racing and, from the second row, she had a sterling start, gaining one place to slot into second place in GTD, right behind early class leader Aaron Telitz (Vasser Sullivan Lexus).

Legge and Telitz mingled with the GTD Pro entries, also joined by the Triarsi Competizione Ferrari driven by Alessio Rovera and the Conquest Ferrari of Manny Franco. Legge fought hard but took no risks in the opening stages of the race, while she continued to set very competitive times at the top of the field.

The first Full Course Yellow of the race was deployed on lap 14, after the #78 Forte Lamborghini hit the tyre barriers at the Le Mans chicane. Almost the entirety of the GTD field pitted on lap 19 and Sheena Monk took over the #66 Gradient Racing Acura, now sixth following the stops.

At the restart, a double accident involving several LMP2 cars resulted in the safety car being deployed again as the race entered its first hour. Sheena Monk avoided the carnage and settled in P7. The young American then had a brilliant restart and battled at the top of GTD, closely followed by Iron Dames' Rahel Frey. Among some of the most experienced GT3 drivers in the world, Monk dropped to tenth - but kept it clean and managed the traffic well, which was the most critical point in this part of the race.

At the second stop, Monk stayed behind the wheel and comfortably kept touch with the cars ahead. A big accident for the TDS Racing Oreca brought out the third safety car of the day; Monk stayed out and moved up to eighth, then overtook Pin for seventh when the race went back underway. Having completed a double-stint, Sheena left the #66 Acura in the hands of Stevan McAleer, who immediately set the fastest lap of the race and caught back the top-ten, just before another caution shuffled the order and strategies. McAleer was on a mission and soon navigated through the GTD field up to P9. 

Sheena Monk, Tatiana Calderon, Katherine Legge, Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3, Daytona 24 Hours 2024, IMSA
Photo credits: Michael L. Levitt

At the following stops with 20 hours to go, McAleer cycled into the GTD race lead before pitting off sequence on lap 129 and Tatiana Calderon was up next: the Colombian started her first stint at the Rolex 24H and rejoined the track in P9. Tatiana made up a couple of positions during a restart and, with almost one quarter of the race in the books, she showcased a really competitive pace. Calderon overtook the #43 Porsche for eighth place, then cleared the #44 Magnus Racing Aston Martin, always chasing the GTD-Pro #23 Heart of Racing Aston. The former F2 and Indycar racer continued to make up ground on the cars ahead and ran as high as sixth before the next stop.

Everyone used the next caution to pit and Sheena Monk was back behind the wheel of the Gradient Acura, now down to P11. Monk eventually settled in P13 in class and, in the tricky night shift, she drove smartly taking no risks, running as high as fifth at the next round of pit stops. Katherine Legge returned in charge of the #66 Acura, having last driven at the start of the race: still on the lead lap, Legge now was eager to charge back from P14.

Katherine quickly made up ground and an opportunity to bunch up the field materialized when the #10 WTR Acura came to a halt on track and the race was neutralized. The team opted to bring Sheena Monk back in.

Sheena's times were again very competitive and she ran a few seconds behind the #55 Proton - until a loss of power on lap 266 saw the Gradient Acura slowing down dramatically. Monk managed to get back to the pits, but the car had now lost 5 laps to the class leader before it was sent back out. There was further trouble a few laps later and the #66 machine limped back again to the pits.

The Gradient crew worked tirelessly and, although 15 laps down, Katherine Legge was back behind the wheel in an attempt to continue the race. Straight away, Legge was one of the fastest cars in class: she recorded some stunning laps and completed her one hour stint, showing the car's potential and her immense talent.

Having just taken the wheel, Stevan McAleer unfortunately picked up damage after collecting debris from another car and the Gradient Racing JG Wentworth car had to return to the pits for repairs, as the incident also triggered a full course yellow.

Tatiana Calderon jumped onboard for her second driving shift of the race, now in 18th place among the GTD class. Sadly, the Tatiana noticed rising temperatures inside the car and it was decided to bring the car back behind the wall to investigate the problem. An electric system issue was identified and, despite the relentless work of the crew, the car was unfortunately forced to a retirement.

Sheena Monk, Tatiana Calderon, Katherine Legge, Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3, Daytona 24 Hours 2024, IMSA
Photo courtesy: Gradient Racing

“I'm absolutely gutted with this outcome,” said Legge, whose performance has been nothing short of remarkable throughout the weekend. “We came into this event feeling very confident that we were equipped with a winning package. The car was fast, we had a great driver lineup, and the team were faultless in their strategy, pit stops, and overall execution."

"We don't know what caused the failure, but after three attempts at trying to resolve the issue, we came to the conclusion that it was better to save our equipment so that we can go on to fight for another win in the future", Katherine continued. Her 1:46.386 remained the eighth fastest time of the race, with her first and third sectors unchallenged for most of the contest.

“It’s hard to put the disappointment into words,” said Sheena Monk. “We had the team and the drivers to be able to take the fight to our competitors but unfortunately it just wasn’t meant to be. Regardless, I’m still incredibly proud to have driven alongside Katherine, Tatiana, and Stevan."

“First of all, I want to thank the team for all their efforts over the last two weeks,” echoed Tatiana Calderon. “It is a dream for any driver to be a part of this amazing race, so although it did not end the way we had hoped, I will still focus on the positive takeaways."

With the #66 Gradient Racing Acura scheduled to enter the full IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Calderon will be eager to team up again with Legge and Monk for the Endurance Cup races, finally capitalizing on their potential.

"We had a quick car and I gained valuable experience for the remaining endurance races this season as it was my first time running the Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 in race conditions", Tatiana explained. "We have unfinished business and I can't wait to get back in the car for Sebring".

The 12 Hours of Sebring, second round of the IMSA season, is scheduled for 16th March.



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