The Rolex 24 at Daytona is done and it’s time to not only reflect on the race but also to look ahead at the future.
It was a pretty amazing weekend for lots of reasons for us at Whelen Engineering Racing, mainly because it was my first event with the team.
In my last column I told you that we had prepared well at the Roar test in early January, so things had already gelled together before we got to race week in most respects.
Felipe [Nasr] qualified the No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R and he did a great job because the car was probably not the quickest in quali trim because our focus was very much on the race itself.
This duly showed during the race because although we started fifth we were always in contention for the lead from more or less the beginning.
We actually thought that the rain would come earlier than it did.
At some points during the race I was happy that the rain was not coming on schedule as we were right in the mix for the win after leading on several occasions.
At 5 a.m., it came, and boy did it come! But before that there was plenty going on and lots of great racing.
Hour 6 saw me in the car for the duration and it was nice to be leading and get the maximum points for the Michelin Endurance Cup, which was great news for us.
Then at the halfway mark I was back in the cockpit and we were four seconds up in the lead and we looked to be set for the halfway points too.
But with a minute and a half to go we had a yellow flag for debris. Had it stayed green, we had just enough fuel to cross the line after the 12-hour point then pit at the end of that lap.
Unfortunately, when under yellow, with the way the pits open and close for each class we had to pit when the pits opened for our class or the next opportunity to pit would have been as the green flag was waving. So we were not able to be the official leader at the 12-hour mark.
When the rain came it was triggered difficult conditions for everyone. It’s often hard to describe adequately what it is like but really it is not pleasant at all.
You have to just stay alive in the race and look at the bigger picture. This is exactly what we did out there, so we had some great forward-thinking by the team on all levels.
I restarted from the lead with a very wet track and unfortunately I was saving fuel for the full safety car period and when the lights went out a couple of corners before the green flag. This meant I had no time to warm up my tires.
I was driving at 30 km/h for a long time under safety car and the brakes and tires were cold so I lost the lead to Jordan Taylor because of this.
Still, we kept our heads down and worked hard to stay in contention which we managed to achieve.
We then had the first red flag and were fourth at this time, just hoping that the greens would fly again because we felt strong.
Our prayers were answered and then with two hours to go we all saw what happened as Felipe aquaplaned a bit in very difficult conditions and the lead was lost.
This was the moment the race evaded us but to even get second place in such extreme conditions was still a massive achievement and a great testament to how strong we were out there.
Ultimately, when you analyze the race a few days afterwards and you talk to the team you realize that although the win escaped us on this occasion, it was still a really strong result.
I have some great memories from the weekend from off the track too.
It was a real highlight to have dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Whelen the day before the race. They are lovely people and very enthusiastic about everything we do. They are real racers.
Sitting beside Sonny Whelen and listening to his stories and his insight into his way of doing business was fascinating and I really hope I can contribute to even more success for them this year and long into the future.
The Daytona weekend proved to be a great platform for our championship campaign too.
We now head to Sebring and I am chasing down my third win at the great race – the Twelve Hours of Sebring.
I love the event, it is so special and this year I feel that Felipe, Eric and myself can really mount a strong challenge in the championship.