The 52nd Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona was a great start for us in the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
First of all, during the first two practice sessions I was able to work well with my engineers to find a great set up for qualifying.
We knew we had a good car but we had to wait until the actual qualifying session to see what our competitors had up their sleeves.
Following a quick and closely matched session, I managed to qualify the No. 91 on pole, and more good news came from our sister No. 93 car which qualified third with Jonathan Bomarito behind the wheel.
Everybody knows that pole position is not the most important thing for a 24-hour race, but in this competitive field, it definitely helps to deal with less traffic early on in the race.
At the start of the race we saw some chaos going into Turns 1 and 3. It almost felt as if everyone was being too cautious and that led to a big stack up in Turn 3. I was squeezed between two prototype cars.
The one on the right moved inwards and so did the one on the left. I tried to get my nose out of the situation, and I thought that I did so. But the outside prototype spun in front of me.
Although I didn’t feel anything, the replay showed that we made light contact. Luckily enough I had no damage and the car felt great after I got going again. I was now P4 and started moving forward progressively. Not long after that, I was on Jonathan’s rear bumper and he was our class leader.
After the first round of pit stops, it didn’t take long before I was leading in our SRT Viper GTS-R. When my teammate Dominik Farnbacher took over, he managed to keep that lead all the way through his two stints.
Unfortunately, the engine got turned off during the tire and driver change, so Ryan Hunter-Reay lost some time when trying to restart. The No. 93 Viper took over the lead and we followed in second.
Our pace was good and our target was to stay out of trouble on track and keep running a smooth pace. But on Saturday night, in my second stint, my power steering failed. We lost 12 laps in the garage, but our crew did a great job fixing the car.
After re-joining, on track, we needed to keep pushing to make up for lost laps and for positions. And so we did. I really had a pretty good race with some of our competitors.
Whether it was with Bruni for position in the early stages or with Tandy to get our laps back later on, we were racing hard but fair. Here I could feel the quality level of the GTLM field. Everybody races hard but with a lot of respect for each other.
My two teammates and I drove faultless for 24 hours and thanks to a great crew and perfect strategy calls, we managed to climb back up to 3rd place in GTLM class.
We know we had a car to win this 24-hour race, so it is a little bitter to finish third. On the other side, we were leading after six hours and our third place finish brings us valuable points for both the North American Endurance Championship and the TUDOR Championship, respectively.
Our SRT Motorsports team did an awesome job in Daytona, and I can’t wait to get back into the car at Sebring for the 12-hour race in March.