Throughout the year, Continental Tire will focus on celebrating the fans, media, drivers, and teams and their contributions to sports car racing, including a weekly trip down memory lane in Sportscar365’s Continental Tire IMSA Reflections series.
This week, Daniel Morad looks back on his breakthrough class win at the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona with Alegra Motorsports, what that win has done for his career, and how the team celebrated their triumph.
The program to run the Rolex 24 in 2017 famously came together at the end-of-year banquet following the previous season. What did it mean to you to be selected by Alegra Motorsports team owner Carlos de Quesada for the ride?
“Racing in the Rolex 24 has always been a goal of mine. I didn’t race or drive a single car from 2011-2015, while still attending the Rolex 24 each year, in the hopes of somebody giving me a shot.
“That made the whole thing sweeter in the end. Carlos is like a father to me. He gave me the chance that nobody else did. That’s the struggle, being a young driver with a single seater background.
“Most team owners want a “sure thing” or somebody “mature” enough to not shunt the car while pushing ten, tenths all the time.
“I can appreciate that, but it makes the grind so tough for guys trying to make the jump to sports car racing.”
At what point during the Roar or Rolex 24 week did you realize the car would be capable of winning the race?
“The beautiful part of our Rolex 24 experience was that there was no pressure. Nobody even considered us to be competitive.
“To be honest, I knew we had a strong team. Engineering-wise, we had Larry Hahn and Bob Knox. Those guys are two wise ‘young’ men, with about 50-60 years of racing experience.
“The mechanics were on point for two seasons of Porsche GT3 Cup racing, so I knew they would nail it!
“Just to side track a little, to win a championship in Cup racing requires perfection on the technical side. We won four Cup championships in 2016 leading up to the Rolex 24.
“That leads me to speaking about my teammates. Michael Christensen, Porsche factory driver, Michael de Quesada, 2016 Porsche GT3 Cup USA Gold Champion, Carlos de Quesada, 2007 Rolex 24 Winner, Jesse Lazare, 2016 Porsche GT3 Cup USA Platinum Champion.
“We even had Spencer Pumpelly on the box calling the strategy. We had a solid team!”
What do you remember about your stints during the race?
“You know what I remember during my stints? RAIN! A lot of rain. It’s okay, though, because I love the rain.
“We went two laps down early due to a little spin thanks to a GTLM car tagging one of my teammates into Turn 1 on a restart. Luckily, we only had a one inch tear in our beautiful vinyl job.
“When it started to pour, I got the call to jump in the car and took us from two laps down to the lead of the race by 40 seconds, all in a three hour and 30 minute triple stint.
“I drove a lot in the race, but that one stood out for me because it was a vital moment, but one that doesn’t make it to the surface. It’s just hard work and grinding that needed to be done!”
What was the celebration like after the race?
“So let’s talk about the celebration. After the car crossed the finish line, there were a lot of tears. Tears of joy of course. It was an incredible moment.
“Later that evening, after being awake for what was 42 hours straight, we had dinner at a beautiful steak restaurant and then had to drive back to Tampa so Michael de Quesada could go to school on Monday.
“You’d think that he could have a day off after being the youngest winner of the Rolex 24… nope! Guess who got stuck driving him back? You guessed it!
“Michael enjoys his sleep a lot. He fell asleep at the dinner table and I was stuck driving him home, while my girlfriend, Jessica, was singing in the passenger seat trying to keep me awake for the two hour drive back.
“It’s okay because that’s where the brand ‘Moradness’ started, over a very tired conversation in between singing and sticking my head out the window to stay awake.
“A two hour drive quickly turned into four hours because we had to stop and nap. It’s safe to say that was the hardest stint of the race. Want to know something else? Michael never went to school on Monday!”
What has that win done for you and your career?
“The win has put me on the map for international sports car racing. Going from a four year sabbatical to driving regularly has been life changing. I’m so thankful to have met Carlos and his family.
“Not many people would take the risk that he took, and I’m forever thankful for it. It’s all a very humbling experience and to be honest and gives hope to other drivers out there that only need one chance. Never give up!”