A dramatic duel between two GT heavyweights, Corvette and Porsche, ended with Corvette winning the GT Le Mans class in a thrilling 54th Rolex 24 at Daytona in an unbelievable 1-2 photo finish.
The two Corvette C7.Rs were separated by 0.034 of a second after 24 hours, with Oliver Gavin edging Antonio Garcia at the checkered flag.
It wound up as a duel between teammates, as the Corvette Racing team allowed the two Corvettes to race for the win between themselves in the final 15 minutes after a previously trouble-free drive the first 23 hours and 45 minutes.
Gavin positioned the No. 4 Corvette in the lead after a bold, brave and daring pass of Earl Bamber’s No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR at the West Horseshoe.
There was very minor left front to right rear contact between the two with just over 30 minutes to go, with Gavin emerging ahead and Race Control ruling no further action.
Gavin’s hopes and dreams of a victory depended on whether he could hold off a hard-charging Antonio Garcia, who’d pitted with 37 minutes to go for four new tires, and then proceeded to run him down.
Garcia made the move on Gavin at Turn 1 for the lead but only mere moments later on corner exit, Gavin held him off to hang onto the lead.
But then, on the final lap, Garcia tried one final attempt to the outside of Gavin and came up just 0.034 of a second short in an incredible ending and 1-2 finish for Corvette.
It marks the first win for the new trio of Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler, and the first win for Gavin and Milner on U.S. soil since Sebring in 2013.
The car also overcame a stop and hold plus 60 second penalty for a pit light exit violation, which occurred in the 21st hour.
Garcia, who shared the No. 3 car with Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller, also had a penalty earlier in the race for a pit lane speeding violation. But the call to go onto new tires unleashed the “King of Spain” for enough of a comeback to make the win chance possible.
Bamber, who shared the No. 912 Porsche with Fred Makowiecki and Michael Christensen, enjoyed a largely trouble-free drive to end third.
Both the No. 912 car and the polesitting No. 911 car of Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Kevin Estre led the majority of the race in class between them, but the No. 911 car’s hopes were dashed with a drive line issue while running seventh in the 19th hour.
Scuderia Corsa enjoyed a particularly strong GTLM debut with its new No. 68 Ferrari 488 GTE, ending best of the three new turbocharged cars, in fourth with Alessandro Pier Guidi, Alexandre Premat, Daniel Serra and Memo Rojas.
BMW also secured a top-five finish on the debut of its new turbocharged car, the No. 25 BMW Team RLL M6 GTLM, shared by Bill Auberlen, Dirk Werner, Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler. The No. 100 car suffered an apparent brake failure and accident for Lucas Luhr overnight.
The two debuting Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs, which were expected to feature, only made headlines for a myriad of mechanical woes which didn’t seem present from testing. Nonetheless, both the Nos. 66 and 67 Fords made the checkered flag in seventh and ninth in class.
The GT Daytona finish also ended with a ton of drama, and only just enough fuel in the tank of the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS to win in the team’s first race with its new car, and in the car’s U.S. race debut.
Magnus held onto the win with just enough fuel as Rene Rast brought the car home to the win in the car he shared with Andy Lally, John Potter and Marco Seefried.
It gives Audi its fourth endurance win in five major starts with the new R8 LMS. The new Audi won the Nürburgring 24 and Sepang 12 Hours last year, and the Hankook 24 Hours of Dubai earlier this month.
Heartbreak occurred for Lamborghini, which looked poised to take the win with several of its new Huracán GT3s in their U.S. debut, but came up short with all five cars.
Despite an eleventh hour accident between the Paul Miller Racing and Change Racing cars when running first and second, Konrad Motorsport nearly took the win but then ran out of fuel in the final three minutes with its No. 28 Huracán GT3.
Fabio Babini had closed more than 30 seconds in the final hour on Rast, passed him with under 10 minutes to go into Turn 1, but then ran dry at the end.
Babini was poised to deliver the win following a comeback drive after an early-race, three-minute, 30-plus second penalty for an improper pass around procedure. Once he pitted for a final splash of fuel, the No. 28 car he shared with Marc Basseng, Lance Willsey and Rolf Ineichen ended fifth in class.
Team principal Franz Konrad was seeking his second Daytona class win, after also winning the GT2 class in 1998.
Black Swan Racing started from 19th in the 22-car GTD field but put up quite a fight in its return to IMSA, and ended best of the Porsche 911 GT3 Rs in that car’s overall debut.
Tim Pappas, Patrick Long, Andy Pilgrim and Nicky Catsburg ended second in the No. 540 Porsche. Catsburg, who starred in a win at last year’s Spa 24 Hours, was reeling in Rast in the final stages before a late-race splash-and-dash brought them down. He ended 3.048 seconds behind Rast.
The No. 93 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R, a relatively late entrant, completed the podium in the hands of four Texans (Ben Keating, Gar Robinson, Eric Foss, Jeff Mosing) and an Irishman (Damien Faulkner) ran cleanly all day.
Aston Martin Racing delivered a quiet but solid drive to fourth, albeit never quite in real win contention, with the quartet of Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Paul Dalla Lana and Richie Stanaway in the team’s No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3.
Stanaway was running second in the final hour of the race before a major off-course excursion at the Bus Stop chicane, which cost him the spot.
The aforementioned No. 28 Konrad Lamborghini finished fifth.
There were plenty of other story lines to follow within the 22-car GTD class.
Of note, the best of the new BMW M6 GT3s ended sixth, ahead of Scuderia Corsa’s No. 63 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 in seventh, and that meant that all seven manufacturers in class ended in the top seven positions.
RESULTS: Rolex 24 at Daytona