Maro Engel characterized the closing hours of the Rolex 24 at Daytona as a “dogfight” of a finish that saw both GTD Pro and GTD cars intermingled together that led to an “uncalled for” incident according to the Mercedes-AMG factory driver.
Engel, Jules Gounon, Dani Juncadella and Cooper MacNeil came out on top of the GTD Pro class in their WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo following a three-way battle for the class win.
It didn’t come without drama, with side-to-side contact from the eventual GTD-winning No. 27 The Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Marco Sorensen that pushed the German ace into the grass in the final hour.
“It was definitely a dogfight, and it always is a crazy, exciting finish to this race, especially in the GT categories,” Engel said.
“I think the situation in Turn 4 was a bit unnecessary. Yeah, uncalled for, I think.
“But anyway, we survived that scare and had a pretty big jump through the air and sideways all crossed up, but was able to gather it together, not slam into anyone coming back on track.
“It was just a big fight between the Lexus, the Corvette, and us. I was so happy to deliver this result all together for the WeatherTech Racing family.”
While his focus was on delivering the GTD Pro win, Engel said it was difficult running alongside GTD cars, which were in a race of of their own.
Both classes run to the same Balance of Performance, with only the Pro-Am enforced driver restrictions in GTD being the differing factor.
“It was really hard at times fighting for position with GTD pro cars and GTD cars,” Engel said.
“The nature of the way it is that you’re racing the same cars, no one wants to let anyone by, because even if you’re not fighting the person in the same class, you’re exposing yourself to the next car in line.”
Sorensen, who did not receive a penalty for the contact with Engel, went on to claim not only the GTD class victory but finish one position ahead of the GTD Pro-winning Mercedes as the highest-ranked GT car.
The Aston Martin factory ace, who briefly stopped on track late in the running to re-cycle the No. 27 Aston’s systems, effectively had a one-car buffer to second place in GTD, the No. 44 Magnus Racing Aston of Nicki Thiim.
“I actually think having that buffer helped us a little bit, but in the end when I had this power cycle that I had to do on track, we were kind of a little bit behind again,” Sorensen explained.
“It all kind of moved around during the race. We were definitely one of or the quickest car out there, I would say, and had the pace to be in the front.
“Having the pro cars in between… I kind of just knew that we had to just stay in front of them, and that would help a lot.”
James: Winning GT Outright the “Extra Cherry on the Cake”
The Heart of Racing team principal Ian James, who was also part of the winning driver lineup alongside Sorensen, Roman De Angelis and Darren Turner, said being the top-finishing GT car in the Rolex 24 was just an added bonus.
It marked the second time the No. 27 Aston finished ahead of GTD Pro runners following last year’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, which James and De Angelis were also a part of the lineuup.
“I think it’s just an extra cherry on the cake,” James said.
“Obviously that’s not the most important thing, but obviously having me part of the lineup, going against all those pro guys and still coming out on top, just is a testament to what these guys did and how hard and how well they drove and how well the team is.
“I used to look up with admiration and I still do to the likes of Corvette Racing and all that, and to go toe-to-toe with them and beat them is a huge accomplishment.”