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Rolex 24 Lead Battle Ramps Up as Dawn Approaches

Five cars racing at close quarters for Rolex 24 lead; BMW interrupts Corvette’s GTLM run…

Image: IMSA

A collision between Kamui Kobayashi and race leader Renger van der Zande highlighted a tense Rolex 24 at Daytona lead battle as dawn approached with nine hours to go.

Van der Zande moved into the lead during a round of pit stops at the end of the 15th hour which came courtesy of the eighth full course yellow period of the race.

The FCY was brought out to facilitate the recovery of an advertising board that had been picked up and spread onto the track by Kevin Estre’s spinning Porsche 911 RSR-19.

Van der Zande maintained his lead at the green flag in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 01 Cadillac DPi-V.R but Kobayashi was on a charge, having dispatched AJ Allmendinger’s Meyer Shank Racing Acura ARX-05 into Bus Stop for second place.

The reigning FIA World Endurance champion then attempted to pass van der Zande into Turn 1, but the pair collided and Kobayashi spun around into the run-off.

This dropped the Japanese driver, who has won the last two Rolex 24 editions with van der Zande at Wayne Taylor Racing, down to fifth behind Allmendinger, Mike Conway and Helio Castroneves.

The battle for the overall lead was flat-out through the night between the Cadillacs from Action Express Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing, and the Acuras from WTR and MSR.

Ricky Taylor picked up the WTR Acura’s halfway advantage but dropped places while a brake change was carried out during the seventh FCY, which occurred at the start of hour 14 when LMP2 driver Mikkel Jensen went off at T3.

Action Express Racing’s No. 48 Ally Cadillac advanced to the lead during that FCY but Mike Rockenfeller’s advantage only lasted until the next set of pit stops when the sister No. 31 Whelen AXR Cadillac took its turn at the head of the field with Conway driving.

Conway’s spell at the front was equally brief, as Ganassi’s Scott Dixon completed his comeback from a drive-through penalty for pit lane speeding to plant the No. 01 machine down the inside at Bus Stop during the 15th hour.

This positional switch came amid a four-way scrap for the lead between Dixon, Conway, Taylor and Rockenfeller who at one stage were all separated by less than a second.

In GT Le Mans, Corvette Racing’s long-held advantage was dismantled by BMW’s Connor De Phillippi, who overtook both Tommy Milner and Antonio Garcia at the most recent restart.

The sister Team RLL BMW M8 GTE slipped off the lead lap due to a brake change, while Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 488 GTE Evo remains on the primary tour.

GT Daytona has emerged into a three-way battle between AF Corse, HTP Winward Motorsport and SunEnergy1 Racing.

AF Corse Ferrari driver Nicklas Nielsen tracked down Winward’s Indy Dontje during the 14th hour and eventually got past in the pits, only for the HTP Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo to get back ahead under caution.

Tower Motorsport by Starworks led LMP2 by a lap with nine hours to go. The team’s cause was aided by an issue for the Cetilar Racing Dallara which had work undertaken behind the wall.

Riley Motorsports possessed a five-lap cushion in the LMP3 category.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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