Although the Riley Mk. 30 Gibson was unable to match the dominant pace of the Cadillac DPi-V.Rs in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Bill Riley was delighted to see customer squad Visit Florida Racing secure a podium finish.
The Riley chassis, jointly developed for the new-for-2017 LMP2 regulations with Multimatic, was arguably the prototype least prepared for the rigors of 24 hour racing, having only completed 11 continuous laps prior to the race.
Yet despite having little to no expectations of even reaching the end of the first hour, the Troy Flis-led operation continued to log the laps as other more proven runners, including Rebellion Racing, DragonSpeed and Tequila Patron ESM fell by the wayside.
Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens and Rene Rast led 39 laps in total and finished just a single lap adrift of the winning No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac in third.
“I’m pretty happy with everything,” Riley told Sportscar365.
“Obviously the other two cars that finished first and second, I don’t think anybody had anything for them, but at the same time they were a bit out of the box you might say, so I am happy with how it turned out.
“I’m usually not a second or third place kind of guy, but considering where we’re all at on that program, I’m going to take it.”
While Visit Florida was operating out of the pit stall next to the Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3s, Riley fortunately had little by way of hands-on work to do.
“I [was] really anxious to see the car without the engine covers on it and the nose off of it and see if anything is loose, anything is cracked, missing or that kind of thing,” Riley continued.
“I’d watch every stop to make sure the engine cover didn’t come off or if there was a problem, it was something that if I could help out with, but the team didn’t need any assistance, they did it all.”
Audi factory driver Rast admitted that he was surprised to make the podium given the team’s lack of preparation and even challenge the Cadillacs during the wet-running.
“It’s amazing, there are no other words,” Rast told Sportscar365.
“We actually expected to stop in our garage after 50 minutes, because we didn’t know how long the car will last. We were counting the laps, because our longest run before was maybe 10 or 11 laps.
“We never did 20 [laps] or 1 hour in a row, so we didn’t know what to expect, but the car was just running and running without any big issues.
“Actually in the rain, we were quicker than the others and we somehow managed our tires a little bit better.
“We could keep them warmer and therefore have a better pace in the rain, but unfortunately the track dried up again and we lost that pace, so it would have been nice if the rain had stayed a little bit longer to actually fight for position.”
Although the Riley was unable to compete with the Cadillacs in a straight fight, partly due to an unfavorable Balance of Performance, Rast is optimistic the car will be a more competitive proposition with more mileage, starting from the next round at Sebring.
“I think the car was well prepared because we had no issues, but obviously we need to learn the car because we still haven’t done any setup work,” he said.
“We were like three or four seconds down every lap; it felt like LMP2 and LMP1 Hybrid.
“We just had no top speed and it’s a bit sad to lose a race like that, but in the end we must be happy with what we got. Third place is just incredible.”
While Visit Florida is currently the only full-time customer team with the global-spec LMP2 car, Riley said he’s anticipating a boost in sales figures.
“I think it was good for us to have the highest-finishing Gibson-powered car and the most reliable Gibson-powered car, I think that was a very good thing,” he said.
“Unfortunately we got all side-tracked with the aero configurations and settings here and so I kind of got sideways on that, but hopefully we will get to Sebring and that will all get changed.”