Sebastian Saavedra says the race-ending red flag that handed LMP2 class victory to DragonSpeed’s No. 18 crew in the Rolex 24 at Daytona was the team’s “saving moment”.
Saavedra ironically triggered the full course caution period that turned into a permanent race neutralization with just under two hours to go when he nosed the Oreca 07 Gibson into the barriers in appalling conditions.
He said “everything came into my mind” as the car sustained heavy left-front damage, but the incident turned out to be the moment that secured victory for Saavedra and co-drivers Pastor Maldonado, Ryan Cullen and Roberto Gonzalez.
Saavedra managed to get the injured car back to the pits where it was repaired and remained until the race result was declared with 11 minutes left on the clock.
Cameron Cassels was four laps down the road in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca, but was prevented from inheriting the lead when the red flag was thrown.
“We had four laps to [the car in] second and [I thought] this could be it,” Saavedra told Sportscar365.
“When that happened, the first thing [you think] is that you will let down this amazing group of people and this amazing crew that has pushed hard for 48 hours.
“I don’t think people understand – it’s not 24-hours for our mechanics. It’s much longer than that.
“It was a bit heart-breaking, then I saw the engine turn on and I was able to point it at such an angle that not much damage was done, and we were able to come back.
“I did not expect it to go red. I think that was our saving moment.”
Saavedra praised the ORECA package for reaching the end of a bruising Rolex 24 that was affected by two red flag periods for the first time in its history, as well as 17 cautions.
DragonSpeed was on course for a 1-2 finish when its No. 81 Oreca, which had led most of the LMP2 race, stopped on-track in Hour 22 with Henrik Hedman after it lost a wheel.
“Kudos to the ORECA team because that car’s a tank,” said Saavedra.
“It was pasted with glue at the race everywhere – we went through four different noses throughout the event. That was our last opportunity.
“Unfortunately for the team, it should have been a 1-2 for DragonSpeed. But we got it home, and we were ready for whatever decision.
Saavedra described his second Rolex 24 at Daytona experience as a “battle” unlike any other.
“It was a crazy race,” he said. “We knew it was going to be more of a battle type of event, even though the small number of [cars in] our class.
“Overall we are very happy and very proud of the whole effort that we did as a team.”
John Dagys contributed to this report.