Alex Zanardi said he’s still going home “very happy” despite a challenging Rolex 24 at Daytona debut that saw two costly delays out of his control dash hopes of a “technically achievable” result in the GT Le Mans class.
The 52-year-old Italian, who took part in only his second-ever long-distance endurance race, teamed with John Edwards, Jesse Krohn and Chaz Mostert to finish 18 laps behind the sister Team RLL BMW M8 GTE, which claimed class victory in the rain-shortened race.
The No. 24 BMW lost eight laps early on when the pins in Zanardi’s specially adapted steering wheel got bent during his first pit stop, forcing the team to replace the entire steering column in the third hour.
While recovering more than half of the deficit overnight, the car faced further issues in the 13th hour when Krohn went off track after contact that led to lengthy repairs.
“We were aiming for a result which I believe was technically achievable,” Zanardi said. “The team was very strong, as strong as [No.] 25.
“Motor racing is a tough business and at times even when you’re very well-prepared, something can happen.
“I just feel so sorry for all the engineers and all of the people that put up such hard work and hard preparation.
“The speed was there; it was not a question of not having the speed to deliver. Had we come back to the lead lap, who knows, maybe we would have been in a situation [to contend].”
Zanardi praised the performance of teammates Connor De Phillippi, Augusto Farfus, Chaz Mostert and Philipp Eng, who claimed the German manufacturer’s first Rolex 24 class win in six years.
“Some of the things that we hoped for this weekend didn’t happen but as a team, we won the race,” he said.
“I’m very, very happy for Augusto, Phillip, Colton and Connor personally because they did a terrific job.
“Personally, I think if I had ten legs, I don’t think I would have been able to do what Augusto did in the last two hours! To me, it’s amazing.
“I was very proud to be a part of the team for the weekend.
“We tried. That’s the most important thing. I’m still going home very happy.”
Marquardt: ‘No Regrets’ for Zanardi in Points-Scoring Entry
BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt said there are no regrets for placing Zanardi in a full-season IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship entry, despite the component-related failure specific to his cockpit setup.
“It’s this kind of thing where you test this, you [practice] your driver changes and everything. Then on the very first one, when it really counts, you have this coincidence,” Marquardt told Sportscar365.
“He pushed [the wheel] on just as they dropped the car. Obviously in the steering column there’s a connector and it jammed the connectors when he was pushing on and tilted it.
“For some reason some of the pins were working and he was able to run. It was enough for him. But when Jesse went in and pit the standard steering wheel back on, it just wouldn’t work anymore.
“The guys did a fantastic job changing the steering column in no time.”
Season-long drivers Edwards and Krohn recorded ninth place points in the GTLM class as a result of the delays.
BMW had initially been coy on Zanardi’s car assignment for Daytona, having hinted at a potential third M8 GTE to not compromise the two full-time entries.
Zanardi, however, proved to be extremely competitive in his WeatherTech Championship debut, consistently turning lap times in the range of his co-drivers and completing flawless pit stops after the early mishap.
“For us the target was to show that Alex is not the weak link in the chain,” Marquardt said.
“At the end of the day it can happen with anything. In a 24-hour race, normally everything has to go right.
“I think if we wouldn’t have had the damage on the tire we could have even been back on the lead lap. Other guys came back. You never know.”