DAYTONA BEACH, FL (January 29, 2017) As the checkered flag waved over the start/finish line for the 55th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R team is proud of the result, but asking what might have been. The No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R was fastest in several practice sessions leading into qualifying, where they captured the pole, and led much of the race especially coming down to the wire.
Joao Barbosa took the green flag at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday in No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R prototype from pole position with teammate Dane Cameron in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac closely behind for the 24-hour marathon. Joao would lead the first 31 minutes into the race until he was passed by his teammate Dane Cameron in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac shortly before the first pit-stop.
After getting out of the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R following a double stint, Barbosa was pleased with the early performance of the team. "I was able to get a good feel for the car in my first stint," Barbosa said. "The Cadillac is running really strong and we are playing out our strategy. The pace is very fast. I settled into a cautious rhythm and being careful with traffic. In the No.5 car, we are following our plan. We are not pushing the pace, but our Cadillacs are fast. Every lap we do in the race we are learning a little bit more about the car. It is really easy to fall into the temptation of pushing the car that little more. We are just settling into a rhythm."
The No. 10 Cadillac would lead as the six-hour mark approached, but an intensifying rain brought him to pit lane for rain tires, forcing him to surrender the lead to endurance driver Filipe Albuquerque, who had taken on rain tires during an earlier full-course caution thus earning the maximum five points for leading the first segment of the season. The forward-thinking strategy proves why the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R team is the three-time and defending Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup championship-winning team.
Filipe Albuquerque set the fastest lap of the race (1:36.269 seconds), before losing a lap around midnight with a punctured tire that damaged the wing. All through the night, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling team stuck with its plan of not taking risks, but needing to regain the lost lap required tremendous patience and control from all team members. The drivers knew they could drive harder and recover the lost lap with a fast the Mustang Sampling Cadillac, but pushing that threshold could end the night early.
As the race unfolded, the driving conditions became treacherous as a steady down pour of rain overnight and cold temperatures made it difficult to keep heat in the tires. Christian Fittipaldi explained, "The night was pretty crazy," Fittipaldi said. "I ran a long time under yellow. It just started pouring hard. It was very hard to keep heat in the tires. I was able to keep it on the black stuff. We still have a long way to go. We are marching along to our plan. The No. 10 Cadillac is very strong. It was fast in the dry and they are doing a good job in the changing and wet conditions as well. We are giving it our all. I think we have something for them. Even the No. 90 car was good in the wet conditions."
The rain was so intense around 4:00 a.m. the Mustang Sampling team felt lucky just to be making laps. Shortly before daybreak, Iain Watt (No. 5 race team engineer) used a brilliant strategy that not only got our lap back but the No. 5 was leading into sunrise. The team continued to let competitiors lead while managing their Cadillac's speed enough to stay in the top three.
With three hours to go, the Mustang Sampling Team set its' sites on the finish. The No. 5 Cadillac DPi-V.R was able to take the lead and pull away from 2nd place by 19 seconds with about 20 minutes remaining. With no more pits stops planned, the final caution of the race occurred which erased the big lead and put the No. 10 car tucked-in behind the No. 5. Inside of 10-minutes remaining, Ricky Taylor drove his Cadillac DPi-V.R to the apex of Turn 1 to make a pass on Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac. Taylor and Albuquerque touched, Albuquerque spun and Taylor went on to win the 55th running of the Rolex 24 Hour At Daytona.
At the finish, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac team of Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque finished second at the Daytona Int'l Speedway. Filipe was not happy with the way things ended. "The last hour, when we put new tires back on for the last stint, our Cadillac ran really well," Filipe said. "Unfortunately, the officials don't agree that is move was unfair and they are the most important guys. It is, what it is. Thank you to the No. 5 Mustang Sampling team, we were always up front and our Cadillac DPi-V.R was amazing."
Gary Nelson, team manager, recapped his thoughts on the race. "We just kept coming back all night, working to get our lap back," Nelson said. "Once we did, Iain made a series of calls that got our car out of the pits first, and we were the leader after the last couple of pit stops looking at the checkered flag. The contact that occurred with just a few laps remaining was unfortunate, but I am most proud of how our team performed from the day we received our first Cadillac DPi-V.R in October all the way through the post-race ceremony."
Next up for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, held at the historic road course in Central Florida March 15-18.