Throughout much of the race, it was a battle between the Acura’s and Cadillac’s in the opening race of the Weather Tech SportsCar Championship. Here’s how things mixed up throughout the 2018 Rolex 24 in the Prototype Class.
Early on in the race, it was all Cadillac’s in the top 3 places in the P Class of the Rolex 24. The Action Express Racing’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi was in the lead, followed by the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac DPi in second, with the other Action Express Racing car, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi, following suit in third at the end of hour 1. In 4th was the No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi, with another Cadillac in the fifth position, the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R.
The next 4 hours of the race would see the field dwindle in a non-stop battle for the top positions. There were 19 lead changes amongst eight different cars, including the No. 23 United Autosports Ligier LMP2, driven into the lead first by world-renowned Formula-1 driver Fernando Alonso. This was Alonso’s first ever Rolex 24.
In fact, at the end of hour 14, the No. 5 Cadillac DPI driven by Felipe Albuquerque had made their way to the front of the pack with the No. 7 Acura DPi driven by Castroneves at the wheel following closely behind. The two would exchange positions as each pitted during the hour.
As hour 15 came to a close, the 3rd caution of the race came out as the No. 73 GTD Class Porsche 911 went off the track and then was stopped at turn seven at 5:44 am. During the caution, Castroneves in the No. 7 and Joao Barbosa in the No. 5 would exchange the lead.
The epic duel for the lead would end however at 6:17 am as the No. 7 Team Penske Acura DPI, driven by Castroneves at the time, ran into some bad luck. After contact in an incident with the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, the No. 7 would have to go behind the wall. Unfortunately, it happened while in second place, trailing the leading No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac driven by Barbosa by less than 10 seconds.
The accident would put the No. 7 Acura 15 laps behind the leader, and all but end their shot at a Rolex 24 victory. After that, the only car left on the lead lap was the No. 5 Mustang Sampling CadillacDPi. In second was the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi a lap down.
With only 8 hours remaining, the Action Express No. 5 Sampling Mustang Cadillac DPi continued to put distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. A slight issue saw the No. 5 head to the pits in hour 18; this allowed the No. 31 to get right back into the running with our 4th caution. However, after that, it was the Sampling Racing Team screaming back to a sizeable lead that had gapped to 3 laps by the end of hour 19.
They would need that three lap lead over the last 5 hours of the race as overheating became an issue down the stretch.
“We had to baby ourselves the last 6 or 7 hours of the race. We had a slight overheating problem in the engine. Very slight, it the end it worked out fine. In the fractions of minutes or one hour, it went from a sprint race to an endurance race. It swapped ends pretty big.” said Christian Fittipaldi, one of the drivers of the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi of the issue.
As downplayed as Fittipaldi described the issue, it seems that sarcasm was in the mix when saying a “slight overheating issue”. As the hours passed by it was described by the team to become more of an issue, this started to become especially noticeable on the track in the 22nd hour. Slower lap times were being tracked as the lead started to decrease ever so slightly, but consistently, so they could spare the engine from overheating.
At the end of the 22nd hour, the three lap lead had become just a two lap lead. Each hour the lead decreased, pushing the nerves and stress of the team as the race winded down. Wheeling the #5 Mustang Sampling for the final stint for the team was driver Filipe Albuquerque. In the previous two seasons, he was driving the car when issues came to fruition, ending the team’s chances at victory, causing an increase in his worry.
“When I was inside of the car, I knew exactly what I had to do. But I was also thinking about those last finishes that happened in stints of my driving. Ok, I know you’re going to fade out, its been like 6 hours. I know it must be somewhere around the last 30 minutes, 50 minutes. But somehow, the engine kept going, kept going. I saw the 31, and 54 get on the last lap as me. I was like ok that’s gonna be it, and the water temperature was going higher.”
In the end, the engine would hold out as Albuquerque drove the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi across the start-finish line to complete lap 808 and capture the checkered flag.
“It was very emotional. I think for me it was, yeah, breaking the spell and I think persistence, and working hard and sticking together with this amazing team that kept believing in me. Knowing, that what happened last year was was still with me. Still putting me again in there, in the end, was comforting and just made me stronger and a better guy today. And yeah, I’m for sure going to be much better for the season.”
All the while, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi leading most of the way with the lead 6 times over hours 2 through 5. By hour 5’s completion there were just seven cars left on the lead lap. Three Cadillac’s, the two Team Penske Acura’s and the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi along with the No. 23 Ligier.
Though the dominance early on by a slew of Cadillac’s, Acura Team Penske looked to have the upper hand near the end of hour 7 of the race. At the end of the 7th hour, the No. 7 Acura DPi and the No. 6 Acura DPi were running 1 and 2 in the race, with a more than minute lead on the 3rd place No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi.
A battle would ensue of lead changes between Acura and Cadillac competitors over the next four hours. At the end of hour 11, the only cars left on the lead lap were the two Action Express Cadillac DPi’s and the two Team Penske Acura DPi’s. The rest of the field were two or more laps down.
At 2:02 am, the No. 6 Acura DPi with Simon Pagenaud at the wheel took the lead from the No. 5 Sampling Mustang Racing Cadillac DPi. Their teammate in the No. 7 Acura DPi would overtake the lead as the #6 came in to pit at 2:07 am. As hour 12 came to an end, the top 4 were still Cadillac and Acura. The No. 7 Acura DPi with Helio Castroneves at the wheel was in the lead, the No. 6 Acura DPi with Dane Cameron at the helm following suit, and the No. 31 Cadillac DPi with Felipe Nasr running in 3rd. The No. 5 Cadillac DPi was a lap down at this point, still in 4th. However, they would quickly make their way back to the lead lap as pit stops shuffled through.