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Penske Scratches That 55-year Itch at the Rolex 24 in 2024

To say that Porsche was seeking redemption at this year’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona would be a huge understatement. With the disappointing results amid high expectations for Porsche’s factory 963 effort for 2023, Porsche does what Porsche does best; learn from mistakes, re-group, does their homework, puts vast resources in place and comes back swinging. 2024 was no exception and the stage was set for an exciting and thrilling 24-hour race with a total of four V8 Hybrid 963 entries. Two were factory Penske machines while the other two were factory customer cars, including Proton Competition and JCD-Miller Motorsports.

A 24-hour race effort demands supreme technical engineering, comprehensive team and driver strategies, accurate timing, vast financial resources and of course, luck. In 2024, Porsche would rely on all these factors and more to bring home Roger Penske’s first win at Daytona since 1969.

For those who have never been to the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the spectacle and sheer scale of the Daytona World Speedway is something to behold. Granted the IMSA 24 Hour race does not meet the attendance numbers of the NASCAR Daytona 500, but it does bring with it a much more international dynamic; a more diverse set of auto manufacturers and powertrains, as well as a wide variety of professional and amateur drivers from various racing disciplines including Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, DTM, WEC and others. This year, manufacturer entries included Porsche, Acura, Cadillac, Ford, Ferrari, Lexus, Ligier, Oreca, Mercedes Benz, AMG, Aston Martin, McLaren, Lamborghini, BMW, and Corvette.

It also is uniquely customer centric, where attendees have much closer access to teams, pits, drivers and cars with a traditional team parade prior to the race, and an open infield where you can sign the start finish line and explore the deceptively high banks for yourself. To witness the racetrack from the infield on the ground, gives you a true perspective of the enormity of the Daytona Speedway.

In contrast to watching the cars achieve huge speeds on the high banks, tracking the cars as they navigate the infield is where the drama really happens, day and night. With 59 entries in total including 10 entries in the top GTP class, LMP2 (13 cars) GT Daytona Pro (13 cars) and GT Daytona (23 entries) there was plenty of action and this year, thankfully NO rain. There are no slow cars at this event, however, witnessing the top GTP class cars move through the field with such breathtaking speed is truly impressive. For the first several hours of the race, the factory Porsches struggled to keep pace with the hugely impressive Cadillacs, while the Acuras and BMWs trailed behind. Yet anything can happen at Daytona and reversals of fortunes often occur as the race continues through the night.

This year’s race included 13 hours and 17 minutes of racing in the dark. Strolling through the pits at night provided a unique perspective as some unlucky teams worked to service, repair, and even rebuild broken cars in the hopes of getting to the finish. The infield comes alive at night and the partying among the cities of motorhomes and makeshift bars against the backdrop of the roaring engines for 24 hours, helps make the Rolex 24 so unique.

It was this year at night, where the Penske Porsche’s fortunes turned after struggling to keep up with the thunderous Cadillacs and took the lead as the race headed into the dawn hours of the early morning. Through the balance of the morning and into the afternoon, the leads changed among Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and back again.

As the Rolex has over the years transitioned into what some call a “24-hour sprint”, it is amazing to witness that after so many hours, the lead cars are within just seconds of one another.

At hour 19, with just 3 hours to go, six of the GTP cars remained on the lead time, separated by just 75 seconds. With two hours remaining, the Penske #7 car piloted by Felipe Nasr paced the field. But this would not hold as with 75 minutes remaining, the #31 Cadillac of former race winner Tom Blomqvist passed the #7 Porsche and regained the lead, but with the Porsche holding a firm pace at just 3 seconds behind. With 50 minutes to go, the #12 Lexus of Parker Thompson caught fire and a full course yellow occurred. This triggered pit stops by many of the drivers, including race leader Blomqvist and the #7 Penske 963 of Felipe Nasr, who critically deployed a shorter stop and came out with the lead of the race. With less than 20 minutes to go, the #31 Cadillac, in search of its 3rd Rolex 24 victory, continued to thunder through traffic, keeping pace with the Porsche, and closed the gap to 1 second. For the remainder of the race, the Porsche and Cadillac blitzed the field, with the lead gaps shifting from 1 to 2 and 3 seconds. As the officials waved the Checkered Flag at 23 hours, 58 minutes, 24 seconds, the crowd and teams and drivers were a bit confused as it was discovered the IMSA officials waved the white flag prematurely, but with the over 2 second lead, the #7 Penske Porsche driven by Felipe Nasr had won the first Daytona 24-hour race for “the Captain” Roger Penske since 1969.

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