Rolex 24: Castroneves wins for Meyer Shank driving Acura

Rolex 24: Castroneves wins for Meyer Shank driving Acura

Rolex 24: Castroneves wins for Meyer Shank driving Acura

Acura dominated the debut of hybrid engines in North American sports car racing with a 1-2 finish Sunday at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, where Helio Castroneves and the automaker won the prestigious endurance race for a third consecutive year.

Castroneves won the Rolex in 2021 in an Acura with Wayne Taylor Racing and last year was part of the winning Meyer Shank Racing entry.

This latest win for the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner again came driving for Meyer Shank Racing, the reigning IMSA champions, and an Acura group that proved heavily prepared for a new hybrid era of racing. The change in technology for IMSA’s top GTP class makes it the only motor sports series in North America to race with hybrid engines.

The move is a massive draw to automakers eager to compete in motor sports with technology that relates to its road cars. As such, the top GTP class doubled its manufacturers from last year’s Rolex from two to four this season, and Daytona International Speedway officials said its crowd for the Saturday-to-Sunday race was the largest in its 61 years.

The fans came for a showdown between some of the top carmakers in the world.

Acura put forth a pair of entries with Michael Shank and Wayne Taylor, who partnered only last month with Michael Andretti. Porsche lured Roger Penske back to sports car racing with two cars, while BMW persuaded Bobby Rahal to move his program up to IMSA’s top class. Cadillac came strong with three entries, two from Chip Ganassi Racing and a third from Whelen Engineering.

But the entire buildup to the launch turned into a nervous hand-wringing over durability concerns, as all nine GTP teams worried that the new technology and supply chain issues would prevent the cars from completing a 24-hour race.

Reliability problems for BMW and Porsche

Seven out of nine hybrids still going at Rolex 24

Indeed, one of Rahal’s BMW’s had an early mechanical problem, and then both of Penske’s Porsches broke. It was a bitter blow for Porsche, which with Penske had primarily done all the development work for the GTP move to hybrid engines.

But Acura and Cadillac were able to manage their first-day kinks, and a restart with under 30 minutes remaining had both Acuras and two Cadillacs in contention for the overall win.

It was Tom Blomqvist, the main driver last year for the MSR team that won both the IMSA championship and the Rolex, closing it out in the No. 60 Acura. He held off Filipe Albuquerque in the Aura for Taylor/Andretti on the restart and Blomqvist pretty much coasted his way to the win.

Renger van der Zande and Earl Bamber finished third and fourth in Chip Ganassi Racing, but both their Cadillacs were more than 7 seconds behind Blomqvist.

The Rolex victory is the third for team owner Michael Shank, who built a tiny team into a motor sports player. This win came with Blomqvist and Castroneves, as well as Simon Pagenaud for a second consecutive year and MSR newcomer Colin Braun.

It was an enormous relief for Shank, who fights a constant complex that his team that competes in both IMSA and IndyCar isn’t respected, and has felt tremendous pressure to deliver for Acura in this hybrid era. Shank wants MSR to be a two-car factory team, but Acura splits its two cars between Shank and Taylor. And Taylor just recently partnered with Andretti.

Shank insisted that every on-track session showed that MSR is a top-level team and Blomqvist won the pole while the No. 60 was fastest in nearly every session. It was so obvious that rival team owners admitted that their only shot to beat Shank was the Acura not making it to the finish. (Reporting by Jenna Fryer)