DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It was only a 100-minute race, but Mirko Bortolotti remained patient in working his way toward the front in Sunday’s Rolex 24 Qualifying Race at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Bortolotti then made the late, race-winning pass to capture GTD PRO class honors, the Motul Pole Award and the right to start up front in class at the 60th Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan 29.
Driving the No. 63 TR3 Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 after taking over for co-driver Andrea Caldarelli, Bortolotti swept past Alessio Picariello’s No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 GT3R in Turn 6 with just 14 minutes remaining and held on to win by just 0.475 seconds in a fierce tussle to the finish.
The TR3 factory-backed team is loaded with veteran talent but is new to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Bortolotti and Caldarelli will team with fellow Lamborghini drivers Marco Mapelli and Rolf Ineichen in the fabled 24-hour race.
Bortolotti said the team has a competitive and reliable package after doing “its work.” He stayed busy in the cockpit and kept the car out of harm’s way in traffic – no easy task with 60 cars racing on Sunday.
“The traffic played a big (positive) role for us and sometimes that can be the other way around,” Bortolotti said. “You can get some benefit from traffic, and I think that’s what helped pull me up to the leaders. It’s nice to get a win here, but it doesn’t mean much for next weekend.”
While the 100-minute race provided a small sample size compared to 24 hours, Caldarelli said it showed just how competitive and exciting that the Rolex 24 will be.
“This race showed it’s going to be a very, very close Rolex 24,” Caldarelli said. “It’s going to be a tough race, really, anyone can win. This was a fun race for us and all the fans out there.”
The No. 79 Porsche, which crossed the finish line second in class, was assessed a post-race time penalty equivalent to a drive-through for failing to adhere to minimum tire pressures as defined in a Michelin Technical Bulletin for the event. It moved the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R driven by Mathieu Jaminet and Felipe Nasr to second in the GTD PRO race.
A similar penalty was assessed to the No. 97 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, which had finished fourth. That promoted the sister No. 15 Proton USA Mercedes driven by Dirk Mueller and Austin Cindric to third place in the final results.
Russell Ward and Lucas Auer made winning the GT Daytona portion of Sunday’s race look easy since their No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 led all but three laps. It was anything but a cakewalk, they said.
The No. 57 edged the No. 59 Crucial Motorsports McLaren 720S GT3 by just 0.509 seconds, a margin that never wavered much from that over the final hour. Ward started second on the grid but quickly went to the front and held position until turning the car over to Auer on the lone pit stop. Auer kept No. 59 driver Paul Holton in his mirrors the rest of the way.
“The purpose of the Roar (test weekend and qualifying race) is to shake the dust off and get everybody up to speed, and the crew did a fantastic job getting everything ready,” Ward said. “It’s awesome to come back here and be right on pace. It gives me a feeling that we are in a really good position.
“You never know what will happen in the race (Rolex 24). You have to keep it clean. If we can do what we did in this 100-minute race for 24 hours, it will come to us naturally. It’s a really good start to the week.”
Ward and Auer will be joined by co-drivers Philip Ellis and Mikael Grenier as Winward attempts to defend its 2021 Rolex 24 GTD victory. Ward and Ellis were part of that sweet win. Auer is a Rolex 24 rookie.
“For me, it was important to get laps in and see how the DPis and LMP2s would overtake and where I needed to position myself,” Auer said. “I tried to learn from every lap. For me, this is quite new, so I tried to learn every lap and get it home.”
The No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R driven by Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen finished third but also was assessed a post-race penalty equivalent to a drive-throhgh for not adhering to minimum tire pressures. It elevated the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 shared by Frankie Montecalvo and Townsend Bell to third place in GTD.