Sunday’s drama, which built over the last several hours as respective Cadillacs DPi Prototypes driven by Taylor and Albuquerque swapped the lead several times, peaked with seven minutes remaining. Albuquerque led as both cars dove into Turn 1 to head into the twisting infield portion of Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56-mile road course. Taylor took an inside line that was apparently open; Albuquerque moved slightly outside but then came back down and the cars collided slightly, sending Albuquerque spinning.
Taylor raced ahead and within minutes, race officials announced there would be no penalties due to the incident. Taylor, who co-drove with his brother Jordan, Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon, beat Albuquerque by 0.671 seconds at the finish. Albuquerque co-drove the Action Express Racing entry with Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa; Barbosa had put their car on the pole in Thursday’s qualifying.
Taylor said his race-winning move – which Albuquerque was not happy about afterward – was the byproduct of his long-time partnership with Angelelli, who raced for the final time this weekend. Taylor talked about Angelelli serving as an invaluable mentor to him and his brother.
“Max has taught us everything we know,” Taylor said. “He’s ‘Max the Ax’ and I think today was a good example of one of those lessons. That was a Max move today.”
Sunday’s history involved Gordon, the retired NASCAR legend who returned to Daytona International Speedway this year as a sports car driver, making his second Rolex 24 start. Gordon became the fourth driver to win both the Rolex 24 and the DAYTONA 500.
Gordon, a three-time (1997, ’99, 2005) DAYTONA 500 champion, joins Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Jamie McMurray in that special foursome. Andretti won the DAYTONA 500 in 1967 and the Rolex 24 in ’72. Foyt won the DAYTONA 500 in 1972 and the Rolex 24 in 1983 and ’85, McMurray got his DAYTONA 500 victory in 2010, then co-drove to a Rolex 24 victory in 2015.
Gordon, also a four-time champion of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, is the first champion of NASCAR’s premier series to win the Rolex 24.
“This is very surreal for me,” Gordon said. “It was the thrill of a lifetime. It’s a very elite group that has won the DAYTONA 500 and the Rolex 24. That’s not bad company and I’m very proud of that.”
Two other classes also produced remarkably close finishes in the 55th running of the endurance classic which opened the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship season:
· In the GT Daytona class, the No. 28 Porsche 911 of Alegra Motorsports driven by Carlos de Quesada, Michael de Quesada, Michael Christensen, Daniel Morad and Jesse Lazare won by 0.293 seconds.
· In GT Le Mans, the No. 66 Ford GT of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing driven by Dirk Mueller, Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais won with a 2.988 margin.
Also, the Prototype Challenge class was won in dominating fashion by the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA FLM09 co-driven by James French, Patricio O’Ward, Kyle Masson and Nicholas Boulle.
Tickets for the 59th DAYTONA 500 (Feb. 26) and all Daytona International Speedway events are on sale by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or visiting www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat, and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest speedway news throughout the season.
Andrew Booth, DIS Public Relations