Victory in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona (28-29 January) was snatched from CrowdStrike Racing by APR’s grasp in a dramatic and captivating battle for LMP2 glory that went right down to the wire in a spectacular grandstand finish.
The American-flagged team was in contention for the win with drivers George Kurtz, Matthew McMurry, Ben Hanley and Esteban Gutierrez from the earliest stages of the twice-around-the-clock endurance race, but was pipped to the win by just 0.016s at the line – the closest finish in history.
Pre-season testing and the Roar ran faultlessly for the squad, which marched forward from fifth to second in class during the opening exchanges of the Rolex 24 on Saturday (28 January) afternoon.
The leading #52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsport machine initially edged away as the #35 TDS Racing car emerged as a threat, snatching the runner-up spot moments before the first scheduled pit stops, when a mix of strategies were employed, the #04 receiving fuel and four new tyres.
Control of the CrowdStrike-liveried prototype changed hands in the second bevy of LMP2 services, McMurry stepping aboard and spending much of his stint yoyoing between third and fifth positions, although “cheap” stops conducted during two Full Course Yellows (FCY) ensured the team headed LMP2 at the four-hour mark, at sunset.
However, the order shuffled incessantly as teams deployed their fast Pro drivers and relatively inexperienced Ams, and CrowdStrike Racing had fallen off the lead lap by the time McMurry returned to the fray for the first of the night stints.
Although he circulated on the edge of the top six for the most part, he was demonstrably quicker than those ahead of him and reduced the one-lap deficit to the frontrunners, before a FCY brought the #04 crew back into play with Hanley at the wheel on the approach to midnight.
CrowdStrike Racing was in P2 for the first time in nearly ten hours and there was nothing to choose between the leaders, the gap between first and second fluctuating lap-after-lap until ex-Formula 1 star Gutierrez was plugged in to the #04 ORECA.
Frustratingly, an unscheduled pit visit for a new nose section was required after debris struck the car and became lodged in its radiator duct, but the team later regained a huge chunk of time during another caution, enabling Gutierrez to cycle up from sixth to the very top of the LMP2 leaderboard.
Thereafter, both McMurry and Hanley initially held firm on the edge of the podium places, but the latter was then presented with an opportunity to head the LMP2 contingent away from a FCY restart and really stretch his advantage, which he did until the reins were passed back to Gutierrez.
For a time, CrowdStrike Racing’s drivers kept their class rivals at arm’s length, re-establishing their lead after each scheduled pit stop, but the #04 was fourth with Hanley back at the wheel soon after the field was released from consecutive FCYs, 90 minutes from the finish.
The battle moved to pit lane during a protracted final-hour caution, swift work by the CrowdStrike Racing by APR crew lifting the team to second in the LMP2 train but Hanley finding a way back up into P1 between FCYs.
The British driver headed the class when the race restarted with only 26 minutes on the clock and tension was high as he and his pursuers set personal bests while separated by as little as two tenths of a second,
He was robust but fair in his defence, but the second-placed #55 Proton Competition machine ultimately benefited from a powerful tow to nose ahead at the finish line, denying CrowdStrike Racing by APR the coveted Rolex 24 at Daytona victory by the slenderest of margins, the two combatants split by just 0.016s.
George Kurtz (#04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA 07 LMP2): “First off, everyone did a super job. CrowdStrike Racing by APR, Esteban (Gutierrez), Ben (Hanley) and Matt (McMurry), they were all phenomenal. Full credit to Stewart Cox of Algarve Pro Racing for putting this programme together pretty late in the off-season. We didn’t have a lot of testing, so we have to be encouraged by the results. Certainly, we wanted the top step, but we’ll take some good learnings from this and focus on our next LMP2 race at Sebring.”
Matt McMurry (#04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA 07 LMP2): “It’s the best result I’ve had at Daytona but also the hardest to swallow. The range of emotions in the pit box watching that last lap unfold was crazy. We all did everything we could but, unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough. CrowdStrike Racing by APR did an amazing job and I’m happy to have been part of such a great group.”
Ben Hanley (#04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA 07 LMP2): “The result isn’t ideal but there’s a lot we can take from the weekend. We showed that we can be competitive straight out of the box against a really deep LMP2 field. To come here to the Rolex 24 at Daytona as a new team and a new group of drivers, and come that close to winning is incredible. I’m really proud of everyone at CrowdStrike Racing by APR for the effort they put in. The sting will hurt for a bit, but there is so much we can take forward to Sebring and the rest of the Michelin Endurance Cup season.”
Esteban Gutierrez (#04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA 07 LMP2): “Overall, it has been a really nice experience working with the team, the guys at CrowdStrike and George (Kurtz). It has been a great experience and also a good opportunity to be here for the first time. We all did our best and everything we could, but there’s always that little more you can do to secure the win. It’s a hard one to take but we need to take this second place and learn from it. It’s not ideal but we have to maximise everything to get the win next time.”