It was great to be back at Daytona for the Rolex 24. With all the excitement and anticipation about our new engine package for this season, the MZ-2.0T, we knew we would have a competitive team – we had certainly proven that in Roar Before the 24 testing and in the practice sessions prior to the race.
The event kicked off with rain that dropped inches of water in the area and made for a very interesting first day of practice and qualifying. We knew the race would be dry, so we continued to focus on our dry setup for race day. Some teams even opted not to go out in qualifying at all because of the risks posed by the weather. The wet qualifying did prove to be very exciting, and a little treacherous! It was an extremely dynamic qualifying session: as each class qualified in their own 15-minute segment, the rain continued to get heavier, so the slower classes had better qualifying conditions. Because of that, GT cars secured the top five positions overall! Check out some of the in-car video from qualifying:
It was a beautiful day for the race with the warmest temperatures that I can remember for a Rolex 24 race start. I got to start the race, and I felt like the adrenaline was even higher than when I started the race last year because we were in the thick of it among the prototypes. It was great racing alongside drivers who I really look up to, like Scott Dixon, Ryan Dalziel, and Jamie McMurry.
At the drop of the green, I had a clean start and worked my way past a couple of cars in the prototype field. The goal in the opening hours is always to take care of the equipment and make no mistakes. It was reassuring knowing that we definitely had the competitive package we had been working toward.
And then it all came to a stop, literally. Shortly before the halfway mark of my first stint, the car had a mechanical issue that caused irreparable damage. Because I was running in heavy prototype traffic, I was fortunate not to get collected by the No. 5 Action Express prototype, with which I was running nose to tail at the time.
Although the entire team was dejected about the No. 70 retiring, it was exciting to see our teammates in the No. 55 doing so well. The car led on several occasions and ran consistently in the top five for the first half of the race. They eventually retired, but both cars proved we had a great pace. Our Mazda SpeedSource team is so dedicated that they will work hard to keep pushing the development of our new engine package as we look ahead to Sebring. I have a great feeling about our pace there, and we’ll be finding out soon enough because there is an IMSA-sanctioned test coming up there at the end of this month.