Bleekemolen quickly resorted to drafting to the front with the Momo Porsche of NGT Motorsports, which had qualified on the front row but was found to have a minor infraction with its rear wing and had started at the back before rapidly moving up the order. Driven by Sean Edwards, with whom Bleekemolen had co-driven to victory in the 24-hour at Dubai, the Momo Porsche seemed to be the perfect tandem drafting partner — until a bump loosened up the rear bodywork on the left rear corner of the AJR Porsche. Once the rivets vibrated out, the bumper section behind the wheel began flapping in the breeze.
Ultimately, the decision came down to a choice of re-gaining a tenth or two with an aerodynamically proper bumper on the banking or sticking to the lead lap. Given the deficit on lap times already in place due to a blistering pace, the decision was taken to rip off the flapping bodywork during Bleekemolen’s second stop under a caution.“You don’t have to be pushing all the way,” said Pierce. “The last six to eight hours is when you push. We’re set up for consistent lap times and for having the tires work for the entire stint.” But when Faulkner got out after his opening stints, he acknowledged, “For sure it’s slower in a straight line without the bodywork.”
During the night, the struggle to stay on the lead lap manifested itself with another decision. After an opening double stint, which included a penalty for speeding on the pit road, McNeil would miss his next turn behind the wheel to keep the veteran Porsche drivers in the seat. It was a decision made up and down the pit road among Daytona Prototype and GT teams alike when it came to narrowing the driving line-up from four drivers to three as the long night progressed. (Charlie Kimball of Chip Ganassi’s winning DP team, for instance, drove only two stints.) Job had said before the race that the ideal line-up is three drivers — but four is better in case one gets sick.
McNeil, who had been training at high elevation in the Rockies and was in the peak of physical condition, was sick with temporary heartbreak. “I was here sitting and they kept putting other drivers in. Then around 3 a.m. I just left the pits.” He would return to support the team in the daylight hours, but still the call to drive didn’t come.
Driver rotation strategy is a crucial element at Daytona. Once Holzer had dragooned around during the 34-lap caution for early morning fog, which enabled the team to replace the brake pads and repair a front splitter battered in the ongoing battle to stay off the curbs, the Job team’s race came down to Bleekemolen, the ever-fresh Dutchman, and Faulkner, the gallant Irishman.
As anticipated by Pierce, opportunity knocked during the final six hours as Daytona’s high-banked speed bowl became a roaring witches’ brew once the temperatures began to climb under sunny skies. The leading AIM and Michelotto Ferraris conspired to take one another out at Turn 1. The #24 Audi was penalized for avoidable contact with the AIM Ferrari and lost a lap. The very fast Momo Porsche had already disappeared into the night when the right front suspension collapsed, likely from too much curb-hopping.