Mercedes-AMG Scores First Rolex 24 Victory in GTD
By Holly Cain
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Driving his No. 3 Corvette C8.R across the Daytona International Speedway finish line to earn GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Sunday afternoon, Jordan Taylor completed a rare “family sweep” of this legendary event. Moments earlier, Taylor’s brother Ricky and father Wayne had secured their own winning Rolex watches.
“To see Jordan win in the GTLM class, we’re living a dream,” Ricky Taylor said of his younger brother, who helped the family team to a pair of prototype overall victories in 2017. Jordan Taylor, meanwhile, was elated but relieved.
“It was an amazing day, I think,” he said. “All 24 hours in this class are always intense, and I think every year you forget how intense it is until it starts again. All the cars were pretty much within 10 seconds all race long, so no one could make a mistake. Any little mistake would put you on your back foot.”
Certainly, Jordan Taylor drove an inspired final stint to rally from a slow pit stop hours earlier that dropped the car he shared with Antonio Garcia and Nicky Catsburg from contending for the win to fourth place at the time. The hard work and inspired drive through the field secured Corvette Racing’s first Rolex 24 victory in five years – by a 3.519-second margin over the team’s No. 4 Corvette. The No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE finished third.
The last time Corvette won in class was 2016, sweeping the top two podium positions then as well. This was the first endurance win for the mid-engine C8.R that began competing last year. Corvette Racing also holds the top two positions in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup standings after Round 1 with the No. 4 squad sitting two points ahead of their teammates in the No. 3 by a count of 19-17.
“It’s great for Corvette to get their first endurance win with the C8.R,” Jordan Taylor said. “Last year, we obviously won six sprint races and the championship, but the one that was missing was the endurance win, so to start out 2021 with the Rolex 24 win is amazing, and to do it with Nicky and Antonio. It was our first win as a trio so that’s definitely special and definitely makes us more hungry to win Sebring 12 Hour next.”
It was the third Rolex 24 win for Taylor, 29, who has two overall victories in the race in addition to his GTLM victory this weekend. Garcia, 40, has two previous class wins, in 2009 and in 2015 with Corvette. It was the first Daytona victory for Catsburg, 32, of the Netherlands. He finished runner-up in the GTD class in 2016.
Mercedes won in the GT Daytona (GTD) class with German Maro Engel taking the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a 16.329-second win over the No. 75 Sun Energy 1 Mercedes-AMG driven at the finish by Raffaelo Marciello. Andrea Calderelli brought the defending Rolex 24 class champion Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 home in third place.
It was a spirited battle in the GTD class including some physical racing with a little more than four hours remaining. The Winward Mercedes made hard contact with the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 while battling for the class lead. The Ferrari hobbled back to the pits for repairs and was taken out of contention, while the Mercedes raced on.
“We had been battling with the (No.) 21 car probably for a good 16 hours, probably the whole race we had been going at it with the guys,” said Philip Ellis, who was driving the No. 57 at the time. “It was always very hard racing but fair racing. That’s the way we like it and the way we want to see it, and we think the spectators want to see it as well.
“Both of us came out of the pits on cold tires just after pit stops, and I think he just saw an opportunity to make a move early and the tires weren’t quite there yet. And I think he just misjudged it, took a bit too much risk and squeezed me off a little bit which was enough to upset the car. Unfortunately, I hit him and corrected the car. It’s very unfortunate for the (No.) 21 car. You don’t want to see battles end this way. Unfortunately, it did this time.”
This was the inaugural Rolex 24 victory for all four drivers on the winning GTD team and first Rolex 24 win for Mercedes-AMG in five tries. In fact, it’s the first major victory by Mercedes at Daytona International Speedway.
Russell Ward, 31, the lone American on the Winward team, was making his Rolex 24 debut, as was Dutch driver Indy Doutje, 28. British driver Ellis, 28, had competed in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Daytona, but this was his first Rolex 24. Engel had competed in three previous Rolex 24 races with a best finish of seventh in 2016.
In addition to the GTD race victory, the No. 57 Winward team also claimed a three-point lead in the Michelin Endurance Cup standings, 16-13, over the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari tea,
Moments after the race ended, Corvette Racing issued a statement that Garcia had tested positive for COVID-19, a test he took at 9 a.m. ET Sunday in preparation to fly home to Spain after the race. Garcia drove three “double stints” before being isolated following the positive test.
“As part of international COVID travel protocols, all drivers and team members traveling in and out of the U.S. are required to take a COVID test before and after any race activities,” the Corvette Racing statement read. “While Antonio Garcia tested negative in preparation for his arrival for the Rolex 24, we have received notice that he has now tested positive in preparation to depart the country.
“He was immediately pulled from competition upon notification of the positive test result and, although he wasn’t experiencing any symptoms, will no longer participate in any additional race activities at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Upon consulting with IMSA and its Event Operations Protocols, the series determined Corvette Racing met all conditions under the IMSA event protocols that allowed it to compete in a safe and responsible manner.”
IMSA issued its own statement in response. “Following the guidelines outlined in the Event Operations Protocols manual, Corvette Racing alerted IMSA that driver Antonio Garcia tested positive for COVID-19,” it said. “We wish Antonio well in his recovery.”
Both Taylor and Catsburg – who conducted their postrace Zoom media interview outside of victory lane – said they were comfortable that the team took enough precautions throughout the race and that they had only random, limited interaction with Garcia because of the COVID-19 protocol already in place.
“For me, I saw Antonio before the race and that was the last time. And even then, we’re always social distancing and following protocols,” Taylor assured. “Definitely disappointing Antonio wasn’t there for the end, but he leads this (No.) 3 car.”
Taylor added that he will continue to follow protocol, even though that means – in an abundance of caution – missing the traditional post-Rolex 24 pizza dinner his family has enjoyed through the years.
“I’m fine to just go sit at my house for as long as it takes and caress my Rolex (watch) for a while,” Taylor said. “I’ll get tested and make sure I’m safe.”
Then he added, “Better to be safe than sorry. ”