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Rolex 24 notes: Issues plague Team Penske Acura debut

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – The highly publicized debut of Team Penske’s Acura program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship had some highlight moments during the Rolex 24 At Daytona, but wound up with neither car in contention at today’s finish.

The No. 7 Acura DPi co-driven by INDYCAR stars Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal, along with sports car standout Ricky Taylor, finished ninth. The No. 6 Acura, co-driven by another INDYCAR star duo of Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya, teamed with Dane Cameron, placed 10th overall and in the Prototype class.

Castroneves qualified the No. 7 Acura second on Thursday and the trio of drivers led a total of 107 laps. But contact with another car overnight in the 24-hour race forced a lengthy stint in the garage for repairs and the No. 7 finished 15 laps off the pace.

“We led a lot at night so, yeah, it was great,” said Rahal. “I’m obviously disappointed that it didn’t work out that we couldn’t carry it all the way through the night because we were looking pretty good.

“But in general, we have a lot to be proud of, the team’s worked awfully hard. The Acura ARX-05 for its debut has been extremely impressive and I’m excited what this machine and this team has ahead of it.”

The No. 6 entry led 21 laps but had its own long stop to change a battery and alternator. It also finished 15 laps off the pace.

“I’m very happy with my performance and feeling so comfortable in the Acura car,” Pagenaud said. “In 24 hours, so much can happen, you can’t prepare enough for it. We prepared really well, tested a lot, the cars were reliable but there’s always going to be a little gremlin happening in the race. It’s just the way it is.”

Tire issues halt run for Hunter-Reay and Wayne Taylor Racing

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion with Andretti Autosport, was part of the pole-sitting No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi trio of drivers. The No. 10 led the first 18 laps but then faced a series of tire issues before parking for good after completing 555 laps and finishing 45th overall.

“It’s an unfortunate circumstance to retire from the race with such a strong car,” Hunter-Reay said. “We obviously had the pace to be right there to be challenging the Action Express cars (that finished 1-2), but we had some unfortunate situations. … Certainly, it would’ve been a very positive race result for this team, but such is life and that is racing.”

Alonso enjoys sports car debut

Fernando AlonsoFernando Alonso, who wowed the world in his Indianapolis 500 debut last year, returned to the U.S. to make his sports car racing debut in the Rolex as preparation for a planned attempt in the 24 Hours of Le Mans later this year.

The No. 23 United Autosports Ligier LMP2 that Alonso co-drove in the Prototype class led eight laps before brake troubles dropped it back to eventually finish in 38th place. Still, Alonso said he can take lessons away from Daytona that will aid him at Le Mans, should he choose to compete there.

“This makes me more prepared, that's for sure,” the two-time Formula 1 champion said. “I experienced things the whole event that was new for me, and next time I jump in a Prototype car, closed cockpit, I know what is the feeling.

“I know the traffic situations, I know the night driving, I know safety cars. I know things now that I didn't know yesterday, 24 hours ago.

“Maybe the nicest thing was how competitive we felt,” Alonso added. “Because we entered the race with no high hopes because we were never competitive, and suddenly we picked up the pace and everyone was smiling in the garage. That was a nice feeling.”

Pigot’s race ends prematurely in Mazda Team Joest DPi

Ed Carpenter Racing driver Spencer Pigot has become an endurance specialist for Mazda’s sports car program. The winningest driver in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires drove the No. 55 Mazda Team Joest DPi with Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell that led two laps early.

However, mechanical difficulties curbed their pace and a fire from the rear of the car ended its race after 541 laps and in 46th overall position.

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