A full-course yellow with 1hr55m remaining was caused by Matt Bell’s AWA LMP3 car dying at Turn 7. Just before, in anticipation of the pitlane being closed, both the Acura teams pitted their cars, Wayne Taylor Racing bringing in Ricky Taylor for a splash and dash and Meyer Shank Racing doing the same for Blomqvist.
MSR then also topped off under the caution, too, pitting with the JDC Miller MotorSports Cadillac which saw Richard Westbrook – who had held a 20s lead before the caution – hand off to Loic Duval. Right behind them, Action Express Racing pitted the #31 and left Mike Conway onboard.
The restart saw Taylor pull away, and while Duval initially jumped Blomqvist, the Briton returned the MSR to restore an Acura 1-2. He wouldn’t let the WTR car go and with 84 minutes to go, Blomqvist side-drafted the blue-and-black car to sneak past into the lead, leaving Taylor to fend off Duval and Conway.
That didn’t last long, Duval replicating Blomqvist’s move by going low on the banking and moving into second place as they dived into the newly renamed Le Mans (formerly Bus Stop) chicane.
However, two laps later, Duval dropped back behind both Taylor and Conway, some five seconds off the lead. He stopped with 68 minutes to go, the first of the Daytona Prototype international cars to make its penultimate stop.
Next time by, Taylor, who’d fallen over three seconds off the lead of Blomqvist, brought the WTR Acura in, and a lap after that, MSR called Blomqvist in and replaced him with Castroneves. The following lap Conway pitted the AXR car and handed over to Pipo Derani, but the latter was temporarily 15s down.
#60 Meyer Shank Racing W/Curb-Agajanian Acura DPi: Oliver Jarvis, Tom Blomqvist, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud taking the checkered flag
Photo by: Richard Dole / Motorsport Images
Castroneves did hold a five second advantage at the front, but when the charging Duval passed Taylor for second with 55 minutes remaining, that gap went down to half a second. Then out came the full course yellow again for a spun and stalled GTD Lamborghini.
Just before the restart with just under 30 minutes to go, Derani and Duval pitted for an extra splash, leaving Castroneves and Taylor up front in the Acuras.
Castroneves just held onto the lead at the restart, and the two Acuras started stretching away from Derani and Duval who held each other up with some side-by-side battling on that first green flag lap.
Castroneves was under severe pressure from Taylor with 15mins to go as they threaded through the GT traffic, but the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner pulled away with seven minutes remaining. That was more a result of Taylor slowing slightly, which allowed Duval to temporarily close up.
But it also spelt the end of the lead battle and Castroneves came home three seconds in front to clinch victory on the 10th anniversary of MSR’s previous triumph here.
That yellow with around two hours to go saw DragonSpeed’s 28s advantage at the front wiped out, so Colton Herta had to keep his head on the restart, for now he had Louis Deletraz in the Tower Motorsport car breathing down his neck, with Mikkel Jensen only four seconds further down in the #52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports entry.
#81 DragonSpeed USA Oreca LMP2 07: Patricio O’Ward, Eric Lux, Colton Herta, Devlin Defrancesco
Photo by: Brett Farmer / Motorsport Images
Herta’s lead was only 0.8s when he stopped with 63 minutes to go. Tower and PR1 followed suit the next time by, but on new tyres Herta pulled a three second lead over Deletraz until the yellow with 50 minutes to go.
Following the pitstops under caution, Tower got Deletraz out ahead of Herta, with Jensen in third. Racing Team Nederland were now right back in the fight, thanks to Rinus VeeKay unlapping himself from Herta two stints earlier, and the Dutch #29 car would restart with Giedo van der Garde at the wheel.
At the final restart, Herta initially struggled to hold off Jensen, but with his tires up to temperature he pulled away from the PR1 Mathiasen car to set his sights on the Tower car of Deletraz ahead.
With barely 10mins to go, Herta was right in the Tower car’s slipstream and made a seemingly impossible late-brake manoeuvre into the Le Mans chicane but it worked, and Deletraz went bouncing over the grass.
Soon after that, van de Garde, who had demoted Jensen for third, also managed to dive past the Tower car to slot the Racing Team Nederland car into second, albeit nine seconds behind Herta’s DragonSpeed machine. Herta held onto the lead without issue.
In GTD Pro, the caution with under two hours remaining came just after the KCMG and Pfaff Motorsports teams had pitted their Porsche 911 GT3Rs, which had been duelling superbly for the lead. They emerged with Mathieu Jaminet in the Pfaff car ahead of ahead of Laurens Vanthoor in the KCMG machine, but temporarily behind the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 of James Calado.
#9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R: Matt Campbell, Mathieu Jaminet, Felipe Nasr
Photo by: Brett Farmer / Motorsport Images
Under caution, Calado pitted and handed over to Alessandro Pier Guidi.
The yellows also allowed the Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus RC F to close up, and following the restart Jack Hawksworth drove the RCF past the Ferrari into third to try and chase the two Porsches who had resumed their duel. Instead, it was Pier Guidi who got back ahead of the luminous Lexus, albeit now 4s behind the ferocious Pfaff vs KCMG battle, and left Hawksworth behind.
The two lead Porsches had just stopped when the yellows flew again with 50mins remaining which helped ensure they remained ahead of the pursuing Risi Ferrari and VSR Lexus on the restart. In fact, Vasser Sullivan performed a great final stop to get Hawksworth out ahead of Pier Guidi, and following the restart, Hawksworth actually stretched away from the Ferrari.
However, the 488 driver wouldn’t let go of the RC F and with 13 minutes to go, the scarlet machine moved into third albeit 7s behind the increasingly fraught battle for the lead between Jaminet and Vanthoor. The KCMG car moved ahead with four minutes remaining after some panel rubbing, but they remained locked together.
On the final lap, Jaminet got back ahead but the pair remained locked together – and then came together at the Le Mans chicane. That sent the KCMG car spinning, costing it second place to the Risi Ferrari, while the Pfaff car escaped to victory.
In GTD, Zacharie Robichon and Jan Heylen had together built up a near one-minute lead for the Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R before the caution, but of course it dissipated under yellow. However, Heylen maintained his composure on the restart, despite Nicklas Nielsen in the AF Corse Ferrari 488 filling his mirrors, and was able to lock himself into the slipstream of the battling GTD Pro Porsches and ease his margin over the Ferrari to over five seconds.
Behind them, Andy Lally in the Magnus Racing Aston Martin Vantage ran third – on the lead lap but drifting backward.
Heylen had pulled the Wright car in for his final pitstop when the yellows flew at the 50min mark for Giacomo Altoe spinning and stalling his TR3 Lamborghini Huracan. That ensured Heylen was up front for the restart, still chased by Nielsen’s Ferrari, and Lally’s Magnus Aston Martin.
The lead battle was ruined by AF Corse getting a drive-through penalty for making a pass under yellow, which allowed Lally’s Aston Martin and Scott Andrews in the Gilbert Korthoff Mercedes AMG GT3 into second and third respectively.
That pair had nothing for Heylen however, thus Wright Motorsports clinched Rolex 24 victory.
LMP3 saw Felipe Fraga steer Riley Motorsports to victory by one lap over Sean Creech Motorsports and CORE autosport who got a drive through penalty for passing under yellow.