An officiating error by IMSA led to the chequered flag being shown one lap early, but the mistake almost certainly had no bearing on the result as Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell, Dane Cameron and Josef Newgarden took victory for Porsche Penske Motorsport even though the car was short-fuelled at its final pitstop.
Raul Prados, lead engineer on the winning #7 Porsche 963 LMDh prototype, explained that the car was fuelled in the expectation that the race could run to as many as 793 laps, two more than the 791 after which the flag was waved.
“We were planning for the race to go to lap 793, that was the number we were trying to hit on the strategy,” said Prados.
“Daytona is a timed race, so the pace changes the lap count, and it was flickering between the two [792 and 793].
“We were safe on fuel; we [only] needed to save a little bit.”
Prados said that Penske believed that the second-placed Action Express Racing Cadillac V-Series.R LMDh with Pipo Derani at the wheel had a similar amount of fuel to the Porsche for the run to the flag.
But official ‘energy replenishment’ data from IMSA suggested that the Porsche left the pits after the final stops with a 75% fuel load compared with 80% for the Cadillac.
Short-fuelling the #7 963 at the final round of pitstops was key to Porsche’s first overall victory at Daytona since 2003 and its first with a prototype since 1995.
#7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Dane Cameron, Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell, Josef Newgarden, #01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-Series.R: Renger van der Zande, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac V-Series.R: Pipo Derani, Jack Aitken, Tom Blomqvist
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
It allowed Nasr to get ahead of Derani in the pits during the 15th and final safety car of the race, which set up a sprint to the flag with just over 32 minutes left on the clock.
“We knew that getting track position was going to be the most difficult thing, so we decided to leave it a little bit short on fuel,” Prados explained.
He revealed that Nasr had been instructed to save fuel during his penultimate stint as part of his strategy.
It coincided with the Brazilian complaining about a lack of grip on the set of tyres put on the car at the second to last pitstop.
“At that time we didn’t have that much pace with that set of tyres, so we were trying to save as much fuel as possible to shorten our pitstop,” said Prados.
He added that the target had been for Nasr to stay “within two or three seconds” of the Cadillac in order for its strategy to work.
How canny Porsche strategy snatched Daytona spoils from Cadillac
Porsche’s pitstop, measured from pit-in to pit-out, was two seconds shorter than the Caddy’s, which allowed Nasr to take the restart at the front of the queue.
The Cadillac that Derani shared with Jack Aitken and Tom Blomqvist had taken the lead from Porsche during the previous pitstop cycle.
It stopped three laps before the Porsche and effectively got the undercut, Derani with his tyres up to temperature taking the lead around the outside through Turns 1 and 2 at the start of Nasr’s first flying lap.
The early penultimate stop meant that the Cadillac was always going to require more fuel than the Porsche during the final pitstop cycle, which was triggered by the safety car eight minutes into the final hour.
#31 Action Express Racing Cadillac V-Series.R: Pipo Derani, Jack Aitken, Tom Blomqvist
Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images
Derani was confident that Action Express would have won but for the final yellow.
“That last yellow really did for us,” he said.
Because Daytona is a timed race the chequered flag should have be shown at the end of the lap after the clock hit 24 hours.
But the white flag denoting that the cars are starting their final lap was shown three minutes before the race had hit its full duration.
The Porsche’s winning time was 23 hours, 58 minutes and 24.723s.
That meant there was 1m35.277s left on the clock, which compares with the 1m35.605s fastest lap for #7 set by Nasr.
The Brazilian’s pace in the final laps was in the 1m36s bracket, which meant that the race wouldn’t have stretched to 793 laps.
IMSA acknowledged its error on the Monday after the race without offering an explanation.
It went on to state that the race is deemed to have ended when the chequered flag is displayed even if it has been “inadvertently or otherwise displayed”.