Rolex 24, H9: Jimmie Johnson leads but under pressure

Jimmie Johnson’s Ally Action Express Racing Cadillac is leading the Rolex 24 at Daytona after nine hours, but is under intense pressure from the Chip Ganassi Racing machine of Renger van der Zande.

Following a fifth caution to retrieve a broken-down Lamborghini at the 6hr45min mark, Loic Duval (JDC-Miller Motorsports), Kamui Kobayashi (Action Express Racing #48), and Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) engaged in a fantastic three-way all-Cadillac battle.

This became a duel when Duval was judged to have jumped the restart and was given a drive-through pit penalty.

Kobayashi outbraked Dixon to briefly take the lead but Dixon soon retaliated and started pulling away from the Japanese driver who has won the last two Rolex 24s.

Following the next round of stops, van der Zande took over from Dixon but relinquished the lead to Kobayashi as they got held up by a GTD car. After the next round of stops, the lead was out to 13sec.

As a result of Duval’s miscue, Helio Castroneves established the Wayne Taylor Racing Acura ARX-05 in third at the seven-hour mark, before handing off to fellow IndyCar ace Alexander Rossi. The similar car of Meyer Shank Racing took fourth at the restart as AJ Allmendinger passed Felipe Nasr in the #31 AXR Caddy, although Nasr reasserted himself after a dozen laps.

Duval ran sixth, post-penalty, 45sec off the lead while Oliver Jarvis was lap down in the Mazda RT24-P. Following their 14th stops, Tristan Vautier who took over from Duval, was 65sec from P1.

By the time Kobayashi handed over the #48 Cadillac to Jimmie Johnson after 8h40mins he had pulled out a 19sec lead over van der Zande, but the gap was six seconds once the pitstop cycles had shaken out. Van der Zande hunted down the lead Caddy and started applying the pressure to the NASCAR legend.

In LMP2, Tower Motorsport by Starworks and WIN Autosport were engaged in a spirited duel but it was Thomas Merrill in the WIN car that had a 45sec edge once Timothe Buret made his 10th stop.

Antonio Fuoco in Cetilar Racing’s Dallara and Ryan Dalziel of Era Motorsport were also having a close battle but were almost a lap down. However, Paul-Loup Chatin, taking over from Dalziel, went off track at Turn 5 and cruised back to the pits and behind the wall.

Muehlner Motorsport’s Kenton Koch led LMP3 ahead of the Sean Creech Motorsport entry, driven well by its Bronze-rated driver Lance Willsey before he handed off to former IMSA champion Joao Barbosa, and Stevan McAleer took control of the Muehlner machine.

The gap was half a minute at the end of the ninth hour, while Oliver Askew was third, a lap down in the #74 Riley Motorsports entry.

Antonio Garcia in the #3 Corvette C8.R was leading GT Le Mans just ahead of teammate Tommy Milner. Davide Rigon in the Risi Competizione remained within 12sec of the American cars after the restart and pulled away from Timo Glock and John Edwards in the two BMW M8s.

The GT Daytona battle remained a thriller, with AF Corse’s Ferrari 488 driven by Nicklas Nielsen wrestling with Andrea Caldarelli’s Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan.

They were pursued at an increasing distance by two Porsche 911 GT3 Rs – Zacharie Robichon of Pfaff Motorsports and Jan Heylen in the Wright Motorsports machine – with Jack Hawksworth steering the Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus RC F.

Russell Ward in the Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, Ian James’ Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage made it six manufacturers in the top seven spots.

Richard Westbrook’s TF Sport Aston soon began pressing James for Aston preeminence, and passed the HoR car for seventh at the end of the eighth hour, and took very little time to catch up with the Sun Energy1 Mercedes and move into sixth.

The next round of stops was started by Wright Motorsports, and Heylen jumped ahead of Robichon in this pitstop exchange, but neither of them – nor anyone else – appeared to have an answer to the AF Corse Ferrari.

At the end of the ninth hour, the 488 – now being driven by Matteo Cressoni – had a 20sec lead over the Paul Miller Huracan, now steered by Corey Lewis. Heylen was a further 10sec in arrears, while Aaron Telitz had moved the VSR Lexus ahead of Robichon’s Pfaff 911.

Sun Energy had jumped Marciello back ahead of Westbrook, but it didn’t take the former GTLM star long to draw up onto the tail of the Benz.

The #19 Grasser Racing Lamborghini expired on track with flames from its engine bay, causing the fifth full course yellow.

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