3rd February 2017
Mike Conway got his 2017 season underway with a 6th place finish at the Rolex 24 hours of Daytona this past weekend.
The 55th running of the Daytona 24 hours offered Mike his debut in the Action Express Racing #31 at the historic event in Florida, United States. Mike teamed up with Action Express in the #31 Cadillac DPi-VR alongside fellow newcomer and Brit, Seb Morris. The two Brits lined up with reigning champions, Dane Cameron and Eric Curran to complete a strong and versatile driver line-up.
The week’s practice sessions displayed the Cadillac’s dominance with consistent finishes in the top 5 across the four practice sessions. Qualifying duties were handed to the reliable hands of Dane Cameron, and he delivered a great performance. The #31 qualified 2nd on the grid and just 0.07 seconds behind the sister Cadillac, resulting in an Action Express Racing front row lock out for the 24-hour race on Sunday.
With 55 cars lining the starting grid, surviving the opening laps was going to be easier said than done. When the green flag dropped to mark the start of the 55th Daytona 24-hour, the #31 Cadillac got off to a good start and maintained its 2nd position through the opening laps of the 3.56-mile circuit. After a conservative opening half an hour, Dane Cameron then made a move around the outside of the sister Cadillac and took the lead of the race.
Entering the fifth hour the #31 was leading the race when it collided with the slower moving #88 on the high banks. The accident resulted in a full course yellow and the #31 was lucky to escape with the race lead and what appeared to only be minor damage.
When Mike took over driving duties for the first time in the 24 hours, the #31 was back in second place and the rain had begun to start falling. Mike soon found his rhythm and was closing in on the fellow Action Express Cadillac, reducing the gap to a miniscule 3 seconds. However, just as Mike was closing in on the lead of the race - bad luck struck. Mike wheeled the Cadillac behind the wall to replace a right-front toe-link, in what was believed to be residual damage from the earlier contact with the #88. The repairs cost Mike six laps on the lead and dropped the #31 back to 8th position.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, the heavens opened and the temperatures dropped. The steady rain which had been persistent throughout the night increased in intensity, causing the race officials to take proactive measures. The race was set to full course yellow and after almost an hour, normal racing was resumed with the #31 up to 6th and 5 laps behind the lead.
The team’s bad luck continued when the clock struck the fifteenth hour, this time going behind the wall for shifting issues. A long stop resulted in the #31 Cadillac dropping a full 16 laps back from the race leader and all but ending the chance of a race victory.
The final hours of the race saw Mike and the team begin to recover their race. The persistence and resilience resulted in the team making its way back up the field and finishing the 24 hours in 14th place overall and 6th in their class, a truly excellent result in the face of adversity.
Mike Conway reflected on the team’s struggles during the 24 hours.
"It was pretty tough out there," Conway said. "The track conditions were changing by the moment every lap. One part of the stint you wanted slicks and then the rain returned and you were glad you were on wets. It was like driving on ice for the first five or six laps! I am happy that I kept it on the road. It was tough that we lost so many laps but I’m happy with how the team and I kept fighting right until the checkered flag."
Mike’s next trip is back to Florida to compete in the Twelve Hours of Sebring, another highlight of the IMSA season that has run annually for the past 65 years! Mike will also be juggling his IMSA calendar with his WEC schedule, as he was confirmed this week as a TOYOTA GAZOO Racing driver for the fourth consecutive season.