General: Mike Conway races to second place at Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

30th January 2018

Mike Conway and the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Action Express Cadillac DPi took second-place at the iconic Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona this weekend after a hard-fought race which saw the team come close to victory.

The historic 24-hour race at the Daytona International Speedway is the annual curtain raiser to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and this year marked Mike’s second attempt at the ‘twice around the clock’ endurance race after making his debut last year with the Whelen Engineering Racing team last year, where they finished in 6th place.

Looking for more success this year, Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran and Stuart Middleton joined Mike in the #31 Cadillac and the team had their eyes set on the outright victory after showing good pace at the ROAR warm-up event earlier in the month.

Practice and Qualifying

The 56th annual running of the Rolex 24 Hours commenced on Thursday with the first two practice sessions of the weekend followed by qualifying and then the week’s night practice session. With the field at its most competitive in recent years, Mike and the team ended the first session of the weekend in 8th place with a 1:37.844 - 0.416 seconds off Mazda Team Joest and with just one-second separating the top-thirteen cars!

The closely-fought action continued into the second practice sessions where Mike and the team finished in 9th place as they improved on the earlier practice time prior to the weekend’s qualifying session. The unique scheduling of qualifying between practice sessions saw Mike and the team prepare for qualifying where the team fell victim to their first problem of the weekend.

Felipe Nasr took control of the wheel for the start of qualifying and put the team in contention with a quick 1:36.508-second lap time. However as the qualifying entered its fastest phase, the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac came to stop with an electrical issue that ruled the team out of contention for pole. Remaining positive about their chances, the team knew qualifying wasn’t crucial to their chances as they resolved the electrical issue before the weekend’s night practice session.

Finishing the final practice session of the weekend in 1st place, with a lap time of 1:36.865 posted by Mike, the team headed into Saturday’s 24-hour race confident of a successful outing around the 3.56-mile circuit!

Race

When the chequered flag dropped for the start of the 2018 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Felipe Nasr was behind the wheel of the #31 Action Express Cadillac and made fantastic progress immediately as he gained four positions on the opening lap to grab third, ahead of the sister #5 machine of Filipe Albuquerque and Tristan Vautier in the Spirit of Daytona car.

As the #31 Action Express Cadillac continued to make good progress through the opening phase of the race, darkness began to descend on the circuit followed shortly by rain as Mike jumped behind the wheel for his first stint of the race. What followed was a masterclass in the rain from Mike as he showed why he is one of the world’s best.

With the rain and darkness causing other teams and drivers to struggle, Mike delivered a stunning drive in the wet followed by a perfectly timed pitstop back onto slick tyres to see him into the lead of the race once his rivals had stopped for their tyre change.

With the top-three positions constantly changing due to differences of strategy, the charging Felipe Nasr drove the #31 AXR Cadillac into third, a further 42 seconds behind and little more than a second ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya in the second Acura.

However, having pulled a seven-second gap on Montoya, Nasr then suffered a right-rear puncture while triple-stinting his Continental tyres, 20 minutes before the 10th hour was over. The slow tour to the pits dropped the #31 Cadillac off the lead lap.

A strong triple-stint from Conway put the #31 AXR Cadillac in a strong position as Mike handed the car over to Eric Curran and the team took the lead of the race. Unfortunately, a brake light failure meant the #31 team was forced to pit and lost the lead of the race to the sister #5 car deep into the night.

As the race reached three-quarter distance, the #31 AXR Cadillac trailed the sister car by two laps, with Mike at the wheel, but the fourth yellow of the race allowed Mike Conway to regain a lap and put the #31 back in contention for the win.

After the 18th-hour caution period closed together the two lead AXR Cadillac DPi-V.Rs, the sister #5 machine gained a decisive edge when the #31 car had to go behind the pitwall for a water top-up due to overheating issues.

As the team was forced to nurse their heating problems, the #31 AXR Cadillac was at one stage threatened by the #54 CORE Autosport Oreca 07, which briefly took second in Hour 22 when the two lead Action Express Cadillacs slackened their pace.

However, the team fought back to take the chequered flag in second-place to complete an Action Express Racing 1-2 finish at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona!

Pleased with the performance of the car, Mike reflected on a great day for himself and the team.

“The team gave us a car that had the chance to win, which is all you can ask for as a driver. Compared to last year the competition was big. It was non-stop action. Even a car 10 laps down is tough to get by as they are close in lap times. With Felipe (Nasr), Eric (Curran) and Stuart (Middleton), they all did a great job. A great day to be a part of a one-two finish to start the season.”

Next up for Mike is another race with the Whelen Engineering Action Express Racing team as they return to IMSA WeatherTech competition in just over a month’s time for the 65th running of the Sebring 12 Hours on March 17th.

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