Photography courtesy of Martin Raffauf.
Words by Kevin Ehrlich.
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The 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona will be remembered for cold temperatures around the track and hot action in the final moments. Spectators were treated to a classic race and the largest field since 2014. A quintet of Lamborghinis made the trip, but came up short after early promise.
The Lamborghini Huracán GT3 arrived in North America in 2016 to race in IMSA’s GTD class. After a difficult debut for many reasons (read a more extensive retrospective here), Lamborghini found success in IMSA sportscar racing with several customer teams. The marque won the 24 Hours of Daytona in class in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and came within 23 seconds of winning it in 2021.
The 2022 event welcomed a new IMSA regulatory framework for GT cars – two different classes with the same equipment separated only between driver line-ups made up of purely professional drivers (GTD Pro) and those mixing professional and amateur drivers (GTD). While equipment may have been identical, it didn’t take long after the green flag for the strength of factory drivers to shine and separate the two classes on the timing and scoring screens. The results showed, however, that the GTD Pro winners covered 711 laps, only four laps more than the GTD winners.
Five Lamborghinis in the field were split between four GTD efforts and a single GTD Pro entry. TR3 Racing entered one car in each category with Lamborghini factory help. The Miami-based team made its IMSA debut by bringing a lot of behind the wheel experience.
The #63 TR3 Racing GTD Pro entry featured a stellar line-up of Marco Mapelli, Andrea Caldarelli, Mirko Bortolotti and Rolf Ineichen. All had recent Lamborghini success in the Rolex 24. Bortolotti and Ineichen each won twice (2018 and 2019) and Caldarelli won once (2020). Mapelli was the only one without a win, having come close in 2020 with a second place finish.
The #63 was in the mix as a contender in pre-race chatter. Sitting on pole position after qualifying seemed to warrant optimism. Mapelli took the green flag and led the first five laps in GTD Pro before handing off to Ineichen. Daytona drama arose just over three hours into the race when Ineichen got caught up in someone else’s incident and brushed the wall. He was able to drive back to pit lane but repairs took about four minutes and several laps to address.
The team set out for a recovery run and Mapelli, Bortolotti and Caldarelli got the car back into the mix. A sequence of yellow flag pit stops at 20 minutes past midnight allowed Ineichen to take the GTD Pro lead on the 307th lap. The #63 stayed close to the front until a mechanical issue ended the team’s race after about 14 hours of running. Caldarelli got the least amount of time at the controls, but set some of the car’s fastest laps.
Driving talent, however, wasn’t likely going to be enough to stay with the leaders for the finish. The #63 consistently ran between half a second or more per lap behind the fastest GTD Pro cars. The Pfaff and KCMG Porsches, Risi Ferrari and Vasser-Sullivan Lexus were the class of the field. It would have taken a herculean effort to overcome that gap.
TR3 Racing’s separate GTD class entry had its own challenges. The #19 put Bill Sweedler, John Magrue, Giacomo Altoe and Jeff Segal on the driving list. Sweedler and Segal have extensive endurance racing credentials, Magrue raced in Ferrari Challenge North America and GT World Challenge America, and young Altoe became a Lamborghini factory driver last year at only 19 years of age.
Race control notes show six spins or voyages off course. The #19 Lamborghini was hit by the #79 Porsche in the infield just short of the three hour mark. The #79 served a penalty for its error. The #19 recovered and worked its way to the head of the field at lap 179, holding the point for 12 laps. It returned to lead another 10 laps starting at lap 200. In the flurry of an overnight yellow flag sequence, race control issued a stop and hold penalty of 3 minutes and 30 seconds for an improper wave by procedure (the process where the safety car enters the track and finds the leader to escort the field around the track under caution). Teams are expected to follow a written protocol in the IMSA rulebook rather than take specific instructions from race officials.
The #19 climbed up the order as far as sixth in GTD, but fatal transmission failure stranded the red Lamborghini just 50 minutes shy of the checkered flag. Segal and Altoe did almost 6 and a half hours of driving each with Sweedler and Magrue splitting the remaining time evenly. As expected, Altoe was the quickest of the drivers. He not only set the car’s 22 fastest laps, but also 81 of the car’s fastest 100 laps.
The #39 CarBahn with Peregrine Racing Lamborghini attracted pre-race chatter as well. After running a limited 2021 schedule with an Audi R8, the team acquired a Lamborghini formerly run, with success, by Paul Miller Racing. Corey Lewis drove the Paul Miller Lamborghini to the GTD Daytona win in 2020. For the 2022 Rolex 24, he was joined by 2019 Michelin Pilot Challenge champion Jeff Westphal and Indy Lights race winner Robert Megennis. Twenty-one year old Sandy Mitchell made his Rolex 24 debut with prior British GT Championship experience on his resume.
Fast laps put the CarBahn Lamborghini at or near the front of the GTD field in the early running. Mitchell led for 23 laps during his first stint in the car. However, he narrowly missed a major issue amid a fight over turn 6 real estate between a Mercedes and Aston Martin in the late afternoon sun. The Lamborghini picked up a flat left rear and a damaged tail light and fender liner. Mitchell made it back to the pits for service and continued.
Two and a half hours later, Westphal took a restart green in second place but quickly found trouble in thick traffic. The #3 Corvette put a wheel off the track and pushed an LMP3 car into a spin in front of the oncoming horde. In the resulting scramble, the front of the #39 Lamborghini met the rear of the #4 Corvette came together. The Lamborghini went to the garage soon after with an ailing radiator. Half an hour later, the repaired Lamborghini returned to the track.
Later, in an overnight incident, a Ferrari hit the back of the Lamborghini under braking coming into the back straight chicane. The #39 spun and ended up with right side suspension damage and alignment issues. The Ferrari earned a penalty but that didn’t help the wounded Lamborghini. The team eventually opted to retire the car around 3am, having completed 349 laps. Mitchell was the stand-out driver. He recorded the fastest dozen laps for the #39 and almost half of the car’s fastest 100 laps.
The 2022 Rolex 24 was the first race in a full season schedule for NTE Sport, a Dallas-based team. The team switched from Audi in 2021 to the #42 Lamborghini Huracán for 2022. Driver Don Yount brought years of racing as an amateur in a variety of IMSA cars. Benja Hites and Jaden Conwright, both Lamborghini junior drivers, made their Daytona debut. Veteran Markus Palttala brought years of sportscar and endurance racing experience to the team.
Palttala, Hites and Conwright put in similar lap times. The team tried to stay out of trouble and run clean laps. That plan worked for the first half of the race and the #42 climbed as high as fifth in GTD class. In the overnight hours, however, Hites battled a Ferrari for several laps before making contact that earned him a drive-through penalty.
After surviving the night, Hites encountered an ABS sensor warning. Going into turn one, the left front tire locked up and blew out. He was able to return to the pits but the car required a trip to the garage for repairs. After repair and driver change, the Lamborghini returned to the track only to meet with continued mechanical problems. The team decided to retire with 524 laps and nineteen and a half hours to their credit.
T3 Motorsport North America made a strong Rolex 24 debut and will be a team to watch in the future. The German team has raced sportscars and touring cars in Europe and has aspirations of more racing in the United States. They joined with Southern Motorsport, a US-based team in Greenville, South Carolina.
Lamborghini factory driver Franck Perera brought his race-winning experience, having won the Rolex 24 in 2018 driving a Lamborghini. Mateo Llarena, at only age seventeen, made his second Rolex 24 start. Maximilian Paul drove with T3 in Europe and made his Rolex 24 debut. Paul also helps on the management side of the team with Tobias, his father. IMSA veteran Misha Goikhberg rounded out the quartet.
Despite starting last at the race start, the #71 Lamborghini was rewarded with a race finish and 8th place GTD class finish, completing 692 laps. It was the highest placed Lamborghini in the race and the only Lamborghini running at the checkered flag. It wasn’t easy though. The team hustled every step of the way and avoided significant contact on a busy track.
After four and a half hours of running, Llarena took the car into the garage to repair a rear suspension failure. The fix cost 10 minutes and several laps. Overnight issues cost the team more laps and incurred a drive through penalty for a fire bottle violation. The #71 Lamborghini finished 15 laps off the lead.
Paul set nine of the car’s ten fastest laps and about half of the car’s fastest 100 laps. That’s a strong performance with such stout co-drivers. He also logged over seven hours of drive time, the most of the four drivers.
In the end, the Lamborghinis did not figure into the 2022 result or reach the podium. However, Lamborghini racing fans looking for promising signs for the future can be optimistic about the impressive debut of T3 Motorsport, the breadth of customer teams, and active support by the Lamborghini factory.