In a competitive race that never saw less than three cars on the lead lap at any one time, the race battle appeared to be coming down to the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette and the #02 Chip Ganassi Ford, with the former leading into the final 90mins.
However, in the hands of Dixon – who embarked on a long final stint -, the Kiwi would steadily claw back ground on Jordan Taylor ahead of him as the race entered its latter stages, crucially emerging in front of his main rival during the penultimate round of pit-stops.
With the margin between the two drivers stagnating at around four seconds through the final stops, Dixon appeared to be in control when a full course caution was launched with just 20mins remaining after the PC-leading CORE Autosport machine of Colin Braun crashed heavily and caught fire.
Serving to bunch up the leaders, including the Action Express Corvette in third – which had been running around 30secs off the lead prior to the caution -, the stage was seemingly set for a three-way grandstand finish.
However, Wayne Taylor Racing’s Daytona heartbreak would continue when Taylor was drafted into the pit-lane for a surprise driver change, due to a miscalculation over time behind the wheel. To compound the error, the team – which had led much of the race and rarely been out of the lead battle – would have to take a further penalty for pitting under full caution conditions, leaving it a distant third.
As the race restarted with just seven minutes on the clock, Scott Dixon faced new pressure from Sebastien Bourdais in the chasing Action Express, but the Frenchman – who won last year’s race – could not get close enough to make a difference, Dixon keeping it neat to complete victory over 740 laps.
Between Dixon and team-mates Kyle Larson, Tony Kanaan and Jamie McMurry, the win signals Chip Ganassi Racing’s sixth success in this event in what was an almost fault-free race for the Ford-engined car, save for a splitter change during the first third.
Action Express picked up a somewhat fortuitous second place, the car failing to keep up with the pace in the closing stages having previously battled back from three laps down due to fuel pressure problems, but securing a positive result.
Wayne Taylor Racing had to make do with third having opted to play safe by changing drivers with 10mins to go, rather than risk disqualification altogether.
Four laps off the lead, the VisitFlorida.com Corvette enjoyed a fairly quiet race en route to fourth in an otherwise destructive race for the Prototype class. Of the 16 that started, only five made it to the finish line, the fifth in class Whelan Chip Ganassi car finishing 35 laps down after never recovering from early problems.
The #01 Chip Ganassi Ford, which circulated for a long time with the race winning sister car, would have featured towards the end but for persistent clutch woes that would eventually consign it to retirement with two hours remaining.
Elsewhere, the pole sitting MSR Ligier showed flashes of speed – particularly in the hands of AJ Allmendinger – and was on the lead lap at the half-way stage but various niggles would drop it down before it stopped altogether with just 20mins remaining.
Similarly, the new ESM HPD ARX-04b and the DeltaWing would show their moments but would not reach the chequered flag as mechanical problems reared.
Corvette holds onto GTLM victory
Antonio Garcia gave Corvette Racing and team-mates Jan Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe some nervous moments during the final stages of the Rolex 24 before successfully holding off Marco Werner’s BMW for victory in the GTLM class.
A hard fought category that would whittle down to just a two-way battle between the #3 Corvette and the BMW Z4 of Werner, Bill Auberlen, Bruno Spengler and Augusto Farfus, the German manufacturer looked on course for victory but for a slow penultimate pit stop that would leave it behind its rivals.
Though the late caution would put Werner on the tail of Garcia, he could not find a way past in the final minutes, forcing him to settle for second behind the American firm.
A category that would see a number of high profile retirements, both factory Porsches exited in embarrassing circumstances when Earl Bamber misjudged the speed of a slower car in front, pitching him onto the grass and into a spin that would send him directly into the sister car of Joerg Bergmeister.
Similarly, Ferrari’s challenge was ended by both mechanical dramas and crashes, most notably Francois Perrodo, who collided with a GTD Aston Martin when he errantly drove his AF Corse machine into its path when recovering from a spin.
Corvette may have had two cars in contention for victory had Tommy Milner – who was leading at the time – not lost time repairing damage when he bumped the RG BMW, while Aston Martin was eliminated early on by mechanical problems.
PR1 take advantage of late CORE heartbreak
PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport clinched the PC honours after capitalising on CORE Autosport’s dramatic crash just 20mins from the chequered flag.
CORE looked set to defend its win from 2014, but a spin after contact with another car caused suspension damage unbeknown to driver Colin Braun, who was promptly pitched into the wall when he got back up to speed. Causing it to catch alight, the car was out on the spot, promoting PR1 – Tom Kimber-Smith, Mike Guasch, Andrew Palmer and Andrew Novich – into a lead it would protect to the chequered flag.
Riley Viper take emotional GTD win
Having had its factory funding pulled over the winter, the TI Automotive Riley team showed Dodge what it was missing by taking the privately-entered car to victory in the GTD class in the hands of Kumo Wittmer, Dominik Farnbacher, Cameron Lawrence, Al Carter and Ben Keating.