Having run at the sharp end of the field and led on numerous occasions during the Rolex 24 at Daytona, it came down to the final hour with five LMP2s all on the lead lap and Tom Dillmann giving his all in a dramatic conclusion to finish fourth, just three-tenths of a second behind the third-placed car.
The event was the first for the #52 Inter Europol by PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports squad, with all four drivers – Nick Boulle, Jakub ‘Kuba’ Śmiechowski, Tom Dillmann, Pietro Fittipaldi – and the team, putting in a fantastic performance in the opening round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
767 laps, 24 hours of racing and 36 pitstops, and at its conclusion, just 20 seconds covered the top five finishers, underlining the fine margins in this most competitive championship.
The race got underway Saturday afternoon, and it was action from the start. Having qualified a brilliant second last weekend at the Roar before the Rolex 24, Nick showed the team’s intentions by quickly moving to the head of the field and then pulling a ten-second advantage ahead of the first Full Course Yellow.
He handed the car over to Pietro, who arrived in the early hours of Saturday to sub for the injured Clément Novalak, who was at the circuit this weekend to support the team.
A multi-car shunt soon brought out the second pause, Pietro running second and lapping on the pace of the race leader as he quickly acclimatised to the Oreca 07 once again. There were further FCYs, with Kuba leading during his first stint on older tyres before Nick resumed for the second time to run third.
13 hours of darkness saw Kuba and Nick conducting most of the running, maintaining top three positions. Sunday brought overcast skies and lengthy spells of green flag running. With points awarded at six hour intervals, the #52 car racked up the points heading into the crucial final hours.
Tom and Pietro alternated, running third ahead of a penultimate stop with 70-minutes remaining. With just one scheduled stop to go, Tom began his double stint, only for a FCY to close up the top five runners with 35-minutes remaining.
With everything to play for, Tom gave his all in a fantastic battle for third, fourth and fifth positions, but was ultimately pipped for the podium position by the #74 with 15-minutes remaining. He took the chequered flag just 0.293 shy of a podium position.
The second round of the championship takes place at Sebring in March with Nick, Kuba and Tom racing for LMP2 honours.
“It was a long, tough race for every team, and the level of competition is very high. That said, I think the crew is disappointed because we felt like we deserved more than a fourth-place finish, but sometimes, leaving with that feeling before the next race is a good thing to motivate everyone even more!
„The positive takeaways were that we made no big mistakes in the pit lane and had no penalties, so the team performed very well together for our first effort. I think it will only improve from here, and now we have a point to prove in Sebring.”
„An incredibly tight race. We did a great job, and fourth place doesn’t reflect that. The season has just begun, so you can count on us to bring you a ton of emotions.”
“We had a great race that we can be proud of. I want to thank all my teammates for their hard work these last two weeks at the track. I really enjoyed my first Rolex 24 and my first race with the team. It hurts to miss out on a podium when you’re so close, but we move on to the next one at Sebring!”
“I want to thank the team for the opportunity and last-minute call-up for the Rolex 24, and I wish Clement a speedy recovery. I’ve very happy with the job that everyone did, we finished P4 at the end and we were in the fight for the podium position all the way to the finish line. Thank you to my teammates for their excellent work and to the team for the perfect execution.”