Rolex 24 at six hours: stock car great Gordon in middle of lead mix

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(Eight current Verizon IndyCar Series drivers are competing in this weekend's Rolex 24 At Daytona sports car race. IndyCar.com is filing update stories every six hours of the race.)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A car co-driven by former NASCAR star Jeff Gordon continued to lead the 55th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona after the first six hours of the 24-hour sports car race tonight at Daytona International Speedway.

Despite an incident early in the race, Gordon was enthusiastic after his first stint in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi.

Jeff Gordon“The car feels really strong,” said Gordon, co-driving with brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli in the top-tier Prototype class. “I wish I had more laps than this, but I totally understand how the team has to balance the drive time with the drivers. I was able to get comfortable, work the traffic and do some clean laps and make some passes. I had a great time.”

The only confirmed 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers racing this weekend in the Prototype class – Spencer Pigot and James Hinchcliffe – each faced adversity in their Mazda Motosports DPi entries.

Pigot hopped into the No. 55 nearly three hours into the race, but faced with radio problems, was penalized for passing the pace car under a full-course caution when he shouldn’t have done so. Pigot completed a quadruple stint, exiting the car just before the six-hour mark with the No. 55 eighth in its class and 12th overall, six laps behind the leader.

“The stint was pretty good, I think,” Pigot said. “We had a little trouble with the radio so there was a miscommunication and a little confusion on one of the yellows. I took the wave around when I shouldn’t have and we got caught up with the long penalty.

“We fell down a few laps but the car’s doing great, we’ve had no issues. Really excited about that and the guys are doing a great job in the pits as well, so we’re just going to keep plugging away and try to pick up some laps.”

Hinchcliffe didn’t get into the No. 70 Mazda DPi until five hours into the race. By then, the car was multiple laps down after contact with Gordon in the No. 10 Cadillac that knocked out the rear lights on the Mazda and forced a lengthy stop to change the rear assembly.

Meanwhile, as predicted rain began to fall on the 3.56-mile road course at the six-hour mark, the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT co-driven by four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon began to press the for the lead in the GT Le Mans class. Shortly after getting into the No. 66 Ford GT, four-time Indy car champ Sebastien Bourdais bolted into the class lead.

Pato O’Ward, the 17-year-old sensation who finished second in last year’s Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires, drove a sensational lengthy stint to put the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA FLM09 into the Prototype Challenge class lead at the six-hour mark. Verizon IndyCar Series driver Conor Daly was scheduled to be the next driver in the No. 88 Starworks Motorsport PC car when it sustained heavy damage in an on-track incident and went to the garage for repairs.

Still waiting to get into their respective Acura NSX GT3 cars in the GT Daytona class were Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal. The No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 led the class and was 25th overall after six hours.

But the three Cadillac Prototypes dominated the early hours of the race, holding down the top three positions at the six-hour mark. Following the No. 10 was the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac driven by Dane Cameron, Eric Curran and former Indy car driver Mike Conway.

In third place was the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac shared by Joao Barbosa, Luis Felipe Derani, Brendon Hartley and ex-Indy car driver Christian Fittipaldi.

At the start of the third hour, Gordon made contact with the No. 70 Mazda Motorsports DPi driven by Tom Long, who spun. Gordon was not penalized but the No. 70, which Long shares with Joel Miller and Hinchcliffe, dropped back in the field. At the six-hour mark, it was 11th in the Prototype class and 39th overall.

Gordon had just started his first stint during a full-course caution. On the restart, Gordon collided with Long as they worked through traffic in Turn 3.

Gordon, who called the busy restart “crazier than NASCAR,” was asked if there would’ve been a more ideal situation to start his first stint.

“What would’ve been ideal was for (Jordan Taylor) to have a 10-second lead and for me to be able to start my stint under green,” Gordon said.

The full-course caution that created the restart came about because of a hard crash by Scott Pruett in the No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus, making its debut. The team eventually withdrew, ending the race before it started for co-driver Sage Karam, who has three Indy 500 and 16 Verizon IndyCar Series starts before landing a fulltime sports-car ride this year. The 21-year-old is again looking for a one-off for the Indianapolis 500 in May.

Pruett, the five-time Rolex 24 overall winner and former Indy car driver, expressed his disappointment.

“There’s so many people here that are a part of this program that have put so much energy and effort into getting here,” he said. “Then to have something like this happen, it’s just frustrating. It’s not how you want to get things going.”

The race continues until its conclusion at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

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