INDYCAR drivers show their talent in wet Rolex conditions

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Verizon IndyCar Series drivers showed they can capably handle wet race conditions through the middle hours of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Bone-chilling temperatures in the 40s and steady rain fell throughout the second six hours of the 24-hour endurance sports car race at Daytona International Speedway. Despite that, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal all moved their respective cars forward during extensive stints in unfavorable conditions.

Tony Kanaan"That’s INDYCAR for you, baby!” a smiling Kanaan said after completing a three-hour session slipping and sliding around the 3.56-mile road course that incorporates portions of Daytona’s high-banked superspeedway oval.

When Kanaan hopped out of the No. 69 Ford GT for Chip Ganassi Racing in favor of teammate Harry Tinknell at 2 a.m. ET today, he had the car in second place in the GT Le Mans class behind the sister No. 66 entry that Bourdais earlier muscled around for nearly four hours, finishing just before midnight.

The Frenchman sliced through the GT Le Mans class field following each of his three pit stops in the stint, building a lead of more than 27 seconds by the time he turned the No. 66 over to Joey Hand. Bourdais, Hand and Dirk Mueller are attempting to follow up their landmark class win in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans by capturing GTLM honors in the Rolex 24.

Dixon stepped into the Ganassi No. 67 Ford GT for the first time in the race at 7 p.m. Saturday, driving an hour in dry conditions and then nearly two hours in the wet. The No. 67 was also running with the GTLM leaders until Ryan Briscoe spun and made contact with a barrier at 1:30 a.m. today, knocking off the rear wing. A trip to the garage for a new wing dropped the car out of contention as the 55th annual Rolex 24 reached its midpoint at 2:30 a.m.

“It’s definitely tricky conditions,” said Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion for Ganassi. “When it’s nighttime and it’s got that light drizzle, it’s really hard to read the track.”

Kanaan, though, was all smiles when he finished his stint, despite the treacherous conditions.

“A lot of fun,” the 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champ and 2013 Indy 500 winner said. “It’s slippery, very slippery. The car is fun to drive, we had a blast. I’m enjoying it a lot. I took (over) the car in seventh place and we went all the way back to first, so it was a good triple stint.”

Meanwhile, in the GT Daytona class, Rahal and Hunter-Reay each logged nearly identical stints of about two hours in their Acura NSX GT3s that had their cars in first and third, respectively, when they were relieved.

Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay“It was great,” said Rahal, co-driving the No. 93 Acura. “It was fun to take the lead there in GTD and run a bit in the rain. The car is phenomenal in the rain so I hope it stays wet. It’s running good and, knock on wood, it’ll just keep going.”

Hunter-Reay was just as upbeat after bringing the No. 86 Acura into contention.

“It went really well,” Hunter-Reay said. “On the stop (to let him get in to drive), we had to take some precautionary measures. (Co-driver) Tom Dyer had contact in the previous stint so we fell back to eighth and I made it back up to second right there before I came to pit, so it was a really good stint to pick up six positions.

“I had my work cut out for me. At the end there, I wanted to come play with Graham and Colin Braun (in a Porsche). I was catching them but ran out of time.”

The overall lead at the halfway mark continued to mostly be a battle between two Cadillac DPi cars in the Prototype category – the No. 10 Konica Minolta entry from Wayne Taylor Racing and the No. 5 Mustang Sampling car from Action Express. The No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Multimatic/Riley LMP2 car snuck into the mix as well.

The No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi was a leading contender until driver Brendon Hartley had contact with a slower GT Daytona car at about 12:30 a.m., damaging the Nissan extensively.

The No. 55 Mazda Motorsports DPi, with Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot among the drivers, was running sixth overall and in class at the 2:30 a.m. halfway point, six laps off the pace. The sister No. 70 Mazda DPi, saddled with gearbox issues, was parked in the garage for hours undergoing repairs and was more than 180 laps off the pace when it returned after 2 a.m.

In the lame-duck Prototype Challenge class with just five entries, Mazda Road to Indy drivers Pato O’Ward and James French helped the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry continue its domination with a class lead of more than four laps.

The opening race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship concludes at 2:30 p.m. ET today. Live coverage is available until 1 p.m. on FS2, with FS1 airing the finish from 1-3 p.m.

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