Lance Stroll recorded an impressive fifth place in the Rolex 24 At Daytona that finished in Florida today (31 Jan) to become one of the youngest highest-placed drivers in North America’s toughest sports car race. Stroll along with co-drivers Brendon Hartley (NZ), Andy Priaulx (GB) and Alex Wurz (A), brought their Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Claritin/Target Ford EcoBoost Prototype home 11-laps behind the winning car staged at the Daytona International Speedway.
A top-three finish had looked a distinct possibility until a temperature related problem with five hours remaining when placed fourth on the lead lap and then a gearbox issue with less than two hours to run, cost the Ford three and nine laps respectively for repairs.
For Stroll, a member of the Williams Martini Racing Young Driver Development Programme, the 54th running of the twice-around-the-clock world-famous event, nevertheless marked a notable sports car race debut and maiden 24 hour race performance. Seventeen-year-old Stroll, the youngest competitor in the top Prototype class and second youngest in the entire 54-car field, is aiming to fulfill his dream of racing in Formula One and competes for a second year in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship an established feeder in to Grand Prix racing.
The Canadian teenager had only driven the Ford for the first time and completed his maiden laps around the 3.56-mile DIS earlier this month (8-10 Jan). Lance completed three outstanding separate stints behind the wheel this weekend totalling almost seven hours driving time the equivalent of him contesting 14 of his regular 30mins F3 races but in a single day!
The Stroll/Hartley/Priaulx/Wurz Ford had begun the race on Saturday afternoon (2.40pm) from fifth place on the 54-car grid courtesy of a fine effort by Wurz in difficult wet conditions in qualifying on Thursday evening. Lance took over the wheel from the Austrian 1hr 17mins in to the race. Stroll quickly grew in confidence and handed the Ford over to Hartley placed fourth the Kiwi forging in to the top-three before leading briefly just before the five hour mark.
Lance was back in the sixth-placed Ford at 2.26am on Sunday morning following stints by Priaulx and Wurz 14secs behind the leader while shortly after 4am, Stroll personally led the historic race for the first time before making a scheduled pit-stop to mark a fantastic debut. The Montreal-born youngster, having handed over the Ford EcoBoost to Hartley placed fourth at 4.41am, returned to the cockpit for the final time with four hours to run placed fifth, following further stints by Priaulx and Wurz, but critically now three laps down following its time-costly garage visit 100mins earlier.
Stroll was driving superbly and had incredibly, considering his lack of sports car experience, taken a lap back off the leading car, but was forced to make two unscheduled pit-stops with a gearbox gremlin resulting in the Claritin/Target Ford EcoBoost Prototype dropping another place to fifth. The twice-around-the-clock race that ran in dry weather conditions throughout, saw over 20 yellow full course caution periods for on-track incidents Lance creditably steering clear of any trouble.
Stroll’s next race will be the opening round of the 2016 Euro F3 Series at Paul Ricard, France, on 2 April. He competes for Prema Powerteam, for a third consecutive year, having achieved 17 top-six overall race finishes in his maiden F3 season last year.
Hourly positions: Starts: 5th. Hr1: 9th. Hr2: 9th. Hr3: 7th. Hr4: 4th. Hr5: 4th. Hr6: 3rd. Hr7: 4th. Hr8: 7th. Hr9: 6th. Hr10: 5th. Hr11: 5th. Hr12: 6th. Hr13: 3rd. Hr14: 5th. Hr15: 3rd. Hr16: 4th. Hr17: 4th. Hr18: 6th. Hr19: 5th. Hr20: 5th. Hr21: 4th. Hr22: 4th. Hr23: 5th. Hr24: 5th.
I really enjoyed myself this weekend and it was a great experience. I was in the zone for each of my stints and it was fun overtaking so many cars which required full concentration. Our two setbacks were unfortunate because we had great pace. After the garage visit it was a case of hoping that we’d get lucky and get the three laps back with some yellow periods but we didn’t quite manage it. During my last stint I overtook the race leader and pulled away. We’d pulled a lap back and were coming back until the gearbox issue. I managed to get a few hours sleep. It was tiring but the adrenaline kicked in to keep me focussed. I really enjoyed the whole Daytona experience this week I’d like to do it again sometime in the future. It’s been a unique experience for me and has kept me sharp. Dealing with traffic, I guess, was the biggest challenge, taking advantage and maximizing the lap time when overtaking. My thanks go to Chip and everyone at Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and my co-drivers. Now my focus returns to F3, I arrive back in Europe tomorrow [Sun 1 Feb] and will be preparing 100% for the upcoming season with Prema Powerteam.