A catastrophic engine failure ended CORE autosport’s quest for a second victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona less than six hours into the endurance classic that kicks off the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The team saw little track time leading up to the 24-hour enduro thanks to steady rain that soaked the track on Thursday. In an effort to avoid damaging the car, the team ran just a few laps in the day’s practice sessions and did not run in qualifying. Having skipped qualifying, the team was required to start at the back of the prototype category on Saturday.
Jon Bennett opened the race in the No. 54 Composite Resources/Flex Box ORECA FLM09 from eighth in the Prototype Challenge class. Bennett battled through the opening chaos and climbed two spots before handing the car off to co-driver Mark Wilkins nearly two and a half hours into the race.
Wilkins had a brilliant stint and some of the fastest PC laps on the track at the time. He capitalized on the third full-course caution of the race and used the wave-by to catch up to the lead lap. Wilkins pounced with several quick passes and was up to first by the four and a half hour mark.
Wilkins was working to extend his lead when a massive vibration jolted the car in Daytona International Speedway’s banked Turn 4. Wilkins was able to pull the car immediately into the pits. The No. 54 was taken behind the wall, but soon retired when it was discovered that the engine damage was irreparable. The team had completed just five and a half hours of the race.
The damage prevented co-drivers Colin Braun and Martin Plowman from turning a lap in the race. The team was also unable to complete the minimum drive times for Bennett and Wilkins and was therefore limited to one point in the championship race.
CORE is already focused on avenging this Daytona disappointment at the MOBIL 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh From Florida, March 17 – 19.
“We were smart with the weather early in the week, and we had a clever race strategy. It was a disappointing ending to a successful week and race start. There were some new elements at our team. We had new driver, Martin Plowman, and of course, Mark Wilkins is well known to our team. It was one of the first real races with Jeff Braun doing the engineering and managing our effort. The race was really going to script, and unfortunately, we had an engine failure beyond our control. We’ll just pick up the pieces, build the new car and head to Sebring to continue the championship. I’m proud of the guys, and I’m confident in our approach. We’re definitely looking to better events ahead and a successful season.”
– JON BENNETT
“Overall, the weekend was pretty disappointing. The weather prevented us from running very much, and then obviously, the ending wasn’t what we were hoping for. Jon did a great job starting off in the car, and Mark had a pretty healthy lead in the race. Then we had catastrophic engine failure. There wasn’t any warning. With the spec class, spec engine manufacturer, spec engine builder, you hope they put these together at a level where they’re able to run and run. The CORE guys did a great job prepping the car. It’s a disappointing way to finish, but there’s not much we can do beyond that.”
– COLIN BRAUN
“Jon did an awesome job in his first run. Jeff Braun was making us do a lot of work all at once, which I think was a brilliant strategy. Jon did a rock-solid job and gave me the car perfectly clean. I knew my job was to get back on the lead lap and back in the fold. I didn’t really expect that we’d get all the way in the lead and then pull away.
The CORE autosport guys do such an amazing job, I’m gutted for them. They spend so many hours working in the shop to get the car this great. It’s a hard one, and it just goes to prove how hard this race really is to win. We didn’t get any warning. Everything was running fairly strong. Sixth gear just let go of the engine. It picked up a gigantic vibration, and I knew we had a problem so I brought into the pits. We’ll be back for Sebring stronger than ever and ready to makeup some points.”
“It’s heartbreaking for the whole team. They’ve put so much into this race. I feel sorry for the guys because I truly feel this was our race to lose. The setup and strategy were a winning combination. Racing is cruel, but we’ll just focus on the next one. I want to thank Jon and the team for having me aboard this race. They’re deadly serious with their racing but really fun at the same time. The whole culture – there’s such a winning mentality. The team chemistry is amazing.”
– MARTIN PLOWMAN