Rolex 24 at Daytona — one of the most famous races in the world held in Florida (USA) — came to an end. For the first time in its history the Russian SMP Racing team lined up on its starting line. The team entered Ferrari 458 Italia in GTD (GT Daytona) category in cooperation with the American ESM Racing. The crew of the car no. 72 included Mikhail Aleshin, Mika Salo, Maurizio Mediani, Sergey Zlobin, and Boris Rotenberg.
The team had seventh starting position in its class. Technical problems with the gearbox, which emerged during the qualifying, kept the crew from getting even higher. The Finnish pilot Mika Salo was behind the wheel of Ferrari during the first stage of the race. He had a good start and was passing one rival after another. He was fourth after the first half an hour of the race and was already leading in GTD category by the end of the hour.
After almost three hours of the race, it was interrupted by red flags due to a serious accident with Memo Gidley (GAINSCO/Bob Stallings) and Matteo Malucelli (Risi Competizione) involved. The break lasted for almost an hour and after that the race was resumed.
After the red flags SMP Racing team continued struggling for the leading position in its class but technical circumstances stepped in again — diffuser was damaged and problems with brake cooling came out forcing the team to change brake disks and shoes twice along the distance. This all resulted in rolling back to the end of top ten list.
After that the car under the Russian flag started getting back its position. It was more difficult to get in the lead on this stage of the race as the density of cars on the track was lower and the drivers had already found their pace. Besides, the crew received a few disputable stop-and-go penalties, but nevertheless, the team continued winning back positions.
Mikhail Aleshin, the pilot who managed to set the best team time of this race during the night time — 1:47.517, was behind the wheel on the last distance stage. The Russian driver was the fourth to cross the finish line but after the race the Level 5 team was penalised for an incident which happened during the final lap and lost a few positions taking SMP Racing team to the podium of the prestigious endurance race Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Mikhail Aleshin: “We have already worked in one team together with our crew partners and we are familiar with the car that is why we did not need any time to tune up and set off to an active track study straight away. The qualifying stage was not ideal — some technical problems with the gearbox came out when Mika was behind the wheel resulting in a lower starting position than we were expecting. However, we were not that far behind our competitors and the struggle was still ahead. We had a rather good start but had to roll back due to some technical problems which emerged during the night time. There was nothing else for us to do but win back positions and forge ahead. It’s a pleasure to show good results at start of the new season with SMP Racing!”
Sergey Zlobin: “At Daytona we were almost equal with the factory team but technical problems kept us from showing better results. First the gearbox was playing up during the qualifying, then during the race we were left without the diffuser and brake cooling forcing us to have unplanned pit-stops. We received three stop-and-go penalties which I find rather unfair. Also there were a few collisions. The fact that we managed to take the third place with all our technical problems, penalties and accidents speaks volumes. If not for all those circumstances, I’m sure we would have secured victory”.
Boris Rotenberg: “It was not an easy Daytona week-end for our team. Technical problems got involved both during the qualifying and the race itself. But we managed to find a fast and effective solution of all these problems and this fact really tells a lot about the high level of qualification of SMP Racing. I would like to thank the team for its work during the past week-end. Luckily, fortune favours me so far and if I take part in a race our team constantly gets to the podium! I hope it will set the stage for achieving great results in 2014”.