Wright elated by first Rolex 24 win, redemption for Hardwick

Reigning IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup champions Wright Motorsports led 258 of 761 laps to capture its first Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona victory.

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Team stalwart and former Champ Car racer Jan Heylen saw the #16 Porsche 911 GT3R’s lead out to 57sec with two hours to go until the penultimate caution period compressed the field and allowed Nicklas Nielsen in the AF Corse Ferrari 488 to close up. But on the subsequent restart and the final restart, Heylen was able to drive the 1st Phorm Porsche well clear of the opposition, sitting in the slipstream of the dueling GTD Pro 911s. His pace advantage over his rivals was exacerbated by a drive-through penalty for Nielsen for passing under yellow flags, leaving Magnus Racing’s Aston Martin in second place. Heylen was able to drive home to victory in the 911 he shares with Ryan Hardwick and Porsche experts Zach Robichon and Richard Lietz.

Hardwick, who last year missed the Rolex 24 after a heavy accident in the Michelin Pilot Challenge, said: “What a day. What an experience. For me personally, from being in a hospital room across the street a year ago watching this race, to coming back one year later with my same team and winning this historic race… this will forever be the most special moment of my life.

“I can’t thank enough John Wright and Bobby Viglione, our engineer, for their leadership and guidance of our team. They never lost their belief in me. They believe in me 100 percent and I believe in them and this team. This was something I knew we could do but it is hard to put into words having done it.

“I want to thank 1st Phorm. Without all of their help and support, it simply wouldn’t be possible. And also my great teammates. Unbelievable driving, especially through the night and here at the end of the race by Jan, Zach, and also Richie…

“I couldn’t be more blessed to be surrounded by such great people. I couldn’t imagine any other group I would want to share this experience with.

Heylen expressed similar enthusiasm, commenting: “We wouldn’t be able to do this without Ryan and 1st Phorm so big thank you to them and to Porsche for putting out a good product.

“I couldn’t be happier. It was a good way to end the season at Atlanta and a good way to start the new season here. I am looking forward to Sebring.”

Team newcomers Robichon and Lietz said they were impressed with the Wright operation. Robichon, who came from Pfaff Motorsports (who won the GTD Pro class) said: “From the beginning, the Wright Motorsports team did a fantastic job. The race was insane. With 61-cars, the battle was crazy from the beginning. It was about surviving and making the right decisions.

“Every driver was quick and smart. The car is mostly unscathed and that is all you can ask for in this race. To be honest, I can’t even put into words how I am feeling right now.”

And Lietz added: “Thank you to the team. This is the first time we have worked together, and I think everyone felt very comfortable from the beginning. It has felt like home, and it was a lot of fun for 24-hours.

“Of course, to win it and get the watch is something you cannot plan. A 24-hour race here in America is quite crazy; the best drivers in the world with the best brands fighting for this watch and we were the lucky ones. I am very happy.”

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