Block and Lewis win Daytona IMSA opener as Wickens claims maiden podium

Roy Block and Tim Lewis Jr claimed victory in the opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race of the season at the Daytona International Raceway in Florida, as Robert Wickens claimed a podium finish on his return to racing.

Block and Lewis had started the race from third on the grid in their KMW Motorsports Alfa Romeo, but Lewis was quickly into the lead at the start after getting by pole-sitter Tyler Maxson’s Hyundai Elantra.

Block also gained a place at the very start when AJ Muss brought his Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai into the pits at the end of the first lap, having started from second, after his car caught fire before a lap was completed.

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After two laps, the JDC-Miller MotorSports Audi of Chris Miller took the lead, but disaster struck after 22 laps, when the RS3 was running in third, as the Audi coasted to a standstill on circuit with a loss of drive.

A full-course yellow followed, as Miller had to be recovered from the circuit, with Lewis re-assuming the lead.

At the half-way stage of the race, the Michael Johnson Racing Hyundai had emerged in the lead, but was handed a penalty for running the pit exit red light on their final pitstop, earning them a 60-second penalty and dropping them out of contention.

That handed the advantage back to Block and Lewis, and in the final stage of the race it was a cruise home to a first Daytona win for the duo.

“This is my seventh year in IMSA, and for six years I’ve had my heart broken at this track, my home track, because I live in Orlando,” said Block.

“What a result, what a team effort. Tim was just a Swiss army knife watch. He just kept turning out the laps. This field is good top to bottom.”

“Some of the cars I was running with at the beginning had mechanical issues,” added Lewis. “I was hoping we’d have a seat at the table at the end.

“It was a total team effort. We drove flawlessly, our pit stops were flawless, our strategy was flawless.”

Defending champions Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler claimed second in the best of the BHA Hyundais.

One of the biggest stories of the day was the podium for Robert Wickens in his first-ever race start in the category. Wickens, along with co-driver Mark Wilkins, had started from seventh and showed strong pace in the race, including leading on two occasions.

Wickens drove the first stint for the first hour and a half, before handing over to Wilkins, who simply had to flick a switch to change from the hand controls used by his compatriot to the traditional foot pedals he would use.

In the final ten minutes, Wilkins sealed the podium with a solid pass on the Audi of Tristan Herbert, who had put in an impressive effort in his New German Performance Audi.

Herbert and co-driver William Tally ultimately claimed fourth, ahead of the sole Hyundai Veloster in the field of Rory van der Steur and Tyler Gonzalez in fifth, the only other car on the lead lap.

After their pit exit red light penalty, Stephen Simpson and Michael Johnson were classified in sixth, a lap down, ahead of the Audi of Eric and Alex Rockwell in seventh.

Gino Manley, Patrick and Andy Wilmot brought their AOA Racing Audi home in eighth, whilst pole-sitters Tyler Maxson and Mason Filippi were ninth, having suffered from an issue mid-race which dropped them several laps down, ultimately finishing ten laps off the winner in the four-hour race.

The next IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge round takes place at Sebring International Raceway on 19 March.

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