PUBLISHED 01/02/2021
TAGS Daytona, Rolex 24, Rolex 24, Charlie Eastwood, Richard Westbrook, Maxwell Root, Ben Keating, Aston Martin New GT3

TF Sport claimed seventh in the GTD class at the 59th Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in Florida, USA, last week. It was looking certain that the team’s IMSA debut would yield a higher result, however avoidable contact from the #64 Team TGM Porsche, whilst Ben Keating was aboard the Aston Martin Vantage, resulted in performance-altering damage and left the drivers to maximise the potential of the stricken GT3.

Double-duty driver Keating shared the #97 with American youngster Maxwell Root, 2020 Le Mans GTE Am champion Charlie Eastwood and previous Rolex 24 victor, Richard Westbrook.

The ‘Roar before the 24’, which took place the week leading up to the ‘twice around the clock’ event, was a huge learning curve for the British-based team. Despite having raced and won in America, in the World Endurance Championship, the rules and regulations of IMSA’s season-opener are vastly different. The team swiftly got up to speed, however a technicality with a pass-around during the Rolex 24’s qualifying race, left the #97 lining in P13.

Young-charger Maxwell took the start of the Rolex 24 and did a superb job in avoiding start-line scuffle and a spinning Porsche as the lights turned green. Despite this causing him to lose some ground, Root drove a solid triple stint before handing over to Eastwood.

A highlight for the crew was during the second FCY (full course yellow) procedure, where a strategically timed call to the box saw #97 jump 11 places up the order. From then on, the TF Vantage consistently ran towards the front of the field.

During the fourth hour, Irish pro Charlie carved his way through the GTD pack and after an impressive move around the outside of the #57 Mercedes, took the class lead. Some contact from the rear meant this lead was cut short, yet Eastwood pushed on as the race went into the night, before handing over to Richard.

Despite having just dominated the LMP2 field, Keating took the GT3 over from a double-stinting Westbrook and immediately began posting some very impressive lap times. The American Am shared the stint honours with Charlie until the sun rose around Daytona.

With around six hours of the race remaining, Keating was hit by the #64 Porsche, sending him into a spin and had to box early for damage repairs. Unfortunately, the chance to push for a win was taken away, and all the drivers could do was get the Vantage to the flag, whilst losing as little ground as possible. Eastwood brought #97 over the line in seventh position.

To finish a 24-hour race is a challenge in itself, but to finish within the top-10 of the largest, most competitive class, is testament to the incredible effort put in by the team and drivers.

A return to Daytona in 2022 is certainly a consideration and TF Sport will be looking to add to their 24 hour victory list.

The team now switch their focus to the Asian Le Mans Series in Dubai, February 4-6 and Abu Dhabi February 13-14.

Tom Ferrier, Team Owner - “We were under no illusion at just how hard this race was going to be. We came for the win, as we always do, and that was taken out of our hands. The drivers all did a great job and as per usual, the crew were faultless. We’ll certainly be back to aim for another 24-hour victory!”

Ben Keating, Bronze Driver - "What a race! TF Sport did an amazing job for their first ever IMSA race and their first ever Rolex 24 at Daytona. Preparing for this race is just a little different with the IMSA rules and the set up for the high-banks of the speedway. I was super impressed with how the team managed everything. To finish seventh in the ultra-competitive GTD class is a strong statement. Our Aston Martin GT3 ran flawlessly. The team of drivers were great, and I am ready to go again right now! I think we all have a lot to learn from the experience and would perform even better next time.”

Maxwell Root, Silver Driver - “Very happy to have had the opportunity to work with a class-act team like TF Sport. It’s a unanimous reaction that we are disappointed with the outcome of the 24 this year. Having much more in all of us. Yet, with some unavoidable contact, made for a seventh place finish. Thank you to my co- drivers Westy, Charlie, and Ben!”

Charlie Eastwood, Gold Driver - “Difficult race for us in the end and not the result anybody wanted because we went in to win! It was always going to be a tough one, but with some heavy damage with around six hours to go, we lost some performance in the car and weren’t able to push for the win in the closing stages. All in all, we had the least pit stops of anyone and it looked like we were one of the only teams without a penalty in the whole 24 hours, and with all the new regulations that are very different to Europe and WEC (World Endurance Championship), there’s a lot of positives to take from it. Hopefully if we get the chance to do it again next year, we’ll be much closer to the front at the end!”

Richard Westbrook, Platinum Driver - “P7 is probably a bit disappointing because we were expecting to be fighting at the top by the end of the race. Unfortunately Ben got wiped out by a Porsche which put us a lap back and after that, the safety car never fell at the right time to get back on the lead lap. Still, it was a great IMSA debut for TF and I was really proud to be part of the line up.”