RSR Racing unleashes race-winning pace in round-the-clock classicMenezes hails 'amazing' experience despite late retirementCalifornia native eager to return to snare Rolex winners' watch
Gustavo Menezes underscored his sportscar racing credentials with a starring role in the 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona last weekend, and if victory ultimately eluded the gifted young American, he has nonetheless vowed to return to continue his quest for a winners’ watch.Participating in the legendary round-the-clock classic for the second time with Rocketsports Racing (RSR), Menezes partnered team-mates Jack Hawksworth, Bruno Junqueira and Chris Cumming in the Michigan-based outfit’s Oreca FLM09 Chevrolet Prototype Challenge (PC) class contender.The quartet proved to be right on the money throughout practice – comfortably pacing the night-time session – and, confident in their long-distance potential, adopted a strategic approach to qualifying. With the focus very much on the long game – the race – they lined up seventh in-class and 26th overall amongst the 53 competitors for the 2015 Tudor United SportsCar Championship curtain-raiser at Daytona International Speedway.When the green flag dropped, seasoned sportscar racer Cumming immediately set about making up places – advancing to fifth in-class within the first half-hour and snatching the PC lead two hours later as the RSR car infiltrated the overall top ten. Menezes’ WH Sports Group stable-mate Junqueira maintained that progression when he took over at the helm, but misfortune lay just around the corner as a serious water pump issue halted his charge.Notwithstanding a stellar job by the RSR pit crew to rectify the situation, more than 50 laps were lost relative to the opposition – setting the scene for an electrifying fightback as the #11 entry consistently lit up the timing screens throughout the night.Thanks to the stirring efforts of Menezes – who drove for three hours under the Florida floodlights and was entrusted with the spectacular sunrise stint – and his three comrades, the car recovered 12 laps before it was forced out for good by a recurrence of the water pump woes with just under four hours remaining.Despite the late heartache, the 20-year-old Californian – a former winner of the coveted Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award – reflected that it had been an incredible experience to compete in such an iconic race around a circuit that is a veritable pantheon in the motorsport world.“We knew we had good pace and a strong car underneath us for the race – and we were optimistic that our strategy would pay off in the long run,” he mused. “Chris fought his way through into the class lead during his opening stint, and he had pulled almost 20 seconds clear of our closest pursuer before pitting to hand over to Bruno, who then extended that advantage. We were pacing ourselves and looked to have everything well under control – and then we had the water pump problem...“It just goes to show that in a 24-hour race, you can never take anything for granted, but we refused to give in and all the boys in the team did an amazing job to get the car fixed and back out on-track. It was a case of all hands on deck, and despite the engine being extremely hot, they didn’t hesitate and in less than 80 minutes and under a lot of pressure, they effectively split the car in half and changed the water pump.“After that, we focussed on completing long triple stints to minimise the number of driver changes and pit-stop time in an effort to make up as much ground as possible. The Continental tyres held up really well, and all of us played a part in clawing our way back through the order – we seriously went on the attack and were amongst the quickest in the field. I only got an hour’s sleep during the night, which was an hour more than most of the RSR guys got – they really did do a hell of a job!“I was put in the car for what’s known as the ‘Happy Hour’ stint just after 6am on Sunday, and it was such a cool experience to be driving Daytona with the sun coming up. Of course it was gut-wrenching not to finish in the end, as we clearly had the team, car and drivers to win our class – but in these races you need luck, too, and that unfortunately wasn’t on our side.“Despite the early bath, I certainly came away from the weekend with a lot more experience of 24-hour racing under my belt and it’s always special to compete at Daytona – it’s one of the great American races that, over time, has evolved into a real international event.“Hopefully RSR will invite me back again for some more endurance races when my single-seater schedule allows – and it would be nice to get another crack at the Rolex 24 next year and try to make it third time lucky, because I still really want one of those winners’ watches...”Menezes will now revert his attentions to preparing for his forthcoming FIA Formula 3 European Championship campaign with Carlin.