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The Latest: Team Penske out front 8 hours into Rolex 24

January 27, 2019

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on the Rolex 24 at Daytona (all times local):

11 p.m.

Roger Penske’s cars were running first and second a third of the way through the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Penske has a pair of Acura’s in the endurance race and both have run at the front of the field over the first eight hours of the event. Juan Pablo Montoya was credited with the lead at the mark.

Penske has promised to stay away for both trips around the clock as he supports his sports car program. The team owner will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next Friday night and turns 82 next month. His stamina and commitment to his race cars awed his drivers.

The race for the overall victory shrunk seven hours into the event when the No. 77 Mazda DPi caught fire because of a fuel leak. The car had started on the pole and broke a 26-year-old Daytona International Speedway qualifying record before its race came to a sudden halt. Minutes earlier, its sister car had the same problem but Team Joest was able to repair the damage and send the car back on track.

DragonSpeed had the lead in LMP2 class eight hours into the race, while the Ferrari from Risi Competizione led the GT Le Mans class.

Riley Motorsports led the GT Daytona class in a Mercedes-AMG GT3.

The team Alex Zanardi is driving for was still climbing back from the six-lap deficit the team fell into when Zanardi’s steering wheel caused an electrical problem with the BMW.

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9:20 p.m.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona went up in flames for Mazda Team Joest in mere minutes. Both of its cars caught fire in a 10-minute span because of fuel leaks.

Olivier Pla had taken his Mazda DPi to the garage with a fuel leak not long after the six-hour mark of the endurance race. As Team Joest was working on that car, its second entry caught fire on the track.

Timo Bernhard was driving when flames began to shoot from the back of the Mazda. That entry had broken a 26-year-old Daytona International Speedway record to qualify on the pole for the twice-round-the-clock event.

The entry had to be towed back to pit lane and both Team Joest entries dropped to the bottom of the class running order.

Bernhard said it was a fuel leak, same as the sister car.

Reliability for the Mazda’s had been questioned by others in the field before the race began because the cars were so strong in testing earlier this month. Mazda continued to show steady speed in the days leading into the race, but some wondered if the cars could last the entire race.

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8 p.m.

Fernando Alonso had no intention of staying awake for the entire Rolex 24 at Daytona. He didn’t even plan to really watch it, either.

Alonso put Wayne Taylor Racing into the lead in the twice-round-the-clock endurance race, then said he had a long nap in his future. He was the second driver in the Taylor lineup and passed Helio Castroneves to put the Cadillac at the front of the field.

Over nearly three hours of driving, the Spaniard built a lead of nearly 15 seconds.

Asked how his triple stint was, Alonso simply stated: “It was OK.”

He said he would shower, eat dinner and then sleep but wouldn’t turn the race on television because it would interfere as he attempts to conserve energy.

Alonso is in the Rolex for the second consecutive season and this race is kicking off his post-Formula One career. The two-time F1 champion retired in November and is racing only in events that bring him joy.

He will return to the Indianapolis 500 in May.

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5:35 p.m.

The steering wheel designed by BMW for Alex Zanardi to drive without his prosthetic legs has created problems for the Bobby Rahal-owned team.

Zanardi had a difficult time getting the wheel locked into place when he began his stint in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the backup steering wheel also had difficulties. Zanardi said after his stint it was a connection issue that has stymied BMW after a year of working on this project.

When Zanardi turned the car over to teammate Jesse Krohn the BMW stalled exiting pit road and IMSA threw a caution. Krohn had to take the car to the garage for repairs, which Zanardi watched from a closed-circuit television. The car got back on track but Zanardi was unsure if he will be able to drive again in the race if the steering wheel is not working.

The wheel controls the accelerator, brakes, throttle and everything Zanardi needs to compete.

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5:10 p.m.

The defending champion team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona has gone to the garage with damage to its Cadillac.

Action Express Racing won the endurance race last year and was trying to win a second title at Daytona International Speedway in the final race of Christian Fittipaldi’s career. The Brazilian is a three-time Rolex winner and picked this event to conclude his time as a driver.

Fittipaldi was driving when he spun off course in the horseshoe. He brought the car to pit road and it was then pushed to the garage.

The team is already down a driver because Mike Conway had travel issues that kept him in England and forced Action Express to go with only three drivers. The lineup of Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque won the race last year.

The Chip Ganassi Racing entry that won the GT Le Mans class last season also had an early issue when Ryan Briscoe went off course on cold tires. The Ford GT had to go to the garage to replace the nose, wing and right rear toe link. The car went down three laps.

Corvette Racing also had an early setback when its two cars ran into each other on pit road.

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4 p.m.

Alex Zanardi’s first stint in the Rolex 24 at Daytona had a brief hiccup when his steering wheel didn’t lock into place when he got into the BMW.

Zanardi is racing for the first time without his prosthetics and for the first time in North America since the 2001 crash that severed both his legs. BMW designed a steering wheel that allows him to do everything with his hands, and the wheel is specific for the Italian.

When he climbed in for the driver change roughly 90 minutes into the race, the wheel didn’t snap into place and Zanardi frantically waved for assistance. A crew member leaned into the cockpit, removed the wheel and placed a second one in the car.

The second wheel also needed a strong push to get into place and Zanardi was finally able to race. BMW has him second in its rotation of four drivers.

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2 p.m.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona has started with a heavyweight lineup that includes beloved champion Alex Zanardi in a field full of superstars.

The two-time CART champion and former Formula One driver is racing in North America for the first time since both legs were severed in a 2001 crash in Germany. BMW designed a steering wheel that allows Zanardi to race without his prosthetics using levers to brake, accelerate, shift and adjust the fuel parameters in the engine.

The Bobby Rahal-owned team didn’t reveal its driver rotation before the start of Saturday’s race but Zanardi was expected to get in the car at the first driver change. The team has choreographed the stops to roughly 15 seconds and that includes swapping the steering wheel for his teammates.

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