Daytona Beach, Fla. — Level 5 Motorsports has etched itself into the Daytona and sportscar racing history books, having claimed a deserving victory for Ferrari in the 52nd annual Rolex 24 at Daytona, the opening round of the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
In the team’s debut race for its new Ferrari customer program, just weeks after receiving the cars, drivers Scott Tucker, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal and Alessandro Pier Guidi took the No. 555 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 to the win in the highly competitive GT Daytona (GTD) class, which was stacked with a 29-car starting field.
The black and silver-colored Ferrari led for the majority of the around-the-clock endurance race but a series of questionable late-race yellows brought the competition closer together for the run to the checkered flag. A final restart with less than 10 minutes remaining put the contending No. 45 Flying Lizard Audi directly in Pier Guidi’s rear-view mirror, with the Ferrari GT ace enjoying a clean battle in the closing laps.
While Pier Guidi took the checkered flag in first, 1.3 seconds ahead of the Audi, in a telling move by IMSA, the sanctioning body of the new series, the No. 555 Level 5 entry was assessed a stop-and-hold plus 75-second penalty for what was initially deemed avoidable contact. However, the penalty was rescinded by IMSA nearly four hours after post-race ceremonies, awarding the win to Level 5.
“It’s bittersweet that we weren’t part of the podium ceremony, but IMSA took a look at what actually happened, which was incredible racing in the last five minutes of this race,” said Sweedler. “Alessandro not only drove an incredibly clean race but didn’t give up, and frankly that’s what I believe IMSA and the TUDOR United SportsCar series is going to be all about as we move forward. I’m also really glad to share the win with these guys and to be part of Scott’s 101st win.”
Ten-time national driving champion Tucker reaching significant milestones this weekend by earning his 100th and 101st career victories, the first coming in his return to the North American Ferrari Challenge Series on Friday. The Level 5 team owner was a part of the No. 555 car’s winning Rolex 24 lineup, while also driving the team’s No. 556 Ferrari of Mike LaMarra, Terry Borcheller, Guy Cosmo and Milo Valverde, which finished sixth.
It was the first Rolex 24 victory for all five drivers and the Madison, Wis.-based organization, which now has wins in all of the major North American endurance races, including four consecutive triumphs in both the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans.
“The Rolex 24 meant everything to me as an American growing up racing sportscars,” said Segal. “It’s the most prestigious race and to just compete here is a privilege. To win this race with a team like Level 5 and the driver lineup that we have here, and for a manufacturer like Ferrari, celebrating their 60th year in North America, it’s incredible. It was a phenomenal race that was incredibly competitive. I think of the more or less 30 cars in the class, 20 of them were favorites for the race. To come away with a win in that type of competitive environment is just unbelievable. So I’m really, really happy about that.”
Pier Guidi proved to be one of the stars of this year’s race, with the former 24 Hours of Spa winner now adding a Rolex watch to his collection of endurance racing success. “It was a really exciting two last laps of the race,” he said. “After 24 hours we were so tired, but we never gave up. Now I am here finally, and I am so happy and proud to have won the 24 Hours at Daytona.”
For Bell and Sweedler, who won Sebring in their debut as teammates in 2012, the Daytona victory has put the duo in the early lead of the TUDOR Championship.
“It’s been such a roller coaster,” said Bell. I’ve never done a 24‑hour race before and I didn’t realize how much really goes into it. It’s quite spectacular. It was an unbelievable finish and to hear from so many people after the race, like Mario Andretti, Dario Franchitti and Dan Gurney, and to hear from people on Twitter or texts or phone calls, as race fans watching great racing. I’m proud for IMSA and everything we’re trying to do with this new series that great racing wins the day.
The comments and congratulation poured in from around the world, including from the Chairman of Ferrari S.p.A Luca di Montezemolo, who reached out to team owner Scott Tucker directly: “I wish to congratulate you on the victory conquered in the GTD category at the 24h of Daytona! This great result is the good reward for you as a driver but also for the good job of your Team Level 5. I hope that this season will continue to bring you real gratifications,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed from Ferrari North America.
“Beginning the 60th anniversary of Ferrari North America with a win at the historic Rolex 24 at Daytona is simply incredible,” said Marco Mattiacci, President and CEO of Ferrari North America. “My congratulations go out to Scott Tucker and the Level 5 Motorsports team for their victory at Daytona.”
IMSA’s actions in the race’s final minutes sparked a virtual firestorm on Facebook and Twitter as well, driving interest in the event to an all-time high. At the conclusion of the race, Level 5 and Flying Lizard teams congratulated and thanked each other for what many are saying was one of the most exciting finishes in the history of the Rolex 24. Level 5 posted a message “#allabouttheracing, signaling that despite the regrettable chaos caused by the initial decision, Scott Tucker and the team appreciated the spirit of competition.
“The thing that can’t be undone is the team losing the experience of the victory and the drivers getting the accolades and receiving the trophies and watches, and everything that goes with Daytona,” said Level 5 team manager David Stone. “We are just happy with the quality of racing between the top teams. Bringing home this win for Ferrari is special.”