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IMSA Daytona 24 Hours

Beating Pro cars at Daytona "cherry on the cake" for GTD-winning Aston team

Beating the GTD Pro entries en-route to winning the Daytona 24 Hours GTD class was "an extra cherry on the cake" for Heart of Racing Aston Martin driver Ian James.

#27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3: Roman De Angelis, Marco Sorensen, Ian James, Darren Turner

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Aston Martin factory drivers Marco Sorensen and Darren Turner were joined by Bronze-rated team principal James and Canada's Roman de Angelis to secure victory in the 23-car GTD class on Sunday's IMSA SportsCar Championship season opener, enjoying a virtually clean race barring a brief power reset in the morning hours.

They led a 1-2 for the British marque ahead of the Magnus Racing entry shared by John Potter, Andy Lally, Spencer Pumpelly and Nicki Thiim.

The result not only marked Aston Martin’s first victory at Daytona, having first entered the Florida endurance classic in 1964 when the event was held over a 2000km distance, but was also significant because the #27 crew beat all 10 GTD Pro runners.

Sorensen, who won the GTE Am class at the Le Mans 24 Hours last year with TF Sport, completed the final stint two seconds clear of Maro Engel, Jules Gounon, Dani Juncadella and Cooper MacNeil's GTD Pro class-winning #79 WeatherTech Mercedes-AMG GT3.

Following the triumph, 48-year-old James hailed the Seattle-based HoR team for its performance, having been impressed by the job it has done to beat all-professional crews and finish highest among all GT3 entrants.

Asked what it meant to beat the entire GTD Pro field, the Briton said: “I think it's just an extra cherry on the cake. 

“Obviously that's not the most important thing, but obviously having me part of the lineup, going against all those pro guys and still coming out on top, just is a testament to what these guys did and how hard and how well they drove and how well the team is. 

“I used to look up with admiration and I still do to the likes of Corvette Racing and all that, and to go toe to toe with them and beat them is a huge accomplishment.”

Heart of Racing's #23 car of Alex Riberas, Ross Gunn and David Pittard was also looking strong to win the GTD Pro class until suffering a rare wheel hub failure that dropped them to a distant seventh in class.

#79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3: Cooper MacNeil, Daniel Juncadella, Jules Gounon, Maro Engel

#79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3: Cooper MacNeil, Daniel Juncadella, Jules Gounon, Maro Engel

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Since the demise of GTLM from IMSA in 2021, the series has had two separate categories for GT3 cars. 

The GTD Pro division caters to professional drivers and allows entries from factory teams such as the Corvette, while the standard GTD division mandates at least one bronze or silver-rated driver in the line-up and also has limitations on the number of platinum drivers.

Some onlookers see the distinction between GTD Pro and GTD as unnecessary and believe they could be merged into one single, unified category for GT cars. This would be the case in the World Endurance Championship, for instance, when it switches to GT3 regulations from 2024.

However, WeatherTech driver Engel believes GTD and GTD Pro should continue to function as separate classes in IMSA to deliver entertaining racing, although he admitted that the last-hour contact with Sorensen’s GTD car left him ‘frustrated”.

“Well, for you guys I guess it adds to the excitement,” said the factory Mercedes driver.

“For us, obviously when you're fighting a GTD car for track position and you get run off the road like I did, it's pretty frustrating because it's just unnecessary. 

“But at the end of the day, I think if you look at the show, of this race and of this series, it always delivers. I guess that's the bottom line. And if it's good for the show, then we have to run it that way.”

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