With Lazzaro, Wilkins, Longhi and Assentato
No. 69 AIM/FXDD F458 Scores Team’s First Rolex 24 Podium While No. 61 R.Ferri Aim Motorsport Racing with Ferrari F458 Runs Fast Laps in Debut. For the No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD and No. 61 R.Ferri AIM Motorsport Racing with Ferrari F458s, the 2013 Rolex 24 At Daytona was a mix of heartbreak and jubilation on an alternating basis.
The No. 69 AIM/FXDD Ferrari finished third in the hands of Anthony Lazzaro, Mark Wilkins, Nick Longhi and Emil Assentato. Lazzaro, Wilkins and Longhi combined to lead 109 race laps, second highest of the race in the GT class, and the No. 69 was in a position to pounce on the final podium position on the last lap when another car ran out of fuel.
Lazzaro led before the team’s final pit stop, made on lap 654 of 678 that were completed in the GT class, where he handed the car off to Wilkins for the final stint. That dropped the car to as low as sixth, but the No. 69 AIM/FXDD Ferrari charged to third by the checkered flag. The result represented a five-position improvement over 2012’s Rolex 24 result of eighth and AIM Autosport’s best finish in the Rolex 24.
Lazzaro and Wilkins drove the last six-plus hours of the race and even survived, with less than five hours remaining, a bump-and-run spin that dropped the No. 69 car to fifth, but the team never gave up and kept pressing forward. Wilkins was a late add to the No. 69 AIM/FXDD lineup after Guy Cosmo withdrew to recover from minor nasal surgery, and did not test the car at January’s earlier Roar Before the Rolex 24 test.
“Everything worked out with Mark, as I managed to get back from a test in Europe and after Guy Cosmo had a medical problem,” Longhi said. “Mark wasn’t at the Roar, but he got in the car and worked out fantastic. He is a perfect plug-and-play, super quick professional. We couldn’t ask for more.”
While the No. 69 enjoyed a good start to the season, as it has third-place points for Lazzaro and 2012 GRAND-AM GT Co-Champion Assentato already in the bank, the debut of the No. 61 AIM/R.Ferri F458 was more challenging. But despite electrical gremlins that plagued the car in the early hours, the team made an impressive recovery to run some of the race’s fastest laps. The No. 61, driven by Jeff Segal, Max Papis and Daytona additions Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander, was classified 21st in the 34-car GT class after retiring with only a little more than one hour remaining. In the race’s early stages, the car ran as high as seventh before its first trip behind the wall less than an hour into the race.
“We did a really good job all race long,” Papis said. “Unfortunately we had the electrical issue, and that made us go down about 50 laps in the beginning. We thought we fixed it, but we came back and actually had an issue again. We wanted to finish, but the car just expired. We gave it everything we had and that’s all we could ask. We were one of the fastest, if not the fastest, GT cars on track. It’s all a part of a 24-hour race. Our teammates had a chance to win and we were all cheering for them.”
Segal, like most of his AIM counterparts, hailed the effort of the No. 69 AIM/FXDD car, his 2012 car that he co-drove to the championship with Assentato.
“I’m a little envious, but at the same time I take great satisfaction in knowing I was a part of putting that program together,” Segal said. “The 69 guys did such a great job. Mark has been super impressive, coming in at the last minute. Not having Guy who they anticipated having in that car, has been really impressive. It’s my race car from last year and if not us, hopefully it would be them.”
After Daytona, AIM/FXDD and AIM/R.Ferri head to the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, for the second round of the GRAND-AM season March 1 – 2. Noteworthy
– Lazzaro made sure to note Cosmo’s absence in a live SPEED interview during the race. “The only thing we don’t have this weekend that we need is Guy Cosmo,” Lazzaro said. “He was supposed to be here, and I want to say hello to him. He’s probably out on West Palm, taking a little sun in on the beach, but anyway it’s all good.”