After several trips to the garage, the No. 33 Ligier JS P217 LMP2 retires from the Rolex 24 with electrical and bodywork-related issues ahead of the checkered flag
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (28 January 2024) – Despite months of preparation and team effort, the 2024 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Rolex 24 at Daytona was not the opening event that the Sean Creech Motorsport (SCM) team was looking for, as a multitude of issues with the reintroduced Ligier JS P217 saw the team end the day in the garage.
The result was especially difficult given the pace and reliability the Ligier had displayed at last weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex. But it was a case of “that was then, and this is now” for the team, as they finished the race ninth in the LMP2 class.
The Jupiter, Fla.-based team, in concert with Ligier engineers and Ligier North America motorsport manager Chris Lowe, have worked to develop an information database for the Ligier JS P217 through several pre-season test sessions, with steady progress at the Roar that saw the team lead the LMP2 class early in two sessions. The car’s continued pace in official sessions this past week had drivers Lance Willsey, João Barbosa, Jonny Edgar, and Nolan Siegel feeling confident in their No. 33 SCM Focal One Ligier JS P217 going into the race weekend.
However, near the end of final practice on Friday, Willsey experienced an issue coming out of turn one that sent him into the turn two wall. With significant damage to the Ligier, the team set about repairing both mechanical parts and bodywork damage. Team mechanics worked hard and fast to be ready for Saturday morning, when the red, white, and blue-liveried Ligier assumed its position on the sixth row of the LMP2 class.
Over the first two hours of the race, multiple incidents depleted both the LMP2 and GT fields while Willsey stayed out of trouble and laid down consistent laps. Barbosa took the next double stint, taking the car to P7 before handing back to Willsey on used tires – but with increasing braking and rear stability issues.
Those issues came to the fore as Willsey’s stint continued, with several quick spins, including one to avoid a GTP car who’d made a very tight pass. But shortly after sunset, a slowly draining battery began showing up on the pit box telemetry. Realizing there was an ongoing battery/alternator issue, the team made several trips to the garage to diagnose and fix the issue.
Once the team had affected repairs, Siegel headed out on track just after 9:30pm. After Siegel’s double stint, Edgar took the helm for the first time in the race, and his first laps of night racing – and proceeded to set lap times consistent with the leaders.
Willsey drove a solid early morning double stint before the round of Barbosa-to-Siegel-to-Edgar that the team hoped would take them to the finish. The trio took the car easily through the morning’s racing, until a sudden failure of the rear decklid – which had been checked to be secured on the pit stop – sent the car back to the garage and out of the race.
All four drivers expressed significant disappointment that the crew’s hard work and dedication did not show in the final result – full season drivers Willsey and Barbosa (who have 36 Rolex 24 appearances between them), Edgar (experiencing his first endurance race), and Siegel (who helped the team to a second place finish last year at Daytona).
“Coming off the highs that we experienced at the Roar to, well, to the agony of defeat that we faced here in the race, it’s very, very unfortunate,” said Willsey. “It’s also, quite frankly, unacceptable. The team did a great job throughout; it was all hands-on deck. We especially appreciate the heroic efforts by Chris Lowe, who helped us wherever he could all weekend.
“We lost over half our test days (to either weather or the Bus Stop re-pave) and that lack of testing became quite obvious to us and to everyone who saw our performance here,” continued Willsey. “It’s not who we are. But we will learn from this and come back stronger at Sebring. We have a long list of things we need to go through and accomplish and while it’s a gravely disappointing race performance, it was through no fault of the team. It was just a variety of circumstances, primarily electrical related loss of power steering at inopportune times, and a lack of available parts when we needed them. It was unfortunate but we will learn from it and come back stronger.”
“We had such a promising performance at the Roar, a great baseline setup for the car,” said Barbosa. “But obviously it’s a new car for the team and this was the first time we’d really run the car for this long – and unfortunately, some of the weak points of the car came through and that put us behind a little bit. But the pace was there. We were not the fastest, but we were very consistent, able to keep up with the guys up front. It’s just a shame not to be able to finish the race, given all the hard work that the team put in.”
“Over the past week, there have been times that I think the car’s been quick, quicker than any of us – and probably the rest of the grid – expected, which was nice to see,” said Edgar. “But obviously there are some issues that came forward, most of them unfortunately showing up in the race. We expected problems with the car, since it hadn’t been raced in a few years. But for me, plenty of positives throughout the race – my first proper endurance race and two double stints running at night. So in those terms, I’m happy with the experience: I’m just sorry we didn’t have a better result to show for all the work that all of us, everyone in the team, put in this last week. But I’m still very thankful for the opportunity to race and happy to have been here.”
“It was a super challenging day,” said Siegel. “Probably the most challenging day that a lot of people on this team have ever had in racing. But when you start a program like this with a new car, new everything, I don’t think anyone expected us to go through the race with no issues. The team is working through all the issues, and I know things will get sorted out for the future. I was appreciative of all of the guys on the crew for pushing through and staying up all night during the race, working on the car – we came to the garage multiple times and each time everyone got straight to work, with no complaint: everyone was just fully focused on the task at hand. We had some really competitive hours in the car overnight, and I felt the pace and balance of the car was the best that I’d felt it – which in a way is even more frustrating, but we made a ton of progress and I think it’s promising that there’s pace there and hopefully, when everything gets sorted out, the car will have a fighting chance in the rest of the races.”
For Creech, the work toward the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring has already begun.
“We’ve spent a great deal of time with Ligier this weekend, and we anticipate that will continue as we figure out everything that happened here this week,” said Creech. “We have an idea of where the weaknesses are and we will all address that in the coming weeks, in the shop and in testing.”
SCM thanks partner Focal One for its continued support.
Next up for Sean Creech Motorsport will be the second of two home state events to start the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 13-16.