IMSA racing rookie Kyffin Simpson bounced back from an incident in Practice 3 to shine on his sportscar racing debut, finishing 16th in class with teammate Till Bechtolsheimer at the wheel of the #66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo22. The GTD class contenders almost missed the ‘Roar Before the 24’ following Simpson’s unlucky spin in wet conditions, but Gradient’s crew pulled together to rebuild the car in time to start from the back of Sunday’s qualifying event.
Held a week prior to the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, the ‘Roar’ weekend is a race event in its’ own right, with practice sessions, a short qualifying shoot-out and 100-minute sprint – the results of which determine the starting positions for next weekend’s prestigious 24-hour.
2021 FR Americas champion and HPD GT3 Academy graduate Simpson was selected to form part of Gradient Racing’s two-man assault on the Roar alongside experienced GT racer Till, while teammates Mario Farnbacher and Marc Miller focused on dialling the car in across the weekend.
Despite being the sole GT entrant from Acura, the #66 car featured competitively across Friday’s dry Practice 1 and 2 sessions amongst a bumper 61-car field, placing as high as 9th in class. Saturday morning brought the threat of rain with it, and with the risk of reduced running time the team opted to send Kyffin out for the first run of the session.
Simpson managed 7 timed laps on slick tires before conditions significantly worsened, but as the Cayman driver approached the fast left-hander Turn 5, the rear snapped. The damage inflicted to the #66 was severe, effectively ending the team’s running for the day.
However, thanks to the incredible work of Gradient Racing’s crew, the car was fully rebuilt in time for systems checks ahead of the Roar race event on Sunday.
Speaking about the incident, Kyffin said:
“I went through Turn 5 nice and easy, but the rear still snapped and that was pretty much it. Thankfully we didn’t hit anyone else as we spun across the track, and it did allow me to slow the car down a lot before we found the wall. It was just on the edge of the barrier at low speed but we hit it in such a way that the car took a lot of damage.”
“The team have worked so incredibly hard to fix the car. Getting the engine out, everything rebuilt, back in again and running in one night. The fact that we’re lining up for the race today is a huge achievement and I hope I can repay their efforts with a solid result.”
On Sunday, Kyffin took the green flag to start the 100-minute Roar Before the 24 from 19th in class. After a clean start, he was quick to make progress through a field of experienced sportscar drivers, placing as high as 13th before pitting for a quick driver change. Teammate Till Bechtolsheimer completed an issue-free stint to see Gradient Racing to P16.
“I feel quite happy with how the race went. We were starting far back so we had quite a lot of traffic, and we knew we had the pace to get by the guys ahead quickly. Passing is quite difficult here though, and I had to get accustomed to racing around other GT cars as its the first time I’ve really had to do that!”
“I felt like I adapted quite well. Maybe there was a better result on the table but I think with everything else that happened this weekend, I’m happy with where we’re at.”
Thanks to Kyffin and Till’s efforts, Gradient Racing’s full driver line-up will start from 16th for the 60th running of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, January 28-30 2022.
Kyffin is supported by InvestCayman, Simpson Race Products, GoPro action cameras, Spy sunglasses, DART, BODDENS, Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, and Kokoro Performance driver coaching services.