Cadillac DPi of Spirit of Daytona Racing during 2018 Rolex 24
Spirit of Daytona Racing's brand-new Cadillac DPi was the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona's first retirement. | Photo: Jake Galstad / IMSA

Engine trouble with their new Cadillac DPi-V.R ended Spirit of Daytona Racing’s pursuit of the Rolex 24 at Daytona podium for the fourth consecutive year.

Tristan Vautier took the green flag to begin the 24-hour race in the cockpit of the No. 90 Cadillac DPi and immediately engaged himself in a battle for the lead. From fifth on the grid, Vautier advanced to fourth by Lap 22 before reaching second on Lap 33. Eight laps later, Vautier was leading the race.

Young American driver Matt McMurry took over and skillfully kept the car in second before returning the No. 90 to the lead on Lap 133.

Following a sudden downpour that made for a busy pit lane as teams fitted rain tires to their cars, McMurry’s pace began to drop off as the Spirit of Daytona Cadillac developed an engine misfire. The team and the car visited the garage to run diagnostic tests but learned that the misfire was too deep in the Cadillac motor to be rectified, prompting the car’s retirement.

Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac speeds on banking
Scored last on the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona results is Spirit of Daytona Racing and its new Cadillac-powered prototype. | Photo: Scott R LePage / IMSA

A year ago, the team, formerly known as Visit Florida Racing, captured a surprise podium finish with a barely developed Riley Mk. 30. In 2018, after only getting their hands on the Cadillac on Jan. 2, such a headline was not meant to be.

“You just hate to not make it to the finish of this race, and we’ve been so fortunate the last five years to have top fives and podiums, so this was a tough one,” team owner Troy Flis said. “But I’m really really proud of the effort that this team put in for us to be ready to go … [W]e just got caught out by this mechanical snag that ended things early.”

Vautier challenged for the fastest lap in nearly every session leading up to the race itself before lapping at a brilliant pace in the early stages of the race.

IMSA DPi cars speed during 24 Hours of Daytona
Spirit of Daytona Racing was an early contender in the season-opening race. | Photo: Jake Galstad / IMSA

“It is a shame when it is over with 15 hours left,” France native Vautier commented. “Everyone did a good job — just bad luck.”

With the Spirit of Daytona Cadillac completing only 291 laps and eight hours, 39 minutes and 57 seconds of the 24-hour event, the entry’s third driver Eddie Cheever III climbed into the car only once during his Prototype race debut.

“My stint was good until it started raining; I had no radio so that was a little bit of a panic, so I just focused on staying out of trouble,” the 24-year-old Cheever III said. “This was my first time racing here and it would have been very easy to make a mistake.

“I only had the one stint, and I’m still learning, so I can’t wait to get back in the car!”

The Florida-based Spirit of Daytona team turns its focus toward March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, set for March 17.