A Close End to the 2012 Rolex Daytona 24

What a brilliant result at the Rolex 24 at Daytona!

A popular win in Justin Wilson in his first professional race since his injury last season in IndyCar. I don’t follow Grand-Am racing but I heard on the coverage that Michael Shank Racing are popular winners in the paddock. Wilson and his teammates including NASCAR’s AJ Allmendinger and Grand-Am regulars Ozz Negri and John Pew put in solid drives all race long. Flawless.

They weren’t alone, the 2nd-placed car featuring sportscar legends Allan McNish and Lucas Luhr guesting alongside Ryan Dalziel, Alex Popow and Enzo Potolicchio racing for Starworks was equally as solid. It was a credit to everyone that they finished just five seconds behind the winners, a representative margin for such a close battle all race long. These two cars passed and repassed for hours and hours, outracing all of their competition.

The racing between McNish and Allmendinger was fantastic, save for a little bit too much wheel-banging. It was just as fraught as watching Allan vs the Peugeots at Le Mans. You can tell this mattered to him.

The fancied runners at the top Ganassi team fell by the wayside. Partly this was due to being slower on the fast banking, and partly through reliability. It was a real shame when the 01 car had a gearbox problem robbing us of a three-way fight for the lead in the final hour. Despite the problem they still made it home 6th, vital for the championship. You had to feel for the quick SunTrust team retiring after barely an hour. However I didn’t at all mind the favourites dropping back – it allowed the underdogs through!

Whilst I kept an eye on it I didn’t follow GT class as closely as I do at Le Mans or Sebring. It featured a lot of the same drivers and the racing was just as close, yet it didn’t grab me for some reason. I can’t explain why because it should’ve done. Perhaps it was the knowledge the cars were little faster than ALMS GTC or Porsche Supercup which are usually embarrassed by GT2/GTE cars. I was impressed by both Magnus and Brumos teams, especially Magnus because Brumos had led for so many hours. (TRG finished between them but I already knew their class.)

Resurgence

On the whole though I was impressed with the race and the organisation from Grand-Am. It’s a much-criticised series and I think they’ve done a lot to address those criticisms, with better-looking prototype cars and new cars coming into GT (even if the Audis made a complete mess of it).

It was great to see so many drivers and teams guesting in the race who normally race elsewhere. After a while of being demoted almost to national status, the Daytona 24 Hours is certainly regaining its rightful place on the world stage. Just witness the much-improved race coverage both within the US on SPEED and elsewhere from Radio Show Ltd (Radio Le Mans), MotorsTV, Eurosport and others. It was great to have the RLM crew live on site, it made the race so much easier to follow.

Will I follow any more Grand-Am races this season? Probably not, but I’m certainly more open to the idea than I was before so don’t be surprised if I do. It would help if they offered online streaming the way the ALMS does, because although both series have a European TV deal now, I don’t have MotorsTV.

Finally a thanks and a shout to the two places I spent the race aside from Twitter or my bed, and the race wouldn’t be the same without them:
Sidepodcast for the live commenting;
Grab Bag Sports for the 4th annual Blogathon & Mario Kart tourney;

Following the hors d’oeuvres of Dakar and Dubai, Daytona is a brilliant way to kick off the major international racing season.

The next live race is a month from now. A month!! That week you’ll have the pick of the Bathurst 12 Hours and the Daytona 500 and all its support races. In the meantime, you can enjoy Rally Sweden.

I’m off to rest my eyes.

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How to Watch the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona

Time to get this season started with the first major circuit-racing event of the season. We’ve had off-road events such as Dakar and the Monte-Carlo Rally. All fine and good, but my main interest is in fast cars on racetracks. We’ve had the Dubai 24 but that’s not an easy event to try and follow and to be honest I gave up after a while.

Daytona is different. Because this race takes place in January there are a lot of famous names involved who might not usually race in the Grand-Am Rolex Series:

Allan McNish, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Tracy, AJ Allmendinger, Justin Wilson, Giancarlo Fisichella, Ryan Briscoe .. the list goes on and on.

Add that to the quick teams and drivers who do race these cars regularly, like Scott Pruett, Darren Law and Max Angelelli and you’ve got a real competition on your hands.

Not to mention these guys: Brian Johnson of AC/DC is competing, as is the actor Patrick Dempsey. Neither are quick on a professional level but they can handle themselves very well at amateur/gentelman-driver level. Is that enough at this race? Probaby not, but let’s see. Johnson is actually racing in a car which only contains over-50s, but some of them are (or were) pros.

So how do you watch?

UK / Europe:

MotorsTV live on Sky/Virgin throughout, with Radio Show Ltd commentary (that’s Radio Le Mans).

Intermittant coverage on Eurosport or Eurosport 2, also on Sky/Virgin. It is programmed for E2 but if you know Eurosport you’ll know they like shuffling things around channels and not sticking to timetables – the perils of covering live sport. The great thing about them is the Eurosport Player which is absolutely flawless, and is also available as an iPad app at £2.99 for a month of viewing. I’ll watch using these services for as much as I can.

USA / Canada?:

SpeedTV for most of the race, and SpeedTV.com for the times when they don’t. It’s possible the SpeedTV.com feed will be available outside the US.

Worldwide:

Audio coverage from Radio Show Ltd (the people behind Radio Le Mans) live throughout on their website.

Useful Links

The race starts at 8.30pm GMT / 3.30pm local time Florida.

Series Website: Grand-Am.com
Entry List: HERE
Live timing: HERE
Spotter guide: HERE
My Twitter feed: HERE (I hope to pass on relevant info from tweeting teams, drivers etc)

In addition to Twitter I *insist* you join me at one or other or both of the following places:

Sidepodcast

A group of us will be hanging out chatting about the race at Sidepodcast’s awesome live-commenting service – do join us! Keep it clean and friendly and you’ll encounter knowledgeable fans, and not-so knowledgeable fans who are enthusiastic and willing to learn.

Grab Bag Sports Blogathon

For something like the 5th year now the GBS Blogathon will run alongside the Rolex 24. A group of motorsport bloggers*, largely from the IndyCar community but also elsewhere, come together at the Grab Bag Sports blog to write posts over the course of the race. They don’t have to be about the 24. They don’t even have to be about racing. Any sport is on the table if it happens between race start and end, for example several may dip out of the race to watch the Australian Open final. It’ll be fun!
* and Mike who is a co-blogger at GBS but doesn’t know anything about racing except that he likes the name of a team: Flying Lizard!

Enjoy!

GrandAm: 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona

I watched a sizeable chunk of the Daytona 24 Hours live a couple of weeks ago. It was good fun, especially as the Blogathon was happening at the same time and I was also juggling Twitter and some live commenting.

Even though GrandAm is fairly alien to me I really enjoyed this race. I’ve been watching a few things over winter but recordings aren’t the same, and the Dakar Rally was great but it isn’t circuit racing. It really felt like a breath of fresh air. This race felt like the first hit of warmth and Vitamin D you get from the sun in early spring after a particularly long, dull, dreary, wet winter. You know in Daybreakers when the sun hits the guy’s face? A reawakening.

This was the first time I’d paid so much attention to the race, I’d tried to follow in past years but was thwarted by very low-quality streams (cars as blurs on the screen and a lot of buffering) which were eventually shut down anyway. This year I really want to make use of the Eurosport Player, watch the race legitimately – but no, Eurosport couldn’t even cover the start of the race and then missed almost all of Sunday. Give us a reason to watch, guys. The stream I found this year was quite good (relatively), and SPEED’s coverage was largely excellent. The commentary line-up was very good indeed.

Everybody expected the two Ganassi cars to dominate and despite falling a long way back due to various problems, they did just that, they dominated the others – and made use of GrandAm’s Safety Car rules in which a lap can be regained if played right – to eventually claim a 1-2 finish by the end of the event. It was a fantastic effort especially by Joey Hand. Juan Pablo Montoya’s efforts received mixed reactions, his speed and determination was lauded but his excuberent wheel-banging was rightly not.

The real reason my attention was held for so long was the performance of two crews new to the event. I’ve been a fan of the Flying Lizard team in ALMS/LM24 GT racing for many years so I was amazed to see them enter the top class of an event like this. Their professionalism wasn’t doubted but nobody seriously thought they’d get results in their first attempt outside of GTs, in very unfamiliar equipment against some worthy experienced opposition. Yet they secured the pole and went on to extend a definite lead in the early running. Trouble struck, yet once the car rejoined 19 laps down it was again the fastest in the field and often by some margin (including those dominant Ganassis). Very impressive stuff.

The other impressive team was United Autosports. They did have the help of GrandAm stalwarts Michael Shank Racing, but they still had to perform. It was fantastic to see Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell prove any doubters wrong and demonstrate their speed. F1 and CART experience apart they have both always been excellent endurance racers and so it was proven once more. I like United. I like their attitude and their approach and they have a big future.

GrandAm cars are faster than I gave them credit for, particularly the DPs, whether that’s because they were on the high banks of Daytona I don’t know. I can’t say I was into the GT race though, usually I am in multi-class races, they might want to look into that for the future.

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This post is part of a new series of race reviews. I’ve tried doing this before in a number of formats, all of which were quite long and ended up explaining what happened rather than giving my thoughts on the race. Unlike many bloggers I am not a reporter or a journalist and I never want to be. From now on I will be writing down my opinions in blog posts of ~500 words or less. Or maybe a little more, like this one.