Update: 2019 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

Well that was eventful!

The first four hours were so intense I needed to take a break for a bit. Completely unlike last year’s relatively quiet race, this year incidents happened thick and fast. Whether it was close, tight racing or incidents of minor contact delaying cars or sending them into spins. Thankfully nothing major in the early stages and the race was able to stay green flag for much of the time. It settled into a rhythm after that.

The evening and overnight racing was fantastic. The top DPi cars were passing and repassing. Alonso (Cadillac) passing Castroneves (Acura) about 8 hours in was a particular highlight. The GT classes were having their usual fights. Even the sparse LMP2 was eventful.

At one stage quite deep into the race was a train of 7 DPi cars running 4 seconds apart, all for position, with Alonso taking over 7th. After a yellow he restarted 5th and in the next half hour raced his way to the class lead against the likes of Helio Castroneves (Acura), Rene Rast (Mazda) and Alexander Rossi (Acura).

Nick Tandy (Porsche) was similarly impressive in GTLM. He overtook Oliver Gavin (Corvette) and James Calado (Ferrari) in quick succession.

GTD is always hard to follow because there are so many cars and so many position changes, either by on track passes or by pit strategy. The purple 33 Mercedes was up front quite a lot, so was the green Grasser Lamborghini.

Sadly the quick Mazda DPis expired, as I said in my preview I feared they might. I had hoped to be wrong. The pole-sitting 77 car of Oliver Jarvis had an engine problem originally reported has a turbo failure, not sure if that’s the final diagnosis. This was about 2 laps after the sister 55 car went to the pits with electrical gremlins which cost 15 minutes or more. Then while I was sleeping the 55 had some other problem which caused it to retire.

I had a sleep break from around 4am UK time, about 16 hours to go. I’d been trying to go earlier but so much was happening and I’d eaten a lot of Haribo, that sugar rush kept me up! I wound up sleeping an hour longer than planned, but on rejoining at 9:30am UK the rain had started falling at the track. Still dark over in Florida of course where it was 4:30am.

And rain would be the story from here. When the rain started it mixed things up but didn’t cause many problems that I saw, everyone got across to the wet tyres and they were all cautious in the conditions, We continued to see great racing in every class.

In the wet, Fernando Alonso was 2 or 3 seconds per lap faster than anybody else in class! Absolutely remarkable performance.

Jordan Taylor got into the no.10 and picked up where Alonso left off earlier. He again was several seconds per lap faster than the competition. This proved to me firstly that Jordan continues to be an under-rated driver and secondly that it wasn’t an accident. It looked like drivers and team had deliberately dialled it in well for the wet. Kobayashi overnight put up a real stout defence against Juan Pablo Montoya of all people! Even had Juan on the apron in avoidance. Somehow I missed most of Renger van der Zande’s driving but he’s perfectly at home in this company. There’s no doubt the driving crew of the no.10 had the edge in this race.

Not to say the other teams weren’t on it, because they were, but the no.10 met everything head on. The Mazdas were quicker when they ran, the Penske Acuras were up there all race, but the Taylor car seemed able to drive away in damp conditions, even from the other Cadillacs.

Once the rain started it never really let up. That lead to more Safety Car periods and red flags.

Tommy Milner suffered a terrifying aquaplaning spin into the tyre wall at turn 1. He was cleared OK but the response crews weren’t with him for at least 5 minutes while the race director let the pit sequence play itself out. I get the sporting imperative and usually agree with it, but Milner’s hit was pretty hard and I’d have liked to have seen someone there considerably more quickly.

The rain intensified so we stayed yellow for an hour, which turned into a red flag which in turn lasted 1 hour 45 minutes.

We got a restart which lasted half a lap, at the back of the field cars went spinning into the tri-oval and turn 1. At this point Twitter erupted. Half the people wanted it stopped, half the people considered it a test.

For as long as it was wet-but-driveable, I was in the latter camp. Racing in the rain is an under-rated skill in modern racing where the emphasis is to mash the gas at all times. Endurance racing is just that, a test of endurance, backing off when necessary to get the car home. But the line is thin when rain intensifies. It quickly flips into dangerous territory.

The moment it became clear drivers were aquaplaning into spins at low speed, after allowing plenty of room for braking and a gap to the car ahead, it was unsafe to continue and the race should be stopped. Arguably they left it a little too long but they made the right call in the end.

Still, for a time it looked raceable and it looked like some guys did a ‘Spa ’98’, kept their right foot in as they entered a wall of spray. I think in an endurance race perhaps it is prudent, if you are at the back at the restart, to lift off the right foot? Maybe that’s just me.

The ensuing Safety Car period lasted 1 hour 45 minutes or so because during the yellow the rain had intensified again, the track was getting deep puddles on the racing line and the grass was saturated. It was obviously not in a condition to race. And I thought that would be it.

Yet at nearly 4pm UK time we were green again, but again only for a lap or so. Cars were aquaplaning across turn 1 if they got even slightly off line. Personally again they could’ve backed off, but the rain was harder now and the track was waterlogged, so the margin was much more difficult to judge than it was earlier.

40 minutes later at another restart Toni Vilander piles into the back of a Porsche he couldn’t see. Again, would you drive into a wall of spray? Did he have a choice? Maybe he didn’t, maybe someone would’ve driven into the back of him if he had slowed earlier. After all, the Porsche had backed off because another car was slowing ahead.

And it was sketchy. Drivers in all classes were spinning out when they hit puddles that were deeper than the lap before, because they couldn’t see them through the spray. And that was going too far, trying to restart in those conditions, the track was getting worse all the time.

I do appreciate the series and the track crews kept trying, they never gave up, but it was too heavy.

So with barely 3 green flag laps in some 5 hours, I did feel like I was robbed of a great run to the flag. Not the fault of the series or the drivers just a consequence of the weather. It happens.

And what of my picks to win?

DPi:
Winner:  No.10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Cadillac – Fernando Alonso, Kamui Kobayashi, Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande.
My Pick:  No.7 Acura Team Penske – Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi.
Finished 3rd.

Incredible race from the start and right through the night. After some 8 hours the top 7 cars were still just 5 seconds apart, okay after a yellow, but still impressive after long green flag running not to have gaps of laps. Shame to see the quick Mazdas go. The Nissan caught up a bit and was fast with Duval and Dumas aboard, but I still think Bennett should stand down from driving.
Rubens Barrichello was a star for JDC-Miller. The team still new to the Cadillac and generally a little off the pace, Rubens in the wet was a master just as he always was.

LMP2:
Winner:  No.18 DragonSpeed ORECA 07 Gibson – Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Saavedra, Ryan Cullen, Roberto Gonzalez.
My Pick:  Won!

Class was close in the first half of the race but imploded in the rain. No.18 closed down an 4 lap deficit when the sister DragonSpeed car crashed, to then hold a 4 lap lead over Performance Tech. Then 18 was crashed with a lap to go in seriously heavy rain and limped to the pits at the last red flag.

GTLM:
Winner:  No.25 Rahal LL BMW M8 GTE – Colton Herta, Ausgusto Farfus, Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng.
My Pick:  No.67 Ganassi Ford GT – Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon.
Finished 4th after falling to the back early on, recovered all the lost laps to lead until they pitted under yellow, 2 laps before the final red flag. Eventful.

A fortuitous win for BMW, but a heartening one after the death of Schnitzer’s Charly Lamm on Thursday. Excellent overnight performances from Nick Tandy (Porsche) and James Calado (Risi Ferrari) left me assuming one of those would win.

And the fantastic Alex Zanardi. What a legend. Their car was delayed by some 20 laps but they never gave up.

GTD:
Winner:  No.11 GRT Grasser Lamborghini Huracan – Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart, Rik Breukers, Rolf Ineichen.
My Pick:  No.48 Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan – Bryan Sellers, Corey Lewis, Ryan Hardwick, Andrea Calderelli.
Finished 17th, 70 laps down to the class leader, after being involved in a startline accident in heavy spray along with at least three other cars. Also sent to the back at the start of the race for not getting enough night laps for one driver.

Another slightly fortunate win. The 33 Riley Mercedes of Bleekemolen etc. was in control much of the race and was leading until a pitstop late on. They were caught out when IMSA announced the race was going green, so they pitted for strategy, then half a lap later the series threw the first red flag. 7th wasn’t representative.

That’s not to say GRT Grasser are undeserving – they were Riley’s main rival all race long. They battled back from early delays. It was a very good job from them and they earned it. It’s very possible GRT could’ve beaten Riley on pace if the race had stayed dry.

Good performances in the field included the AIM Vasser Lexus (3rd), the Audis slow on the straights in the dry but with extra downforce quickly regained ground in the wet, the Shank Acura cars including the all-female drivers who were one of many cars to fall back due to accident damage suffered in heavy rain but before that were solidly inside the top 10 in a class of 23 cars.

EDIT:  4 days after the race the 2nd-placed Land Motorsport Audi was demoted to the back with a drive time infringement of just 15 minutes, which seems draconian to me. This promotes one of the Lexusususus to 2nd.

Next

Like last year the rest of the IMSA season will be well worth watching. It is surprising to me how many general motorsports fans don’t watch it, especially outside the US when it has free streaming. Do give it a chance.

Coming up next is another iconic event, the 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday March 16th.

Interestingly, for the first time the FIA WEC will run a 1000 mile or 8 hour race on the Friday night. It’ll be fascinating to find out how logistically this will work – and who will “do the double”!

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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.

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.

**

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.