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.