With 57 cars and an incredible number of stories beyond the obvious of the Ganassi squad's fifth Rolex 24 at Daytona win in 10 years, and Scott Pruett equaling Hurley Haywood's mark of five overall Rolex 24 wins, we take a look back at how the race was won, and how some of the other events unfolded in the 51st 24-hour race at Daytona.
GANASSI DOMINATION – Thursday afternoon during qualifying, the pair of TELMEX/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Riley BMWs dropped into the 1:40 range to sweep the front row. The collective response from the rest of the field and onlookers not a part of the CGR squad could be summed up in two words: Uh oh.
With what appeared to be a pace advantage over the Ford and Chevrolet powerplants (see below), the race became firmly Ganassi's to lose, rather than an open contest for the other Daytona Prototypes to win. After a rare year out of contention in 2012, they emerged victorious in the Rolex 24 once again.
The stats were plain to see. The fastest Ford and Corvette in qualifying were 0.7 and 1.3 seconds slower, respectively, than Pruett's pole-sitting Riley BMW, Ganassi's No. 01 (421) and No. 02 (116) led a combined 537 of 709 laps, and the fastest race laps were 1:41.177 (Scott Dixon) and 1:41.327 (Juan Pablo Montoya), with only two other prototypes able to run in the 1:41s at any point.
BALANCING ACT – If you're a sports car junkie, you're already well familiar with the acronym BoP – Balance of Performance – that is either a godsend to level the playing field or a nightmare that you'd rather not discuss. If we lived in an era of unrestricted technological freedom, a whitewash such as the one the Ganassi Riley BMWs laid down at Daytona would be more praised than it is, the reason being that it seemed this year it was more a result of Grand-Am's pre-race BoP adjustments than anything else.
From 2012 to 2013, BMW's rev limit increased to 7,000, which it was at the Roar Before the 24 test earlier this month. The Fords lost 300 rpm after dominating the pace sweepstakes in 2012, while Chevrolet teams were hamstrung by a new horsepower-cutting air restrictor despite gaining 100 extra rpm.
If a car wins because it's out-engineered and out-paced the field, that's one thing. But this time it looked to many that this was less than a fair playing field. The ease of passes for Ganassi – one such stretch where Pruett went from fifth to first in barely over a lap, for instance – almost defied belief.
“This is the problem with the Balance of Performance,” conceded Ganassi's Dario Franchitti. “We really shouldn't be talking about it, but it's been the whole subject. Last year it was the Fords, the year before it was the six-cylinder Porsche. Someone always has a big advantage and a lot of teams use it as an excuse.”
Franchitti added a fair point that there couldn't have been an extra downforce advantage, because Ganassi's Rileys were required to run the same series-mandated wing level.
“We've won a few championships, so it's not like we're a bunch of ‘tuggers' who've suddenly got this advantage,” he said. “It's not like we've forgotten how to engineer a car, or drive it. Stop trying to make everybody the same, because there are times that somebody is just going to be better than others.”
Some tweets did stand out amidst a flurry of them maligning Ganassi's pace. From GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing's Alex Gurney: “Have to say the restrictor that Grand-Am gave us makes no sense, none.” Park Place Motorsports' Spencer Pumpelly: “It was clear the 01 car had more grunt on the banking than [Max] Angellelli. [Grand-Am] gave the Chevys a restrictor before the race. Killed the race.” And Starworks Motorsport: “Is it insulting Ganassi says they were faster cause they had lower downforce – despite ALL Riley teams running at the same series min limit!”
Politics it may be, but the general consensus was that BoP for Daytona Prototypes has to be better addressed for this race next year. Along with the three current engine manufacturers, there is the potential for P2 cars that might turn up in the forthcoming unified series. The challenge ahead for Grand-Am and the ALMS is to adopt the best of BoP from ALMS – GT being the benchmark for a generally level but not skewed playing field – and going from there.
SIGNS OF #THEFUTURE – On that note, the fact that at this year's Rolex 24 the phrases “ALMS,” “Le Mans” and “merger” could be discussed so openly was a change from the norm. The integration between Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series is happening, and it's obvious.
Some IMSA/ALMS staples such as its own series transporter, timing & scoring system, race pit notes and pit techs made their way into the weekend. Le Mans' ACO was represented by top officials including its new president, Pierre Fillon. Lastly, ALMS race director Paul Walter made his debut in the same role for Grand-Am. Little was said about him before a handful of drivers tweeted their appreciation for a job well done on Monday. Ideally, this will be one of the last times we see Walter's name put in print.
One notable absence? In the swamped infield full of vendors and displays, the ALMS' Tequila Patrón tent was missing at Daytona Beach, although the Extreme Speed Ferrari carrying its colors was on hand (and finished ninth in the GT class).
SHANK'S SLICE OF RECOVERY PIE – It's hard not to root for Mike Shank. The racing lifer has worked to maximize his resources, however big or small, and his resolve, determination and leadership helped fuel the defending champions to a remarkable recovery and podium finish.
“I'm more proud of what my guys did this year, than I am of what we were able to do last year,” said Shank, whose 2013 Rolex 24 was plenty eventful.
In the first hour, the defending champion No. 60 Riley Ford went to the garage to replace the left-front toe link and lost seven laps. Once night fell, and the car had recovered several laps, more problems struck when the No. 60 was called in for a three minute stop-and-hold penalty. Shank was visibly upset but didn't let his composure throw him off the game. A fuel pressure issue that occurred later sent the car to the garage again, but only two laps were lost.
They still rallied. Cycling through a new four-driver rotation that swapped Marcos Ambrose for Ozz Negri once Negri had completed the opening stint, the team parlayed strategy and pace to gain laps back throughout the race. Many were due to getting wave-arounds on yellow flags; that said, given the pace deficit to the BMWs, for the Riley Ford to not lose more laps once they had recovered some was key.
With just more than an hour to go, AJ Allmendinger restarted in the lead but wasn't able to withstand Montoya's challenge. He did in the short stretch before another yellow but not on the final restart, due to being bumped off the road by Joao Barbosa's Action Express Corvette while contesting second place. Barbosa later was called for an avoidable contact penalty that promoted Shank's No. 60 back to third.
“You always want to do your best for Mike,” said Justin Wilson, who along with John Pew completed the No. 60 lineup. “He's just so enthusiastic that it rubs off on everyone. If you'd have told us after the first hour that we'd have a chance of finishing third, we'd have been over the moon. As you're standing on the podium you're thinking, ‘There's nothing quite like being first,' but third place after everything we've come through in this race is a great result.”
The sister No. 6 car (Chris Cumming, Michael Valiante, Gustavo Yacaman, Jorge Goncalvez) had sporadic pace but retired in the 18th hour.
HOWDY, AUDI – It's not that Audi was embarrassed in its Rolex 24 debut with the new Grand-Am iteration R8 a year ago, but with two customer teams each in their first 24-hour race and only some Audi Sport Customer Racing support, it was always going to be tough to succeed in their first go.
No other manufacturer upgraded its Daytona attack for 2013 more than the four rings, and it showed. Though it was still labeled Audi Sport Customer Racing for the four R8s that competed this year, this had a factory feel to it.
Nearly three dozen members of ASCR arrived from Germany to service the pair of APR R8s and the single entries from Alex Job and Rum Bum Racing. All bar the AJR R8 set up next to each other on pit road. An armada of European driving stars was placed in the cars. The team names followed “Audi Sport Customer Racing” on the entry list because it definitely felt as though it was Audi first, then the American team second.
The car improvements year-on-year include the rear wing sitting further back and mounted higher than in 2012, with a softer suspension setup and some other aero adjustments on the front of the car.
An incredible last hour saw seven cars in contention for the GT class win, including three of the four Audis. The winning No. 24 – in the hands of three Daytona rookies in Filipe Albuquerque, Edoardo Mortara and Olly Jarvis, along with Dion von Moltke – recovered from a penalty for avoidable contact and a late-race splash of fuel to secure the win.
The win was an important one for Alex Job Racing, which last won its class at Daytona in 1999 with a Porsche. Job will run full GTC season in the American Le Mans Series with WeatherTech support, but still seeks additional funding for further Grand-Am appearances.
Rene Rast, one of the 2012 GT class winners, was as fast as advertised aboard the No. 52 R8, and nearly stole the win at the finish for Stephen Hooks' fledgling but improving APR Motorsport squad. He co-drove with Marc Basseng, Frank Stippler and Ian Baas.
Had it not been for one-time F1 racer Markus Winkelhock running out of fuel on the final lap in Rum Bum's debuting No. 13, Audi would have swept the GT class podium. In a field as deep as this year's was in GT, the Audi assault was truly worthy of the brand's name and reputation in endurance racing.
Make no mistake, Audi has now officially arrived in Grand-Am, and its presence and influence for the rest of this year and 2014 can only increase on the strength of this performance.
PORSCHE'S POOR LUCK – For the second consecutive year, Porsche swept a class podium at Daytona. Problem is, this year it was the debuting Caymans that locked up the new GX class top three, and Porsche does not support any Cayman effort.
The 18 GT3 Cups entered in GT finished no better than fifth and for a manufacturer that had secured 10 of the past 12 podium positions in the Rolex 24, that's quite a disappointment. Granted, it wasn't a pace issue – Porsche posted the four fastest qualifying laps and the fastest race lap – but more a case of nearly anything that could go wrong, did.
Polesitter Nick Tandy, Porsche's newest factory driver, had a first-hour puncture. Park Place Motorsports' No. 73 endured a litany of issues – wheels, contact and a three-minute penalty – that removed a car with a lineup including Patrick Long and Spencer Pumpelly. The MOMO/NGT Porsche, too, had its qualifying time deleted but made it back to the lead in the race, before suspension failure. Patrick Pilet set the race's fastest lap in that car, 1:47.983.
Late in the race, both defending champions Magnus Racing and Job's No. 23 Porsche tried to gamble on fuel but each failed, falling to fifth and sixth by the flag. Surprisingly, neither of Porsche's longtime flagship Grand-Am teams, Brumos (No. 59) or TRG (No. 66, 67, 68), had much to offer during the week. A 20th-place finish for TRG's No. 66, with Jorg Bergmeister, Dominik Farnbacher, Kuno Wittmer and Ben Keating, was the best result for that quartet of cars. TRG's all-gentlemen No. 68 was the guilty party for three full-course cautions.
MAZDA'S MISERY – Porsche's issues were nothing by comparison to Mazda's, in the debut race for its new SKYACTIV-D turbodiesel Mazda6 in GX.
Available parts and a laundry list of mechanical maladies early in the week – primarily engine and transmission issues – blunted Mazda's charge before it ever really got going. In a little more than an hour of running, none of the three Mazdas entered could run a lap faster than 2:01.461 (the last-ranked fastest GT lap was 1:53.560 by the lone Mazda RX-8) and were lapped by the overall leaders just past the 10-minute mark of the race.
The No. 70 and No. 25 cars retired after losing a cylinder, while the No. 00 car experienced a rear main seal failure. Neither problem had been encountered in more than 400 hours of dynamometer testing. Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan summed up the disappointment.
“Racing is a challenge. Launching a new product is a challenge. Launching a new car in America's premier 24-hour race is a really big challenge,” Doonan said. “Our on-track testing was limited in part due to the timing of our Mazda6 production car launch which prevented the team from getting on track as early as desired. The easy way out would have been a midseason debut, but Mazda has never taken the easy path.”
To add insult to injury, the lone RX-8 entered finished the race a serviceable 17th in GT with the privateer Racers Edge squad. It's likely the RX-8's Rolex 24 swansong, as it has been out of production for more than a year.
ODDS AND ENDS – APR's 2012 driving duo of Dion von Moltke and Dr. Jim Norman both won their class with different teams, von Moltke in the AJR Audi (GT), Norman in the Napleton Cayman (GX). South African von Moltke, 22, now holds class wins at Sebring (ALMS GTC) and Daytona in the last 12 months.
Mark Wilkins was the first of two last-minute fill-ins at the AIM Autosport/Team FXDD No. 69 Ferrari F458, joining as a fifth driver when Guy Cosmo had to have endoscopic surgery. Cosmo withdrew and Craig Stanton was added as another replacement, but drove only minimally. Lazzaro and Wilkins ran the last six hours of the race, both turning in a remarkable effort in a car that was down on straightline speed and against some very highly rated international drivers.
Fellow Ferrari squads AF Waltrip (eighth) and Extreme Speed Motorsports (ninth) recorded their first Rolex 24 top 10s. NASCAR star Clint Bowyer not only kept the No. 56 AF Waltrip F458 in one piece in his stints, but had many in the press room in a laughing fit during his interviews. A sample:
“The guys on the pit box don't sleep,” Bowyer said. “I was asking them, what stint they sleep, and they don't. They have an espresso machine and I have a case of 5-Hour (Energy drink), so we'll charge on. What time is it, anyway?
“Seven-thirty?” he repeated when given the answer in the press room, “We're almost to halfway, right?”
The debuting 8Star Motorsports Corvette squad, run by Enzo Potolicchio, overcame differential failure, cleaning out the radiator and cooling systems, and gearbox issues to finish 10th in the 17-car DP field. Potolicchio co-drove with four former Peugeot drivers, Anthony Davidson, Pedro Lamy, Stephane Sarrazin and Nic Minassian. Davidson and Sarrazin were making their first Daytona and DP starts.
Ryan Eversley (No. 38 BGB Motorsports/Luna-C Clothing Porsche Cayman) was one of two drivers to record a podium finish in his class in both the Rolex 24 and supporting Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge BMW Performance 200. He finished third in both GX (Rolex) and ST (Continental). A busy race for the Georgian also saw him take over Continental's Twitter account at times and appear as a guest co-host on Magnus Racing's live 24-hour race webcam.
After a one-month break, the Rolex Series heads to the Circuit of The Americas in Austin on March 1-2, for the second round of the season. Most of the DPs that ran in Daytona will be present, although the GT and GX grids are likely to be less stout.