Such was the rate of attrition among the prototypes that the best of the Vipers was sitting an amazing second overall just 10 hours into the race. The only car standing between ORECA and victory was Dyson Racing's Riley & Scott, winner of the previous year's Rolex 24.
That remained the case for another 10 hours until, with just four hours to go, its Lincoln-badged Ford engine dropped onto four cylinders. It was only a matter of time before it was overhauled by the best of the GTO cars.
Which brand of GTO car it would be remained in doubt, however. The challenge of the Pilgrim/Collins/Freon car had fallen away on Sunday morning, but the Fellows/Bell/Kneifel entry worked its way back into the picture as the race wore on. They'd lost time in the early stages, with two slow stops and then a refueling glitch that briefly stranded the car out on the circuit, but their flat-out pace and clever strategy had brought them back onto the lead lap.
What they didn't know as they charged after the Viper was that its drivers were having to nurse fifth gear through the final couple of hours of the race.
“We had to be careful to manage each gear change when we went into fifth. It was an old H-pattern gearbox and, whenever possible, we would try to miss out fifth gear," says Beretta. “At the same time, the Corvette was running fast and pushing us hard.”
De Chaunac remembers being particularly concerned about the transmission as the race drew to a close. Reassurance came from the man out in the car on the Daytona International Speedway.
“Karl was in the car for the finish and we asked him about the gearbox with something like 20 minutes to go,” says de Chaunac. “His reply was, ‘Hugues, you sound stressed, don't worry, everything is under control...”
It was, but only just. The Corvette crossed the line 30.879 seconds after the Viper, taking an overall victory that was as deserved as it was unexpected.
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