The 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Jan. 28-29, marks a half-century of top-level sports car racing on the high banks and twisting infield of Daytona International Speedway. We're counting down to that milestone with a series of stories looking at some of the drivers, marques and stories that have shaped those 50 years. This week, we take a look at the magnitude of the effort involved in fielding multicar teams in this classic endurance event.
Calculating the workload...
In preparing for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, one needs to be, if not a numbers fan, at least comfortable with dealing with lots of them. Deciphering how to properly assemble an effort by breaking down the number of people and all the elements those people need to be doing is like a complex math equation. Putting the budget together from the numbers breakdown occurs after the fact and completes the process.
Putting together even a one-car effort for the race is a challenging endeavor, so imagine extrapolating that out to two, three, four or even five cars for one 24-hour race. That's half the challenge, and half the allure, of the respective efforts put forth by Mike Shank in Daytona Prototypes and Kevin Buckler in GT, on an annual basis for the 24-hour endurance test.
Shank and Buckler certainly aren't the only two team principals concerned with putting together a multicar program for Daytona, but they do have a lot of experience with it, and in mass quantity.
Buckler in particular has stood out, with 66 cars entered in total since TRG's Daytona debut in 1996, and no fewer than five cars entered in every Rolex 24 since 2005! Shank's proven no slouch either, with either two or three DPs proving a staple of his Daytona races since 2006 – even if he didn't run them all for the full season.
“I always get a little competitive pleasure when guys elsewhere say, ‘You know, I'm gonna do a second or third car for Daytona because TRG can do it,' and then they find out it was the worst thing they could have wished for,” Buckler says. “Since anything can go wrong, if your boat is slightly fragile, don't stick it in the middle of the ocean in the middle of the storm! Really, don't try to start a second car team if you can't do it. It's harder than it looks, and is a logistical management nightmare!”
Buckler (right, with Spencer Pumpelly to his left) knows of what he speaks. While consistently fielding a fleet of Porsche GT3 Cups in the last 15 years, TRG has accrued 10 podium finishes in class at Daytona since 2005 including two class wins. In 2008, the team ran a record seven-car effort, and scored two podiums. So, how does that break down, from the essentials to the mundane?
“We've got several pounds of ice, hundreds of water bottles, 15 golf carts and 10 motorhomes,” Buckler says, reciting some of the items off the cuff. “TRG is a 30-person company, and it tends to swell with our longtime guys who come in every year at Daytona, and work with the ‘TRG Secret Sauce.' It's very regimented, almost like a military operation. But in total for the race, we'll have 125 people.”
Of those 125 people, Buckler estimates at least 10 to 12 rotate on the spotters' stand, six-seven fuelers, eight men on tires, five ladies in hospitality, one sponsor coordinator (who runs around on golf carts and delivers food and new batteries), one motorhome maintenance man checking to ensure power is still going, and one food stocker (his wife). That's plus the usual cast of characters, drivers and regular crew who'd be there anyway.
Buckler describes his Daytona mode of operation as akin to a football or basketball defense running a “zone,” having the crew shift as necessary instead of sticking solely to one man or one role.
Shank's team may not match Buckler's in terms of outright crew members, but is no less regimented in its preparation.
“It depends on whether you run one or two cars, but I have my wife coordinating all logistics, and we started two or three months ago,” Shank explains. “You start in September and October, securing your hotel rooms and booking your flights.
“Realistically, you begin prepping for the race about four or five months in advance to be safe. The really hard stuff happens within the last three months.”
Shank will put nine full-time people on one car, and estimates bringing in a further 11 more with spotters. For Shank's 2011 effort, the team had 12 drivers and 60 people and was happily “over prepared.”
A clearer estimation of Shank's breakdown for a normal two-car effort includes: 28 crew, eight drivers, two transporters, 100 sets of tires, 20 hotel rooms and one massage therapist.
For Buckler, the 2012 Rolex 24 will feature its Porsche running about 30 sets between January's “Roar Before the 24” test and the week of the race through the 24 hours. Using 20 gallons of fuel per hour, Buckler estimates roughly 500 gallons of fuel per car.
“Because of that, we'll expect to stop about 25 times as it will be under an hour, but that's about 25 times to screw up,” Buckler says.
On the surface, the later it gets in the race, the likelihood increases that caffeine will flow just as fast as fuel in the cars. Although both Buckler and Shank are energetic individuals, they're not necessarily keen on getting amped up by Coke, coffee or Red Bull in the darkest hours of the night.
“Energy-wise, I really pace myself for the race, as if equating it to a marathon since I don't go to sleep,” Buckler says. “I won't start pounding any Red Bulls until well after midnight.”
“I'll avoid caffeine altogether,” Shank counters. “I like an occasional Red Bull and vodka away from the track, but not to wake me up straight. I'll stick to the basics, and maybe have a Diet Coke if I need to wake up. Our whole team stays awake and on the stands.”
One strategy Shank employs is utilizing hot soup in the middle of the night.
“At 4 a.m., you'll get head nods, guaranteed,” he says. “Heads will get real heavy. We always time head-bob time to having hot soup – I love beef vegetable – and that perks everyone up. Your face hurts from being tired. It's more like 36-40 hours you're awake.”
By that stage in the race, the preparation and number breakdown shifts to what's still left to accomplish in the remaining hours of the race. And then when the checkers fly, it's time to shut down the operation, recap, reload and relaunch before doing it all over again 12 months later – after making the necessary number crunches and adjustments.
For tickets to the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, CLICK HERE.
And for the latest news and stories from Grand-Am Road Racing and the Rolex Sports Car Series, CLICK HERE.