They say that nothing good happens after midnight. For several competitors in the 48th Rolex 24 at Daytona, the season opener for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16, that statement summed up much of their race.
The most dominant team in the race, as well as several others contending for the lead, either fell out or suffered fate during the early morning hours Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. Moreover, several former winners took advantage of those problems to put themselves in contention to take the checkered flag – which flies at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
The leader at 3:30 a.m. ET Sunday was Justin Wilson of the No. 01 TELMEX BMW Riley, fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Wilson took over from Pruett during the 12th hour as pit stops cycled through and held a 6.807-second advantage over Action Express Racing's Mike Rockenfeller in the No. 9 Porsche Riley.
Twenty-four drivers in 13 cars – the second most all-time in a Grand-Am Rolex Series race – led the race, which consisted of 365 laps or 1,299.4 miles. Aside from Wilson and co-driver Scott Pruett, the team's No. 02 Target BMW Riley also led. In fact, the No. 02 was the most dominant team until its demise, leading 139 of the first 249 laps – or 56 percent at that point – before smoke from the car's rear forced it into the pits at 12:05 a.m. ET. Less than 15 minutes later, the car was announced retired with a blown engine.
The 11th hour also stirred up the rundown. Richard Westbrook was running second in Crown Royal/NGN Racing's No. 95 Crown Royal BMW Riley when a stuck seatbelt kept Westbrook from getting out of the car quickly. The team lost a lap before Lucas Luhr went back on the track, and another problem forced the car two more laps behind and out of the top five.
Other cars running on the lead lap during the 11th hour included the No. 75 Krohn Racing Ford Riley and No. 59 Brumos Porsche Riley. Nic Jonsson had just taken over the No. 75 when he was hit by another car and subsequently made contact with the Turn 5 tire barrier. The team lost more than 10 laps changing the right front upright and brake pads. Defending race co-winner Darren Law also had just taken over the No. 59 when problems forced the car into the pits for a rear end change. The car, fielded for Law and fellow 2009 race winner David Donohue, as well as Hurley Haywood, Raphael Matos and Butch Leitzinger, fell more than 20 laps behind by the halfway mark.
Following Wilson and Rockenfeller at halfway were AJ Allmendinger in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley, the only other car on the lead lap. Fourth was Mark Wilkins in Michael Shank Racing's second car, the No. 60 Crown Royal XR Ford Riley, while fifth was defending Daytona Prototype co-champion Alex Gurney in the No. 99 GAINSCO Chevrolet Riley.
In GT, TRG and Stevenson Motorsports fought for the lead starting during the fourth hour, and no other team has held the point since then. Leading at halfway was Johannes van Overbeek in the No. 67 ShoreTel/Openwave Porsche GT3 he shared with 2009 co-winners Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long as well as Seth Neiman. The car led by more than a minute over the race's only three-driver team of Robin Liddell, Andrew Davis and Jan Magnussen in Stevenson Motorsports' No. 57 Stevenson Automotive Group/BryanMark Financial Camaro.
Third was two-time class winner Timo Bernhard in the No. 71 TRG Porsche GT3, while fourth was series debutant Matt Bell in the No. 97 Stevenson Automotive Group/LaLa Motorsports Camaro. Rounding out the top five was two-time race winner Anthony Lazzaro, who guided the pole-winning No. 69 FXDD Mazda RX-8, which caused a caution earlier in the race but was still within five laps of the class leaders.
The 24-hour race began Saturday afternoon in a drizzle and the first six laps were run under a full course caution. When the race finally started, Pruett jumped to the front from his fifth-place starting position, and six drivers led the race during the first hour.
The race was already fifth all-time in lead changes with 36 and was run under full course caution 11 times for 39 laps.