The prohibitive favorites fell early, in the middle, and late in the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona. When all was said and done, Michael Shank Racing scored the overall victory with drivers Ozz Negri, John Pew, Justin Wilson and AJ Allmendinger in a new third generation Ford Riley. Magnus Racing, in only its third year of competition, captured its first ever Rolex Series victory with Andy Lally, John Potter, Rene Rast and Richard Lietz. Both Ford (DP) and Porsche (GT) swept the respective podiums, and the DP winners set a new overall lap record at 761 laps completed.
DP – In DP, each of the top three teams from the 2011 Grand-Am Rolex Series hit trouble, but were challenged throughout by the underdog squads from Michael Shank Racing and Starworks Motorsport.
When all was said and done, Shank's squad took its first overall win by holding off its fellow underdog team. Ford powerplants, somewhat surprisingly, upended the quintet of new Corvette DPs and the equally strong BMW contingent for a podium sweep.
Shank's eponoymous team has worked for years to score an elusive first Rolex 24 win, and “got the band back together” with his 2006 runner-up lineup of Negri, Allmendinger and Wilson reunited alongside Negri's normal co-driver John Pew. Like Starworks, Shank also opted to run a second grandfathered Ford Riley with a mix of one veteran in McDowell and three youngsters, Nasr, Goncalvez and Yacaman, all making their Rolex 24 debuts.
“I always feel like I have to prove myself, and build great relationships,” Shank said. “I've worked to over-deliver in every way I could. I remember feeling so let down (in 2006), just like Dalziel just was. But I feel like we deserved it. We've paid our dues. I hope this can take us to cool, new places.”
Peter Baron's Starworks teams has also taken its fair share of the headlines this week, when Dalziel (LEFT) surprised a fair number of observers when he took pole on Thursday – only the team's second on-track session with its newly delivered car. Additionally, the team went through a number of driver changes in its previous generation Ford Riley even before the race began, eventually winding up with IndyCar aces Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti alongside another late recruit in Michael Valiante and two other gentlemen drivers.
Combined, the two teams led more than 500 laps with their guest drivers, McNish and Dalziel (Starworks No. 8) and Allmendinger and Wilson (Shank No. 60) providing star turns throughout their stints. Dalziel led from the outset from pole, and although the team had a brief, minor fall down the leaderboard in Potolicchio's first stint, it only rarely fell outside the top five.
Wilson, meanwhile, proved his fitness in his first race since suffering his back injury at the Mid-Ohio IndyCar round last August. At one stage in the race, the tall Englishman ran a full four stints and spent nearly three hours straight in the car.
“We all seemed to fit better,” Wilson admitted, since he said he lost an inch following his back surgery. “We had the team give us the reliability. The Ford Riley packaged proved it with thee podiums. Once I was out there, I don't want to just drive laps for the hell of it.”
Starworks nearly fell out of it when on Sunday morning, Luhr ran wide at the bus stop chicane, skidding through the grass and dislodging his rear valence underneath his rear wing. The team pitted and lost a little more than a lap. From there, Dalziel went on a relentless charge to make up the time – and with more than three hours of consecutive green flag running, the Scotsman overcame the lap deficit on track when he passed Pruett.
The two cars came to a head in their battle for the upset in several bouts between McNish and Allmendinger over the final hours of the race. When the two attempted to pass some slower GT Ferrari 458s, the two went to the second and fourth lanes to try and pass, with McNish nearly scraping the wall on Daytona's high banks. That was a hair-raising moment, but it wasn't their only one. At one stage, Allmendinger ran wide when trying to pass McNish for the lead through turn one, and only a couple laps later, the two ran side-by-side again through oval turns one and two.
In the Rolex Series equivalent of “boys, have at it,” McNish and Allmendinger bumped each other as they covered the corner. They didn't crash although they came near it throughout the exchange. A caution that flew shortly thereafter put rest to any future dustup.
“I wasn't happy about turn one,” Allmendinger admitted. “To use NASCAR terms, I got loose in the middle of turn 2, and we touched.”
McNish countered with an equal level of frustration in his immediate TV interview, but had mellowed by the post-race press conference.
“Over here, ‘rubbin's racing,'” McNish said. “Everyone wants to win the race. It shows how important the race was. At the time the contact was a surprise, but that's why it was what it was.”
The two cars had their final go with Dalziel back in against Allmendinger. Ganassi's chances for repeating with its No. 01 car were dashed when Pruett left the pits without first and second gear. To add insult to injury, Pruett received a drive-thru penalty for a speeding violation. After 23 hours, the team lost four laps and fell to an unrepresentative sixth place by the checkered flag.
By that stage, Allmendinger had enough of a gap to hold off Dalziel's last charge. Dalziel was complimentary of Shank's efforts, but naturally disappointed his sterling effort fell short.
“We thought that we had something for them, and I think we proved for sure the first part of the race that we were the fastest car. I think part of it, we threw away ourselves a little bit,” Dalziel explained. “It's hard to be overly disappointed based on where Starworks has come from. So everything was pointing towards going for victory, but the Shank guys in all honesty did an amazing job.
“(If we weren't damaged), I don't think we would have lost the lead at that point in all honesty,” he added. “I'm not going to take anything away from what the guys did. I don't want to get into a war of words between us and them. I think either one deserved to win. We know how much it cost us.”