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.”
Shank's second car, which was the same Riley chassis that finished fourth a year ago in the jointly entered Shank/United Autosports car, surprised with all four of its drivers staying out of trouble, keeping a consistent pace and taking advantage of the other reliability issues that hit its rivals. Considering the driver lineup's inexperience in endurance racing, this is no doubt a surprise but stellar result for the car that isn't scheduled for running any further 2012 races.
With the No. 01 car's woes, it marked the first time since 2006 Ganassi's team hasn't finished first or second at the Rolex 24. The team's sister car, in the hands of the team's IndyCar and NASCAR stars Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray, hit gear linkage issues overnight and lost five laps. The team gained several back via wave-arounds to get to within one lap, but ended fourth.
Corvette's DP debut was largely one to forget, with only one top-five finish to celebrate of its five entries. Action Express's No. 5 overcame an engine fire from earlier in the week, while all the other four – the sister AxEx car, Spirit of Daytona, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings and SunTrust entries all fell down the leaderboard. Despite the frustration, Corvette did spend some of the race leading – 10 of the 14 DPs entered did – and all bar SunTrust made the checkered flag.
GT – Most of the field considered it one of the deepest GT fields in Rolex 24 history, yet by the end of the race, one manufacturer stood head and shoulders above the rest: Porsche – which nabbed yet another class victory to its illustrious history. Porsche swept the GT class podium, with upstarts Magnus Racing (RIGHT) scoring its first Rolex Series win. TRG took second ahead of Brumos Racing in third.
Magnus and Brumos engaged in a bout for the lead for most of the race, with their younger German drivers showcasing their skills to the U.S. audience. Rene Rast, one of Magnus' new additions, and Marc Lieb – Porsche factory pilot drafted into Brumos – spent much of the race near each other, and the lead seemed to rotate based on pit stops.
For a time, those two were the only cars on the lead lap in class, which was somewhat surprising given the flurry of entries. The cautions and wave-around process took a number of contenders from the ranks, and a number of class favorites also hit issues.
Magnus held off TRG, which validated Lally's decision to leave his former team for greener pastures. TRG's No. 67 Porsche featured manufacturer aces Jeroen Bleekemolen, Wolf Henzler, Spencer Pumpelly and Marc Goossens in its lineup – but none could match Lally on the day.
“I absolutely knew that we had the potential to do it,” Lally said. “I don't think anybody is going to win a race like this ever again. I'm sure the whole entire crew is proud and entitled to a lot of celebration tonight.”
Brumos fell to third behind TRG – ensuring Hurley Haywood ends his Daytona career with a podium finish in his 40th start at the track. Haywood is the all-time leader in victories at the track, with five.
“Well, basically we made the mistake of pitting out of sequence,” Haywood said. We should have followed the leader and – when the leader came in, we should have followed them. And what that caused us to do is basically we ran up 15 minutes short on fuel. And then Marc (Lieb) had some problems with the power steering in the end. He was doing a Herculean job of driving the car. But in all, we really ran a trouble-free race until that last stint.”
While Porsche locked out the top three, Chevrolet salvaged something of the weekend when Stevenson Motorsports finished fourth in class with its Camaro GT.R and drivers John Edwards, Robin Liddell and Ronnie Bremer. Stevenson's team has been a notoriously slow starter and now finds itself in a decent position for the rest of the season.
Ferrari managed to score a top five with Risi Competizione's No. 63 Ferrari 458. It remains to be seen what the team will choose to do for the remainder of the season. SpeedSource's Mazda with James Hinchcliffe and Marino Franchitti joining Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito was sixth. TRG's No. 66 Porsche, AIM Autosport's No. 69 Ferrari, Autohaus' No. 88 Camaro and Dempsey Racing's No. 40 Mazda completed the top 10 in class.
Leading results - 761 laps:
Pos Drivers Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Allmendinger/Negri/Pew/Wilson Shank Riley-Ford 24h00m36.793s
2. Dalziel/Luhr/McNish/Popow/Potolicchio Starworks Riley-Ford + 5.198s
3. Goncalvez/McDowell/Nasr/Yacaman Shank Riley-Ford + 49.439s
4. Dixon/Franchitti/McMurray/Montoya Ganassi Riley-BMW + 1 lap
5. Donohue/Fittipaldi/Law Action Express Corvette + 3 laps
6. Hand/Pruett/Rahal/Rojas Ganassi Riley-BMW + 4 laps
7. Frisselle/Frisselle/Lowe/Tracy Doran Dallara-Ford + 13 laps
8. Garcia/Gavin/Magnussen/Westbrook Spirit of Daytona Corvette + 15 laps
9. Barbosa/Borcheller/France/Papis Action Express Corvette + 22 laps
10. Hunter-Reay/Mayer/Potolicchio/Andretti/Valiante Starworks Riley-Ford + 25 laps