With 57 cars and an incredible number of stories beyond the obvious of the Ganassi squad's fifth Rolex 24 at Daytona win in 10 years, and Scott Pruett equaling Hurley Haywood's mark of five overall Rolex 24 wins, we take a look back at how the race was won, and how some of the other events unfolded in the 51st 24-hour race at Daytona.
GANASSI DOMINATION – Thursday afternoon during qualifying, the pair of TELMEX/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Riley BMWs dropped into the 1:40 range to sweep the front row. The collective response from the rest of the field and onlookers not a part of the CGR squad could be summed up in two words: Uh oh.
With what appeared to be a pace advantage over the Ford and Chevrolet powerplants (see below), the race became firmly Ganassi's to lose, rather than an open contest for the other Daytona Prototypes to win. After a rare year out of contention in 2012, they emerged victorious in the Rolex 24 once again.
The stats were plain to see. The fastest Ford and Corvette in qualifying were 0.7 and 1.3 seconds slower, respectively, than Pruett's pole-sitting Riley BMW, Ganassi's No. 01 (421) and No. 02 (116) led a combined 537 of 709 laps, and the fastest race laps were 1:41.177 (Scott Dixon) and 1:41.327 (Juan Pablo Montoya), with only two other prototypes able to run in the 1:41s at any point.
BALANCING ACT – If you're a sports car junkie, you're already well familiar with the acronym BoP – Balance of Performance – that is either a godsend to level the playing field or a nightmare that you'd rather not discuss. If we lived in an era of unrestricted technological freedom, a whitewash such as the one the Ganassi Riley BMWs laid down at Daytona would be more praised than it is, the reason being that it seemed this year it was more a result of Grand-Am's pre-race BoP adjustments than anything else.
From 2012 to 2013, BMW's rev limit increased to 7,000, which it was at the Roar Before the 24 test earlier this month. The Fords lost 300 rpm after dominating the pace sweepstakes in 2012, while Chevrolet teams were hamstrung by a new horsepower-cutting air restrictor despite gaining 100 extra rpm.
If a car wins because it's out-engineered and out-paced the field, that's one thing. But this time it looked to many that this was less than a fair playing field. The ease of passes for Ganassi – one such stretch where Pruett went from fifth to first in barely over a lap, for instance – almost defied belief.
“This is the problem with the Balance of Performance,” conceded Ganassi's Dario Franchitti. “We really shouldn't be talking about it, but it's been the whole subject. Last year it was the Fords, the year before it was the six-cylinder Porsche. Someone always has a big advantage and a lot of teams use it as an excuse.”
Franchitti added a fair point that there couldn't have been an extra downforce advantage, because Ganassi's Rileys were required to run the same series-mandated wing level.
“We've won a few championships, so it's not like we're a bunch of ‘tuggers' who've suddenly got this advantage,” he said. “It's not like we've forgotten how to engineer a car, or drive it. Stop trying to make everybody the same, because there are times that somebody is just going to be better than others.”
Some tweets did stand out amidst a flurry of them maligning Ganassi's pace. From GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing's Alex Gurney: “Have to say the restrictor that Grand-Am gave us makes no sense, none.” Park Place Motorsports' Spencer Pumpelly: “It was clear the 01 car had more grunt on the banking than [Max] Angellelli. [Grand-Am] gave the Chevys a restrictor before the race. Killed the race.” And Starworks Motorsport: “Is it insulting Ganassi says they were faster cause they had lower downforce – despite ALL Riley teams running at the same series min limit!”
Politics it may be, but the general consensus was that BoP for Daytona Prototypes has to be better addressed for this race next year. Along with the three current engine manufacturers, there is the potential for P2 cars that might turn up in the forthcoming unified series. The challenge ahead for Grand-Am and the ALMS is to adopt the best of BoP from ALMS – GT being the benchmark for a generally level but not skewed playing field – and going from there.
SIGNS OF #THEFUTURE – On that note, the fact that at this year's Rolex 24 the phrases “ALMS,” “Le Mans” and “merger” could be discussed so openly was a change from the norm. The integration between Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series is happening, and it's obvious.
Some IMSA/ALMS staples such as its own series transporter, timing & scoring system, race pit notes and pit techs made their way into the weekend. Le Mans' ACO was represented by top officials including its new president, Pierre Fillon. Lastly, ALMS race director Paul Walter made his debut in the same role for Grand-Am. Little was said about him before a handful of drivers tweeted their appreciation for a job well done on Monday. Ideally, this will be one of the last times we see Walter's name put in print.
One notable absence? In the swamped infield full of vendors and displays, the ALMS' Tequila Patrón tent was missing at Daytona Beach, although the Extreme Speed Ferrari carrying its colors was on hand (and finished ninth in the GT class).
SHANK'S SLICE OF RECOVERY PIE – It's hard not to root for Mike Shank. The racing lifer has worked to maximize his resources, however big or small, and his resolve, determination and leadership helped fuel the defending champions to a remarkable recovery and podium finish.
“I'm more proud of what my guys did this year, than I am of what we were able to do last year,” said Shank, whose 2013 Rolex 24 was plenty eventful.
In the first hour, the defending champion No. 60 Riley Ford went to the garage to replace the left-front toe link and lost seven laps. Once night fell, and the car had recovered several laps, more problems struck when the No. 60 was called in for a three minute stop-and-hold penalty. Shank was visibly upset but didn't let his composure throw him off the game. A fuel pressure issue that occurred later sent the car to the garage again, but only two laps were lost.
They still rallied. Cycling through a new four-driver rotation that swapped Marcos Ambrose for Ozz Negri once Negri had completed the opening stint, the team parlayed strategy and pace to gain laps back throughout the race. Many were due to getting wave-arounds on yellow flags; that said, given the pace deficit to the BMWs, for the Riley Ford to not lose more laps once they had recovered some was key.
With just more than an hour to go, AJ Allmendinger restarted in the lead but wasn't able to withstand Montoya's challenge. He did in the short stretch before another yellow but not on the final restart, due to being bumped off the road by Joao Barbosa's Action Express Corvette while contesting second place. Barbosa later was called for an avoidable contact penalty that promoted Shank's No. 60 back to third.
“You always want to do your best for Mike,” said Justin Wilson, who along with John Pew completed the No. 60 lineup. “He's just so enthusiastic that it rubs off on everyone. If you'd have told us after the first hour that we'd have a chance of finishing third, we'd have been over the moon. As you're standing on the podium you're thinking, ‘There's nothing quite like being first,' but third place after everything we've come through in this race is a great result.”
The sister No. 6 car (Chris Cumming, Michael Valiante, Gustavo Yacaman, Jorge Goncalvez) had sporadic pace but retired in the 18th hour.