UP ALL NIGHT
On Feb. 3-4, 1968, the Werks Porsche 907s flat-out dominated the 24 Hours of Daytona, finishing 1-2-3 and produced one of the most unusual first and second-place finishes found anywhere in motorsports' history.
First, there was the matter of the five-driver winning team, as Vic Elford, Jochen Neerpasch, Jo Siffert, Rolf Stommelen and Hans Herrmann all drove the winning No. 54 Porsche 907.
As will be attested in this weekend's Rolex 24 At Daytona, five-driver teams are usual fare nowadays but two- and three-driver teams were the preferred in the 1960's and early 1970's.
The'68 podium lacked today's spaciousness so it got pretty crowded when the five Porsche guys squeezed atop the podium's topmost step.
The crowding eased a tad, however, when Siffert and Herrmann alternately also accepted the race's second-place trophy after their No. 52 Porsche 907 finished 14-laps behind themselves.
To make matters even more interesting, the second-place No. 52's third driver, Gerhard Mitter, was the only Porsche driver that weekend not to get some sort of podium recognition after he wrecked and DNF'd the No. 53 Porsche 907 shared with Stommelen, who got credit for finishing in first place.
The third-place No. 51 Porsche 907 was on the same lap as the second-place No. 54 Porsche, but its drivers were awarded only third-place honors because the No. 54 was the only car they drove.
However, Hurley Haywood in 1977 - his third of five Rolex 24 wins - would drive owner Dave Helmick's Porsche 911 Carrera RSR eight-hours straight (even though drivers were then also limited to three hours) by exiting the car, getting into a little six-person, pit-crew scrum over the wall, change helmets and re-emerge as the "relieving" driver.
What's that got to do with the 1968 race? Beats me beyond each involving a Porsche; but it's cool, too.
Someday, ask Max Papis or team manager Kevin Doran how they combined to save a lap, a Ferrari 333SP and a Rolex 24 win while putting on a statue-worthy performance in the DIS "Football Field."
And that's what's neat about the Rolex 24. This weekend will produce its own tales and oddities which we'll someday reflect upon and for which Ol' DC will now turn-on his predictive crystal ball.
If ... I ... can ... just ... get ... the ... horizontal ... hold.
STAYIN' ALIVE (or, the guys who'll be there at the end)
No. 07 BANNER RACING's two Pontiac GXP.R cars have become one with drivers Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards still at the wheel of the car they drove to the 2008 GT championship. Jan Magnussen will help with Rolex 24 driving duties while team owner Leighton Reese will be looking at the race through a slightly different rose-colored visor this year as he abandons the No. 06 driver's seat for one atop the team's war wagon. It'll allow the team to put more focus into a car that isn't supposed to do well at DIS - don't bet against them.
No. 30 RACER'S EDGE MOTORSPORTS Mazda RX-8, sponsored by 3-dimensional.com, IDEMITSU, P1 Groupe, Find.com, Bizrate.com and South African Airways, which I'd fly any ol' time. Drivers are Dane Cameron, Doug Peterson, Bryan Sellers and Dion von Moltke. There's just something about these guys .
No. 57 STEVENSON MOTORSPORTS GXP.R, with its eagle overlaid on red-white and blue, put Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell squarely into a 2008 GT championship hunt during which observers went from believing "No way, Jose," to "Way, dude!" Third-and-final Rolex 24 team driver Jeff Bucknum was born into the racing world and has paid his dues. Team manager Mike Johnson still has fire in his piercing blue, almost ghostly eyes. This car, being a Pontiac, also isn't supposed to do well at Daytona. Will they try too hard this hear? Was 2008 only a Cinderella story that's run its course? Don't bet against them in either scenario.
SPEEDSOURCE No. 70 Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8; drivers are Sylvain Tremblay, Nick Ham, David Haskell and Jonathan Bomarito, the latter replacing Raphael Matos who's in a DP this year. Is Bomarito as talented? This team and three of the four drivers won the race in 2008. Taking the class pole Thursday in a final qualifying-lap flyer, Tremblay put the team out front - well, right behind the slowest DP, at any rate. How can one go against 2008's winning car?
GT JUGGERNAUTS: FARNBACHER LOLES and TRG. One of the two "teams" will finish on the podium. (I can just hear someone saying, "Do you think!?")
No. 65 TRG Porsche sponsored by AXA, Mitchell Rubber and Wealth Management Strategies. Craig Stanton is the kind of buddy one needs in a fox hole. Joining him in the four-man driver rotation are John Potter, Bryce Miller and Porsche-bot-in-training Marco Holzer - on whom Buckler is very high - even though Stanton likely could do the 24 alone.
No. 67 TRG Porsche GT3 sponsored by Construct Corps, CRG, No Fear Energy Drink, K1 Speed, Voodoo Ride, Gemstone Winery. Short of someone punting these guys out of the way, it's hard to imagine this car won't be in the thick of the fight.
Jorg Bergmeister, Joey Hand, Andy Lally and Patrick Long partner with RJ Valentine for Rolex 24driving duties. That's five guys and about the only negative one can see about this team. Valentine's been coming to The 24 since 1978 and while such may sound "old," this guy's in better shape, mentally and physically, than 95-percent of the high-test testosterone possessors on pit road, much less the whole population. Valentine, who doesn't lack self-confidence, also is smart enough to get out of the way when need be, too.
No. 64, JLOWE RACING sponsored by Porsche of the Main Line, SRS and Think First. Short sponsor lists mean either lots of money or just enough but the weakest link on this team is probably its smartest guy, Jim Lowe (look, if the guy can figure out what nerve goes where .). Co-drivers are Tim Sugden, Johannes Van Overbeek and 1996 Rolex 24 winner Jim Pace. Pace is as high on his team's chances as he's ever been. By the way, don't let the "64" fool you, it's a Farnbacher Loles-managed effort. Speaking of which, we now turn to a traditionally numbered Farnbacher Loles team .
No. 86 FARNBACHER LOLES with Dominik Farnbacher, Eric Lux, Matthew Marsh and Kevin Roush at the wheel is sponsored by Flex Box and Wheel Enhancement. Four drivers, two sponsors and seeing Farnbacher (Dominik) drive enables one to understand why a team was built around him. It's a darn good team, too.
CHIP GANASSI RACING with FELIX (y Jose) SABATES is the Rolex 24's defending Rolex 24 race-winning team owner. Of the team's six drivers, only Alex Lloyd hasn't taken home a Rolex Daytona watch.
One must go back to SunTrust Racing's 2005 Rolex 24 win (when the car was your basic black) before finding another race-winning team that didn't have a "Chip" in it somewhere.
The brains, if one will, of the operation is Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates (with a shout to Carlos Slim Jr.) who have been smart enough to hire and allow people like Mike Hull and Tim Keene to oversee this particular butt-kicking branch of the CGR organization. It is tightly linked and shares facilities with the Indy Racing League teams, from which Lloyd, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti are borrowed - and from which Juan Pablo Montoya once hailed - to render aid unto Rolex Series regulars Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. Pruett now is the Rolex Series leading race winner, hands down, and has likewise won more races for Ganassi than has any other of the organization's storied drivers.
The No. 01 TELMEX/Target Lexus-Riley won in 2007 and 2008 but finished 39th in 2006. This year drivers are Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Scott Dixon (yep, he's on both line-ups).
The No. 02 Target/TELMEX Lexus-Riley won in 2006 but finished 41st in 2007 and 44th in 2008. This year's driving team is Scott Dixon, Alex Lloyd, Dario Franchitti and Scott Pruett (yep, he's on both line-ups).
Neither Lexus-powered team - thus Lexus itself - will win this year and might not even reach the podium. Should it happen, I'll give Ganassi, Hull and Keene a chance to draw a courthouse crowd and kiss their "you-know-what."
MIKE SHANK RACING, Nos. 6 and 60. Each of MSR's two Ford-Riley teams won a race in 2008, each have a "gentleman" driver who are capable of doing well and not so well - with such creating the only question mark for the team, but both seem to be on their game this year.
The ruthless Shank (no doubt related somehow to King Edward Longshanks) has a calm demeanor which carefully masks a deep-down nervousness that constantly boils beneath. His teams are carefully constructed with proud personnel who are among the best in racing.
Don't be surprised if the No. 6 (John Pew, Michael Valiante, Ian James, A.J. Allmendinger) and the No. 60 (Mark Patterson, Ozz Negri, Colin Braun, Ryan Hunter-Reay) each find a place on the same Rolex 24 podium.
SUNTRUST RACING: The No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Ford-Dallara has been searching for the perfect "other" driver since Wayne Taylor decided to reduce his driving involvement after the 2006 season following a 2005 driving championship win that included a Rolex 24 crown.
In 2007, regular driver Max Angelelli was joined by Jan Magnussen, Jeff Gordon and Taylor for the 24 as well as Magnussen, Jonathon Cochet and Memo Gidley for the rest of the season. The revolving chair, um, driver's seat didn't work too well - if "championship" is the definition of such.
If any team were to be picked as the Rolex Series' "snake-bit" poster child for 2008, it certainly was the SunTrust team. About the only plague it didn't suffer was the one involving locusts, though some might say 2008 co-driver Michael Valiante was consumed by such, for his involvement ended about two or three races into the season, even though Valiante was present for each subsequent race, scored the pole and race win at Infineon Raceway in the No. 10 DP.
Brian Frisselle joins the team this year and despite having to wear odd-looking driving shoes (that are starting to grow on everyone) has brought smiles to co-driver Max Angelelli's face. The three (Taylor still is driving better than many others and is on duty during the endurance races) are joined by Pedro Lamy for the 24.
They're ready, cocked and loaded. Expect the SunTrust team to be in the hunt at race end.
Ah, the No. 16 PENSKE RACING Porsche-Riley, sponsored by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 (which needs to put the gold on top and black below if it doesn't want to appear top-heavy; an old designer trick).
Driving are Ryan Briscoe, who has a ton of Rolex 24 experience, as does co-driving 2003 Rolex 24 winner Timo Bernhard, and Romain Dumas (who still hasn't lifted, regardless).
To put it mildly, these guys are talented, almost prohibitive favorites by many, including some of the Rolex 24's oldest, most-experienced hands, but it just ain't gonna be there at race end. Sorry. (Remember, though, we're only talking about the Rolex 24, not the season championship.)
BRUMOS PORSCHE RACING, Nos. 58 and 59. Hurley Haywood, who at some point will join J.C. France, Joao Barbosa and 2004 Rolex 24 winner Terry Borcheller in the No. 59 Porsche-Riley, has had an eerie, quiet confidence about this Rolex 24.
Starting Penske's bad-hair Rolex 24 weekend was David Donohue, who put the No. 58 car on the Rolex 24 pole while Bernhard and company applauded themselves in the pits (and cooled the tires). "El Diablo" is joined by regular co-driver Darren Law, Antonio Garcia and Buddy Rice.
Talking about "snake-bit," Brumos Racing has just been stuck in that mode for way too long. It has a great chance of breaking that mold at this Rolex 24 - but by the No. 59.
No. 76 KROHN RACING Ford-Lola qualified in race trim and driver Ricardo Zonta (Nic Jonsson, Darren Turner, co-driving) was surprised he posted a top-four time - as were Rolex Series officials who have now gridded the car 13th for today's race start.
It'll finish better; much, much better.
But the No. 99 GAINSCO AUTO INSURANCE will win the 2009 Rolex 24. It took 'em awhile to get here but if "deserving" means anything, Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, Jimmy Vasser and some guy known as a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ have been paying dues for awhile. Besides, this year rates as one of the team's best opportunities.
Fogarty and Gurney (and the rest of the Bob Stallings-owned team) won the Rolex Series 2007 driving championship with an almost super-human effort after finishing 40-something overall in that year's Rolex 24. In 2008, they got off to a darn good season start with a second-place finish in the Rolex 24 but promptly fell off the championship horse.
To be riding high one day and then thinking bottom looked like "up" the next day cuts to the quick, big time. Yet, good can come from such if one simply looks for the lesson. That team learned looked for and "got" the lesson.
Even with an underpowered Pontiac engine (especially as compared to the BMW and Ford and Porsche and Lexus and, well, probably every other engine in the series) these guys will be one of GM's badly needed 2008 bright lights. The championship also has some sprint racing. They'll assuredly need help there, though.
But that's another day and another column.
Now, out to walk the grid.
DC Williams for Motorsport.com