If the captivating events that unfolded today in the waning moments of the rain-drenched 42nd Rolex 24 Daytona are any indication, the Grand American Rolex Series may indeed be well on its way to changing the face of American sports car racing.
Thus began one of the most heroic driving efforts in Rolex 24 history. With the right rear corner of the Crawford dragging on the ground and the left front tire partially off the ground, Stewart re-entered the race in a desperate effort to will the car to the finish. Lap after lap the former NEXTEL Cup champion manhandled the hobbled Crawford around the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course; smoking the tires and breaking the rear end lose with unbridled determination.
Eventually, however, the car was unable to withstand the stress and the left rear tire blew off the rim, spinning Stewart around and ending his valiant effort.
"None of the tires were on the ground," Stewart stated. "But I could run fast enough to pull away from second and be in good shape to win this thing. But the left rear put us out."
"I never gave up, but it was looking tough for us," Borcheller, last year's DP champion, said. "The car was hurt and we had to nurse it. I figured we would be good enough to finish third at the one hour mark."
The winning car completed 528 laps, averaging only 77.927 mph, a testament to the long yellow- and red-flag periods.
"It's hard to describe," added team owner Barber. "This is a dream come true."
The Orbit Racing Porsche of Mike Fitzgerald, Robin Liddell, Johnny Mowlem, Joe Policastro and Jay Policastro, ran flawlessly throughout the race to finish second overall and first in GT, 6.973 seconds ahead of the class pole sitting No. 74 Flying Lizard Porsche driven by Johannes van Overbeek, Seth Neiman, Lonnie Pechnik, Peter Cunningham and Mike Rockenfeller.
"It was difficult," Mowlem said. "We lost our rear window last night and that wasn't a problem in the wet, but when it started to dry out it really reduced our straight line speed on the banking. I had to push really hard to keep Mike Rockenfeller behind me."
"It was such a hard run at the end," Rockenfeller said. "I was one lap behind when I got in the car, and I really pushed for about three hours. I tried to close the gap, and it was pretty close after 24 hours. I think why we didn't win is because we had some problems at the beginning of the race."
Despite starting 31st, the Doran-Lista Doran JE4 Lexus of Didier Theys, Jan Lammers, Marc Goossens and Fredy Lienhard overcame two early collisions to finish fourth overall and second in DP.
Wallace, Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart ended up fifth overall and third in DP, seven laps behind the winner.
"It wasn't meant to be this way and that's the way it is," said car builder Max Crawford. "I can't be upset about the way the car ran. The boys did a fantastic job. They did everything they could have. I think the cars are fast and I think we have somewhere to go from here."
The No. 73 BE Racing Ferrari 360 Modena finished sixth overall and third in GT, 13 laps behind the class winners.
Seventh overall and fourth in DP went to the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Doran Lexus driven by Kelly Collins, Cort Wagner, Mike Newton, Thomas Erdos and Brent Martini.
After leading the race several times in the first few hours, the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley of Wayne Taylor, Max Angelelli and Emmanuel Collard crossed the finish line eighth.
"I truly thought our guys would not only make it to the podium but maybe match the runner-up finish . . . I scored here in 1999," Taylor said. "Then, suddenly it felt like a one-two punch to suffer a fuel pickup problem, recover without losing a position, and then face the fact that our day came up short with the CV joint failure that put us out."
The No. 91 Doncaster Racing Porsche GT3 Cup shared by Jean Francois Dumoulin, Robert Julien, Greg Pootmans and Porsche factory driver Marc Lieb led the way in the SGS class, finishing ninth overall.
"It was really tough out there," Lieb said. "Especially during the night when it was raining so hard and our windows were fogging up."
Chip Ganassi Racing's Lexus Riley rounded out the top 10.
The Rolex Sports Car Series will return to the track Feb. 26-29 at Homestead Miami Speedway for the Grand Prix of Miami.