Forty years after his father, the late Mark Donohue, drove to victory lane in the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona, David Donohue equaled that feat, crossing the finish line 0.167 seconds ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya to win the 47th running of the longest and most prestigious event in North America.
"I don't know what to say," Donohue exclaimed while celebrating in victory lane. "These guys put such an incredible effort. I know Bob Snodgrass is looking down on us smiling."
A contender from the start, Donohue's pole-sitting Porsche Riley, which he shared with Darren Law, Buddy Rice, and Antonio Garcia, was never too far from the race lead. When the Penske Racing Porsche Riley ran into difficulties late Sunday morning, the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race essentially became a two-way dice between the No. 58 Brumos entry and the No. 01 Lexus Riley driven by Montoya, Scott Pruett, and Memo Rojas. Seven hours later, the contest culminated in a rousing 50-minute duel between Donohue and Montoya that began when Donohue took over for Garcia during the race's final round of pit stops.
Capitalizing on the Ganassi car's superior handling on the tight infield portions of the Daytona International Speedway's 3.56-mile, 14-turn road course, Montoya was able to hold off Donohue for several laps after the race went green again. But eventually the straight-line speed of the Porsche engine in the Brumos car was too much for Montoya, and Donohue was able to wrest the lead from him with about 40 minutes to go. Montoya managed to keep Donohue in sight, closing to the Porsche's gearbox several times in the infield. But the Colombian was never able to get close enough to take a serious shot at the lead, though the margin of victory was the closest in the history of the race.
"We tested for like 3,000 miles here," said Donohue after his fourth Daytona Prototype victory and his first since Mont-Tremblant in 2003. "And we brought a real good package here. There's no doubt we had good top-end (speed). But you really had to know how to use it. That's why it wasn't so easy. Juan protected a lot and I had to plan (my pass) and seize the opportunity when it surfaced."
As for comparisons with his father, Donohue said he was very proud of his father's accomplishments but that this win was more important to him for what it meant to his team, which had not won a Rolex Series race in several years.
The winning Brumos quartet led 254 of the race's 735 laps, including the last 25 circuits. This was the first Brumos win in the 24 Hours of Daytona since 1991, when it teamed up with Joest Racing.
The second Brumos entry, piloted by Joao Barbosa, JC France, Hurley Haywood, and Terry Borcheller, finished third, 5.504 seconds behind the winners and just over five seconds ahead of the SunTrust Racing Ford Riley shared by Max Angelelli, Brian Frisselle, Pedro Lamy, and Wayne Taylor.
The SunTrust team's performance was significant because the other six Ford-powered Daytona Prototypes in the 49-car field failed to finish the race. Five of them retired early due to the same engine component failure. The failures apparently stemmed from a faulty engine part that was manufactured by a third-party supplier and not by Ford. Both Krohn Racing Lolas, both Michael Shank Racing Rileys, and the AIM Autosport Riley were affected by the problem, which would have taken too long to fix, according to David Brown, the team manager at Krohn Racing. A sixth Ford, the Dallara of Doran Racing, which ran inside the top-10 for most of the race, lost fuel pressure early Sunday morning and retired shortly thereafter
The second Ganassi entry, shared by Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, and Alex Lloyd, rounded out the top-five, four laps down to the winners. That car led 82 laps over the course of the race but lost time to the leaders during the 19th hour, when the car's nose flew off, sending Dixon, last year's Indy 500 winner and IndyCar champion, to the pits for a new front end. By that time it was too late for the team to make up the distance it had lost to the leaders.
A lengthy stop in the 18th hour to replace the car's rear-end assembly dropped the Penske Racing Porsche Riley to sixth overall, 18 laps down to the winners. It was the only major setback for the Penske squad, which led for 191 laps. Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard will contest the rest of the Rolex Series schedule in the Penske car.
Unscheduled stops to fix a broken gear cluster in the transmission in the fourth hour and to replace the car's rear end assembly during the 11th hour relegated last year's runner up, the Gainsco Pontiac Riley, to a seventh- place finish; 21 laps arrears of the winners.
The new Childress-Howard Motorsports Pontiac Crawford ended up eighth, 33 laps behind the winners, in the hands of Andy Wallace, Danica Patrick, Casey Mears, and Rob Finlay. Electrical issues slowed the brand-new team throughout the event. Wallace and Finlay will contest the entire Rolex Series season in this new Crawford.
The No. 55 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley and the No. 13 Beyer Racing Pontiac Riley finished ninth and 10th, respectively, in the Daytona Prototype division.
The BMW Rileys of Allegra Motorsports and Orbit Racing also failed to finish because of crashes.
The race featured a record 25 cautions for a total of 117 laps. Nine cars took turns in the overall lead and there were 51 overall lead changes among 53 drivers.
The Rolex Series will return to the track April 25 at the bucolic Virginia International Raceway.
Editor's Note: The winning No. 58 Brumos Porsche did not meet the minimum weight requirement and was docked five points. The win stays in the record books but they will do not hold the edge in the team or driver standings.