DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 3 -- Battling electrical problems as well as 73 other teams, the Doran-Lista Racing team of Lebanon, Ohio won the most prestigious endurance sports car race in North America Sunday afternoon at Daytona International ...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 3 -- Battling electrical problems as well as 73 other teams, the Doran-Lista Racing team of Lebanon, Ohio won the most prestigious endurance sports car race in North America Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway when Fredy Lienhard of Erlan, Switzerland took the checkered flag in the 40th annual Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.
Lienhard, who is also the CEO of the team's primary sponsor, Lista, the worldwide leader in modular drawer systems, said the victory was "like a wonderful dream come true." That sentiment that was quickly echoed by his co-drivers -- Mauro Baldi of Monte Carlo, Monaco; Max Papis of Miami Beach, Fla.; and Didier Theys of Scottsdale, Ariz. -- as well as team owner/manager Kevin Doran and everyone else connected with the team's Dallara Judd #27.
Papis, a star of the CART champ car circuit, called it "the greatest win of my career."
The race was indeed challenging. Another car, the Intersport Lola Judd of Jon Field, Michael Durand, Duncan Dayton and Rick Sutherland, dominated most of the evening and had built up a 10-lap advantage over the Doran-Lista car before its half-shaft snapped a little after 8 a.m. Sunday morning. Papis retook the lead while repairs were being made to the Intersport car, and the Doran-Lista #27 was never again headed.
It is only the sixth car in the event's 40-year history to win from the pole.
"What comes to my mind is one of Fredy's sayings: 'If you fall down, stand up twice.' I imagine we stood up about 12 times during this race, because we had at least half a dozen troubles along the way," said Doran after watching his car cross the finish line with a six-lap lead over the Jim Matthews Racing Riley & Scott Elan driven by Guy Smith, Matthews, Scott Sharp and Robby Gordon.
The victory was especially satisfying because it came in a relatively new Dallara chassis powered by a Judd V10 powerplant. The latter had never before even finished a 24-hour race, let alone won one.
"This is the race that brands sports car racing in America -- the Rolex 24 at Daytona," Doran explained. "This is the fourth victory for myself here and the second one for Doran Enterprises, so now it's our race. Now there's some momentum, we'll see if we can continue in the same direction."
When asked what the victory means to him personally, Doran said matter of factly, "It means I did my job. I was hired to run a program for Lista and win races, and this was realistically the biggest race we could win. I love what I do, so it doesn't get any better than this.
"For me, it's an emotional challenge," he added. "You can go sprint racing or to the Indy 500, but how high can you get in two and a half to four hours? Here you're up and you're down for 24 hours. The endurance factor intensifies everything. With the kind of day we had here today, we didn't count it in the bag until it was done."
Doran was also the team manager of the Gianpiero Moretti team which won this race in a Ferrari in 1998. Baldi and Theys were two of his drivers that day too, so comparing the two victories was only natural.
"The Moretti win was pretty awesome," Doran recalled. "Gianpiero actually made my business and I made his day. I look at what we've done with Fredy [Lienhard], and I realize that he's taken my business to the next level.
"And, the way I look at it, I made his day," Doran added with a smile.
"Daytona is harder on the mechanics of everything: the engine, the gearbox, the brakes, just everything," noted Baldi. "Today is even more important to me than my first victory, because this team really wanted to finish this race in first position and we did it."
Theys had a feeling the team was going to end up on top.
"I had the same feeling this time as I had in 1998 when we won," he said. "This car had won LeMans, but the question was the Judd engine. We proved not only that the Judd can finish a 24-hour race, but it can win this race."
Theys qualified on the pole and led the first hour and a half of the race. Then, as they always do in an endurance event of this magnitude, little challenges started to crop up.
The first problem was that the car's power steering went out, but the team still ran in various places in the top five in the first five hours of the event.
By hour nine the Doran-Lista team was not only back in the lead, it had a two-lap advantage over the eventual second-place finisher.
Around the halfway point the electrical problems surfaced. The team replaced the car's battery and alternator to no avail, and eventually settled into a pattern of bringing the Dallara into the pits for a new battery periodically for the remainder of the race. Four new Hawker Energy batteries were used on the car in all.
All that activity in the pits took its toll on the team's position on the scoring pylon, however. In the wee hours of the morning the team was still in second, but it was nine laps behind the Intersport Lola Judd #37.
By 4 a.m. the team was still eight laps behind the leader, but its car was the fastest one on the track.
They kept the pressure up throughout the night, but the #37 still had a big advantage. Papis had a torrid battle with his former CART teammate, Robby Gordon, and also a few close calls with some other drivers, but he always emerged unscathed.
The storyline turned to the team's favor a little after 8 a.m. when the Intersport #37 broke its half shaft and stopped in the infield's turn three. Repairs were made to that car but they took time, and at 8:46 a.m. Papis was again in command.
The Intersport #37 was never able to regroup from that blow, and the Doran-Lista #27 was never again headed.
One more scare remained, however, when smoke was seen from the back of the car around 10 a.m. Sunday.
"We had overfilled the oil tank and about a liter of oil came out," Doran explained afterwards. "I think it actually ignited on the car, but it extinguished itself pretty quickly."
The Dallara Judd kept rolling along just as it had when the green flag waved a little after 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon. A little more than 24 hours after that the four Doran-Lista drivers had new Rolexes and the satisfaction of knowing they and their teammates had not only achieved their primary goal, they had done it in perfect style, setting a new unofficial track record in testing; earning the pole; and capping it all off by winning the race.