Turner Motorsport Leads At Daytona Before Gearbox Setback
Returns to take race finish for second consecutive year
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., 30 January - For the first three hours of the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Turner Motorsport BMW M3 staked their claim as the team to beat. However, a rare type of gearbox failure forced the team to go back to the garage and effect repairs that took over four hours to complete. The No. 94 BMW M3 machine returned to the track to equal the pace it had set in order to take the lead, but nothing could make up for the hours lost. After 24 hours, the Turner Motorsport entry completed 534 laps to finish 33rd overall, and 17th in class.
Driver Boris Said took on the opening stint from ninth on the 48-car GT and Daytona Prototype grid to take the GT Class lead on lap 43.
"The team has learned a lot from last year, and the car on these Continentals is just a lot more consistent through the run," commented Said after his first stint of the race. "It's really good. I just saved the tires better. I could watch those guys run their tires out and I just waited - just was really patient on the gas and was able to keep moving up."
After Bill Auberlen grew the advantage over the field at the front, Paul Dalla Lana kept the Turner BMW M3 at the front of the pack through hours two and three and into four before a frustrating scoring snafu during a yellow flag saw that advantage erased.
Della Lana handed the reigns to Matt Plumb on lap 151, just shy of the five hour mark. With a mandate from the team to conserve the brakes, Plumb doled out 51 straight consistently quick laps to carry the No. 94 into hour six before the totally unexpected happened.
"On the lap before, I felt the gearbox stiffen up and then it was just a 'bang!' and grinding sound, which turned out to be the parts of the gearbox scraping along the track," Plumb described.
The team sent the car straight to the garage, and up onto the jacks. Soon enough, it became apparent that the most improbable of failures had occurred. A tooth on one of the gears had sheared off, proceeding to cannon ball the rest of the transmission. At 10:30 PM, the Turner Motorsport squad set out to rebuild the entire gearbox.
"We're going to take our time and rebuild this properly and then put it back on track and get it to the finish," commented team owner Will Turner.
That they did. Using the stationary time to also address the anticipated scheduled brake change and sort a sundry of fixes, not to mention wiping it clean to present to the track once again with the same attention to detail that the BMW Tuning firm is known for, the yellow and blue BMW M3 returned to Daytona International Speedway at 2:15 AM having missed over 135 laps of the race. It was all at once vindicating and gutting that once back on the track, the No.94 was once again running like clockwork, just as fast as it had before being forced to stop for repairs.
"After it was fixed, it was as good as it was during my opening stint when I was able to put a lap on the field. The car was so well prepared, and all the drivers were really fast. You can be a bit more philosophical when the car isn't running well. But, when you have a failure that is really nothing other than pure bad luck, it hurts worse knowing you have a car that could have gone for the win," said Auberlen.
Said, who has over forty 24 hour races on his resume has the experience to know how close this one could have been.
"I really think we would have had a good shot at that Rolex (watch)," Said mused. "The car was as fast and strong at the finish as it was at the start. It's unheard of how that gearbox broke. Normally it's a dog ring or some other part that is relatively easy to repair. The way this broke, it required a major repair."
Matt Plumb, who normally drives for a rival team in GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge competition was behind the wheel when the gremlins struck.
"Aside from the obvious disappointment of getting sidelined while driving a race-leading car,racing with the Turner Motorsport team has been such a wonderful time and I have to thank Will (Turner) for overlooking the fact that we are rivals in the Continental Tire series to give me the opportunity to be a part of this great team. I just wish we could have avoided the one mechanical problem that was the only negative in this whole experience," Plumb said.
Dalla Lana was given the honor of bringing the No. 94 home and was greeted with an ice bucket bath at the race's conclusion.
"We got a bad break. Otherwise, we'd have been right there at the finish fighting for the win. We've learned some lessons and it was reinforced that to win, you need to be competitive for all 24 hours. What can you do, but keep fighting?" Dalla Lana reflected.
Team owner Wil Turner hid the disappointment in order to focus on the positives.
"We're ready to go again. Let's clean up the car, put some fuel in it and do this one more time. It'd have no problem going the distance. The car and the drivers just ran so well and we've learned so much that we are eager to do it all over again," he stated. "If we could take out the laps that we missed and add up all the rest we'd be right there fighting for the lead. But it wasn't to be this time. Nevertheless, the guys are excited to have finished. They've all put in such a wonderful effort and it makes me proud. Now we'll just try to build from here and really try to be factor in the championship this year."
Turner had another positive to take from the race. Longtime Turner pilot Joey Hand, who was part of the team's debut Rolex 24 run in 2010 as well as co-driving to Turner's first-ever Rolex Series race victory at Mid-Ohio, was part of the overall race-winning Ganassi squad after staging a storming drive in the final hours of the race.
"Turner Motorsport taught Joey everything he knows," Turner said, perhaps only half joking. "I couldn't be happier for him. He's one of the best drivers I've ever worked with, probably one of the best drivers in the country, and he really deserves this. Congratulations to him and we're looking forward to having him back with Michael (Marsal) in the Continental Tire Challenge starting at Homestead."
Turner Motorsport now looks ahead to round two of the GRAND-AM season in both Rolex GT and Continental Tire series action at Homestead-Miami Speedway, March 4-5.
-source: turner motorsport