Pat Jennings, Grand-Am correspondent
Magnus Racing leads Porsche sweep of GT podium
Ford-powered Daytona Prototypes dominated the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, leading 544 of 761 laps and sweeping the top-three spots in the 50th running of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series’ premiere event. The Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley walked away with the win as AJ Allmendinger, Justin Wilson, Oswaldo Negri, Jr., and John Pew combined to lead 295 laps en route to finishing 5.198 seconds ahead of the pole sitting Starworks Motorsports Ford Riley shared by Allan McNish, Lucas Luhr, Ryan Dalziel, Alex Popow, and Enzo Potolicchio.
It’s some of the best racing I’ve ever done in my life.
Allmendinger and McNish bounced off of each other several times while racing for the lead with about two and a half hours to go in the race. But once Allmendinger took the lead, neither McNish nor Dalziel could catch him.
“It’s some of the best racing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Allmendinger, who recently signed a contract to drive for Roger Penske in NASCAR. “Right now it’s the biggest win I’ve ever had. I feel very fortunate.”
Allmendinger’s biggest victory was also the first Rolex 24 win for team owner Michael Shank. “It’s everything I’ve worked for,” Shank explained. “I finished second with this same group . . . about a lap down to the Ganassi car (in 2006) and I just remember being so let down. I feel like we deserved this win. We worked hard. We paid our dues for sure. I hope it can take us to new cool places in Daytona Prototypes in the coming years.”
Dalziel hopes he has now paid his dues and will win the Rolex 24 some day. “We felt we had something for (Michael Shank Racing),” he said. “I think we proved – for sure in the first part of the race – that we were the fastest car. We got some damage and we all bumped into some people. I think part of it we threw away ourselves a little bit. It’s just one of those things. It was almost like a fairly tale ending for a difficult couple of days for us. We qualified on pole and we clearly had the best for the first half of the race and it just kind of fell away from us. It’s hard to be overly disappointed based on where Starworks has come from.”
The win gives Allmendinger and his co-drivers the early lead in the new three-race North American Endurance Championship, which includes three races: the Rolex 24, the Six Hours of the Glen, and the new race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A second Michael Shank entry – this one driven by Michael McDowell, Felipe Nasr, Jorge Goncalvez, and Gustavo Yacaman – finished third, just under 50 seconds behind Allmendinger.
Ganassi Racing could not quite keep pace with the Fords on the straights and high banks of Daytona and both experienced problems during the race. After losing four laps due to a shifter change in the 12th hour, the No. 02 Ganassi Racing BMW Riley came home in fourth, one lap down to the winners. That car was shared by Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Jamie McMurray. A gear stack change with about an hour to go dropped the second Ganassi car of Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Joey Hand, and Graham Rahal from third to sixth, four laps back. The No. 02 car led 52 laps, and the No. 01 car led 92 laps – though neither could match the straight line speed of the Fords.
It was the first overall win in the Rolex 24 for Ford since 1999 and its fifth overall win in the event.
While Ford powered cars captured the top-three finishing positions, the best of the new Corvette Daytona Prototypes ended up fifth in the hands of Darren Law, David Donohue, and Christian Fittipaldi. Their Action Express entry experienced engine control unit issues in the race’s first hour, but the team managed to fix the problem in the pit lane and recover to finish three laps behind the winners.
The other four Corvettes were not as fortunate. A short time after the Action Express car had its troubles, the SunTrust Racing car, one of the favorites to win the race, drove to the garage with engine problems of its own. Those problems ultimately forced the team to retire from the race after having completed only 14 laps. A water pump failure in the 13th hour forced the Gainsco Bob Stallings Racing Corvette to spend more than an hour in the garage. And a subsequent collision with a tire barrier in the 16th hour cost the team additional time. It finished 33rd overall and 13th in the Daytona Prototype class. The second Action Express entry suffered suspension and water pump issues during the nighttime, and the Spirit of Daytona car ran into driveshaft problems. Both finished well off the pace in ninth and eighth, respectively.
Seventh overall went to the Doran Racing Ford Dallara. IndyCar drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti led the second Starworks car to a 10th place finish. While the Alegra Motorsports BMW Riley driven by AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson, among others, ended up 32nd overall.
The Magnus Racing Porsche won the GT class, finishing 11th overall in the hands of Andy Lally, Richard Lietz, Rene Rast, and John Potter. It was the fourth GT class win for Lally. “I absolutely knew we had the potential to (win this race),” Lally explained. “The people that were assembled by John (Potter) to start Magnus Racing, just two years ago, were top-notch guys. He took direction from some really well-seasoned vets and he steered the ship in the right direction. He basically put together a really solid, strong effort. It was absolutely epic to come home . . . on the top step, especially at the 50th.”
Porsches finished second and third, with the No. 67 Racer’s Group entry of Steven Bertheau, Marc Goossens, Wolf Henzler, Spencer Pumpelly, and Jeroen Bleekemolen crossing the finish line one lap ahead of the Brumos car driven by Mark Lieb, Leh Keen, Andrew Davis, and Hurley Haywood.
Fourth in GT went to the Stevenson Motorsports Camaro GT.R, which finished on the same lap as the Brumos car. The best of the new Ferrari 458s, the No. 63 Risi Competizione entry, rounded out the top-five. The best Mazda – the No. 70 SpeedSource entry – finished one spot behind the Ferrari. Both Turner Motorsport BMW M3s had problems, finishing 16th and 43rd, respectively, in the GT class. And the new Audi R8 Grand-Ams could manage no better than 31st and 32nd in class, though Lally said he foresees the Audis posing a challenge later in the year.
Ten different cars led the race and 64 of the 761 laps were run under the yellow flag.
The next round of the Rolex Series will be March 31 at Barber Motorsports Park.