FIGHT TO THE FINISH
With the minutes ticking down on the Rolex clock in Pit Row, there was an epic battle for the 2012 Rolex 24 At Daytona title taking place on Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56-mile, 12-turn road course. Lead changes between three DP cars – Michael Shank Racing’s #60 Ford Riley, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates #01 BMW Riley, and the Starworks Motorsport #8 Ford Riley – had set the stage for the golden anniversary edition of this race to come to a dramatic close.
Scott Pruett (Auburn, Calif.), the owner of Pruett Vineyard and co-author with his wife of four children’s books when not on the track, was within striking distance of tying Floridian Hurley Haywood’s record five wins of the Rolex 24 At Daytona. With little more than an hour left in the race, Pruett lost first and second gear in the #01 BMW Riley gear box which, despite the herculean efforts of his pit crew, completely put him out of podium contention.
At 30 minutes to the checkered flag, A.J. Allmendinger (Denver, Colo.) had been behind the wheel of Michael Shank Racing’s #60 Ford Riley for more than three hours. He took over the lead with Ryan Dalziel (Orlando, Fla.), in the Starworks Motorsport #8 Ford Riley, chasing him down with each lap. Dalziel, a native of Scotland and the 2010 Rolex 24 At Daytona champion, had earned his first career pole in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series during qualifying for this race.
As the final laps were logged, Allmendinger’s lead went from 11 seconds to six as the white flag signaled the final lap of the race. He won by 5.198 seconds to earn Michael Shank his first Rolex 24 At Daytona win. Sharing the driving duties with the California-born Allmendinger was Brazilian native Oswaldo “Ozz” Negri, Jr. (Miami, Fla.), Justin Wilson (England) and John Pew (North Palm Beach, Fla.).
“The Rolex 24 At Daytona is such a prestigious race; it’s one you want on your résumé and you want to say that you were part of a victory,” said Allmendinger. “Ultimately it’s just amazing. I’m going to cherish this.”
“It’s the most fun three hours of racing I’ve ever done,” added Allmendinger regarding the push to the finish line and how he had worked hard to build up a gap and then manage the gap over the last 10 laps. “It was flat out. When Dalziel got in the [#8] car I knew that every lap I had to drive my butt off. I feel like it’s some of the best driving I’ve done in my life. It’s fun to walk up and down pit lane [at the Rolex 24 At Daytona] just as a pure fan of racing to see all the different drivers in this series. We’ve been close before, and something happened to take us out. Now to have Ozz and Justin, and John Pew … it’s the biggest win I’ve ever had.”
Finishing second was the #8 Starworks Motorsport Ford Riley driven by Dalziel, Enzo Potolicchio (Venezuela), Alex Popow (Venezuela), Lucas Luhr (Germany) and Allan McNish (Scotland), with Michael Shank Racing’s #6 Ford Riley -- driven by Michael McDowell (Huntersville, N.C.), Gustavo Yacaman (Key Biscayne, Fla.), Jorge Goncalvez (Brownsburg, Ind.) and Felipe Nasr (Brazil) -- taking the last podium spot.
“The thing that keeps you coming back to this event is you don’t have a watch yet,” said McDowell. “It’s a great event, and it’s become really an all-star race with great drivers from every series and world champions. So to win one of these races is very special.”
In the 45-strong GT class, managing the traffic due to the high number of entries was a common thread among the drivers at the top of the pack. Andy Lally (Northport, N.Y.), at the wheel of the Magnus Racing #44 Porsche GT3 Cup, dominated the class, beating the best of the best in one of the strongest fields of talent ever seen in a GT race.
“I don’t think anyone is ever going to win a race like this again,” said Lally, referring to the size of the GT field. “There will never be a race like this again. All month long everyone has been preparing for the 50th anniversary of this race; we had nine different makes of cars as well as champion drivers from all over the world, from Formula 1, NASCAR, Indy Cars and sports cars. It was absolutely epic to come home on the top step of the podium with John Potter (Salt Lake City, Utah) and Magnus Racing for the first race of the year. The Rolex series is super competitive and as the economy improves we’re seeing more and more teams coming out to race in our series. Porsche remains the strongest car especially in terms of reliability, but the Audi’s Camaros and Mazdas will become increasingly more competitive.”
Richard Lietz (Austria) and Rene Rast (Germany) shared the driving duties in the #44 car with Lally and Potter. “There was such great competition this year and everyone’s equipment is so good that many cars ran every lap and never went to the garage,” said Potter. “This was the most challenging race I have ever done and I am thrilled to go home with the win.”
Finishing second in the GT class was TRG’s #67 Porsche GT3 Cup, driven by Steven Bertheau (Aurora, Ill.), Marc Goossens (Belgium), Wolf Henzler (Germany), Spencer Pumpelly (Mason Neck, Va.) and Jeroen Bleekemolen (Monaco). Third was taken by Brumos Racing’s #59 Porsche GT3 Cup, driven by Leh Keen (Charleston, S.C.), Andrew Davis (Bogart, Ga.), Marc Lieb (Germany) and five-time Rolex 24 champion Hurley Haywood (Jacksonville, Fla.).
“The pace was outrageous,” said Haywood, explaining that a miscalculation on fuel caught them 15 minutes short and that Lieb had no power steering the last stint. For Haywood, this was his 40th time racing the classic endurance race. While disappointed not to win, he made the podium and said, “this time I mean it,” as he bid farewell to the Rolex 24 At Daytona, for which he had come out of retirement.