Much of the pre-race hype for the 48th Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway focused on the star-studded driver lineups of Chip Ganassi Racing and GAINSCO Bob Stallings Racing, which featured the likes of four-time Nascar champion Jimmie ...
Much of the pre-race hype for the 48th Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway focused on the star-studded driver lineups of Chip Ganassi Racing and GAINSCO Bob Stallings Racing, which featured the likes of four-time Nascar champion Jimmie Johnson, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Scott Dixon. But when the checkered flag fell on Sunday afternoon, the first car across the finish line was an unsponsored Porsche Riley driven by Joao Barbosa, Terry Borcheller, Ryan Dalziel, and Mike Rockenfeller and fielded by a brand new team owned by a Florida businessman who had never entered a car in a major automobile race.
Formed just prior to the start of the Rolex Sports Car Series season, the team operates under the name Action Express Racing. It is loosely affiliated with Brumos Racing and employs a number of former Brumos personnel. However, the team decided to use a Porsche V8 in its car rather than the six-cylinder Porsche motor found in the Brumos Riley. Opting for an unproven motor in a 24-hour race posed serious risks for a new team.
"I did not expect that we would be there at the end, especially not in the first spot," explained Rockenfeller. "In practice we were struggling a little bit with the handling. But the team did a really, really good job to fix the car and have a really good setup. We were pretty much changing everything before the race on the setup. We didn't know what to expect. But the guys on the team said it would be okay and it was.
"From the second stint on, the car was perfect to drive and I think we could all try to get 100 percent out of it and I think that's why we ended up leading the race."
Dalziel was also unsure what to expect from such a new team. "All four of us went into this race with a major unknown. We were pretty lost in practice. I think the one thing I knew the team was going to perform with was reliability. I felt if we could be reliable we would be there in the end. We never went off track. We never had any mechanicals or flaws in the pits. This is a huge achievement for a new team."
Indeed, it was quite an achievement as the wining quartet covered a total of 754 laps - a record distance for the Daytona Prototype class - despite a broken clutch and sticking throttle, which the mechanics had to spray with lubricant during the last few pit stops
The winners finished 50.494 seconds ahead of Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Max Papis, and Justin Wilson, who shared the No. 01 Ganassi BMW Riley. Ganassi switched from Lexus to BMW engines in the off season and that change seemed to suit the team well, as both of its cars were competitive throughout the race. "I know Mike Hull and Chip (Ganassi) wavered over that decision," said Pruett. "And once the decision was made the guys went to work. For changing engines to a new organization, it's gone flawlessly. The engine itself runs superb."
But the engine switch did not work out as well for the Ganassi car entered for Franchitti, Dixon, Montoya, and Jamie McMurray. Early in the race, that car was the class of the field, leading 139 of the first 249 laps. But around midnight it suffered engine problems and had to be retired from the race. That car's demise allowed a number of other teams to take turns at the top of the leader board. But by early Sunday morning there were only three cars on the lead lap: the Action Express squad, the No. 01 Ganassi car, and the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley.
The Shank car fell off the lead lap around the 19-hour mark due to a flat tire caused by contact with a GT car. This set up a race to the finish between the No. 01 Ganassi car and the eventual winners. The two cars ran close for a while and swapped the lead several times before Wilson felt what he described as "a small explosion" in the car. "The car shook around and there was a bit of a rattle after that," explained Wilson. "And I was wondering whether it was a wheel bearing or I had blown a front tire. I could not work it out. But I only had about five seconds to decide, 'Do I do another lap or do I dive into the pits?'. If I do another lap and it is a blown tire, I'm losing the bodywork. So I dove in the pits."
After examining the car, the Ganassi team could not find anything wrong with it and sent Wilson back on to the track. However, that stop cost him a lap and meant that he would need some cautions to catch up to the Action Express car. Those cautions never materialized and Wilson and company had to settle for second.
The NPN Racing BMW Riley shared by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Lucas Luhr, and Richard Westbrook ended up third, four laps behind the winners. A seat belt problem in the 11th hour dropped the car off the lead lap and out of contention for the win.
Fourth place went to Ricardo Zonta, Nic Jonsson, Colin Braun, and Tracy Krohn in the Krohn Racing Ford Lola, which suffered a broken right-front upright during the 11th hour after contact with another car and then needed a new gear cluster during the 21st hour to fix a problem with second gear.
The No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley finished fifth, followed by the SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara and the No. 6 Michael Shank entry. After starting from the pole, a myriad of issues, including electrical gremlins, a collision with the pit wall, three broken gearboxes, and a broken half shaft, prevented the SunTrust team from challenging for the overall win.
Only seven Daytona Prototypes finished in the top-20. Last year's race- winning Brumos Porsche Riley called it quits during the 20th hour due to engine problems. And the GAINSCO Bob Stallings Chevrolet Riley retired around noon on Sunday with oil pressure issues.
The race was the 37th and final Rolex 24 for Brumos stalwart Hurley Haywood, who holds the record for most overall wins in the event with five. "I think the team was more emotional than I was," Haywood said after his final stint in the car. "But I am sure that in a week or a month it will sink in that I won't get back in a car in a professional race again."
In the GT class, the SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 of Nick Ham, Sylvan Tremblay, Jonathan Bomarito, and David Haskell finished four laps ahead of the No. 67 TRG/Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche shared by Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Long, Seth Neiman, and Johannes van Overbeek. The No. 66 TRG Porsche rounded out the top-three, 12 laps behind its sister car.
Thirteen different cars led the race and there were 53 lead changes, among 59 drivers. The race was slowed by 16 cautions for a total of 74 laps.