Daytona report

Persistance Rewards Dyson with Rolex 24 At Daytona Victory DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 2) -- last two attempts, 1995 and 1996, Rob Dyson's dreams of winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona expired in the opening minutes. He found his Exxon World...

Persistance Rewards Dyson with Rolex 24 At Daytona Victory

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 2) -- last two attempts, 1995 and 1996, Rob Dyson's dreams of winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona expired in the opening minutes. He found his Exxon World SportsCars quickly sidelined in the world's premier sports car event. Dyson returned to Daytona International Speedway with a different strategy, and it paid off handsomely, with one of the closest victories in the 35-year history of the International Motor Sports Association event. Dyson's lineup for his primary Rain-X Ford consisted of veterans John Paul Jr., James Weaver, Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace. The team quickly established itself as one of the favorites against the Ferraris and Oldsmobiles. But only seven hours into the race, engine problems sidelined the car -- but Dyson's team wasn't finished. "Last year we entered two cars but only planned to race one of them," Dyson explained "This year we came here with the intention of running two cars." When the primary car went to the sidelines, the team's attention shifted to the ninth place running car, driven by Elliot Forbes-Robinson, John Schneider and Dyson himself. Midway through the night, they took the lead when Wayne Taylor's dreams of repeating as Rolex 24 champion were ended by terminal engine problems in his Oldsmobile Riley & Scott Mk. III. While Dyson's team led the rest of the way, the Rolex 24 became a cliff-hanger throughout the final hour. Last year, Taylor held on while Ferrari driver Massimiliano Papis earned the nickname "Mad Max" by charging to run the fastest laps of the race in the closing minutes, losing by only 50-seconds. Sunday, Fermin Velez, this year's Rolex 24 pole sitter in the Scandia Ferrari 333SP, closed to within one lap of the now-smoking Dyson car as the race entered the final hour. Andy Evans relieved Velez for the sprint to the finish, and unlapped his Ferrari with less than 30 minutes remaining and began to chop into the lead. Ten minutes from the finish, Leitzinger could breath a little easier when Evans pitted for a splash of fuel, but the Pennsylvanian admitted that his Ford was making angry sounds right through the final lap. "It was losing more and more power," said Leitzinger, 1994 Rolex 24 At Daytona champion and winner of his last five races entered. "It sounded like it was singing its last song." But Leitzinger wasn't ready to give up. "Winning at Daytona in the Rolex 24 is something I can hold on to. I'll hold on to my Rolex very tightly!" Dyson's 10th attempt to win the Rolex 24 finally resulted in a trip to victory lane. "When you've tried to win this race so many times, you really appreciate it more," said Dyson, who was recently elected as a member of the board of directors for Daytona's parent company, International Speedway Corporation. "This is the one race I've always wanted to win. It was a great victory for our team." "The Rolex 24 At Daytona is one of the five or six major races in the world," Dyson added."Daytona is such a great place, and it's captured the hearts and minds of so many people in so many different types of racing." The Rolex 24 victory was the Dyson team's fourth consecutive Exxon World SportsCar victory, counting the final three events of 1996 -- including the IMSA Finale At Daytona. The 80-car field for the Rolex 24 included three IMSA Exxon Supreme GT presented by Virgin Interactive classes. The team of Patrice Groueslard of France and Germans Ralf Kelleners, Andre Ahrle and Claudia Huertgen won GTS-2 honors and finished fourth overall in a normally-aspirated Porsche 911. Floridian Andy Pilgrim joined Cincinnati's Jochen Rohr and Germans Harald Grohs and Arnd Meier in winning the GTS-1 class, placing fifth overall in a turbocharged Porsche 911. Derek John Hill, son of 1961 Formula One World Champion and 1964 Daytona Continental winner Phil Hill, won the biggest race of his career in joining Bill Auberlen, Boris Said and Javier Quiros in the GTS-3 category-winning First Union BMW M-3. They placed ninth overall.

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Series IMSA Others
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , James Weaver , Boris Said , Ralf Kelleners , Andy Pilgrim , Wayne Taylor , Bill Auberlen , Rob Dyson , Phil Hill , Fermin Velez , John Schneider , John Paul , Harald Grohs , Andy Evans , Javier Quiros