I really enjoyed working the 52nd annual Rolex 24 at Daytona. While the very cold weather prior to the race made it difficult to figure out who had what, by the time things settled in it was pretty evident. This first race of the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship merged the GRAND-AM Rolex and American Le Mans Series’ into a single entity. For the most part, it seemed to work pretty well.
The 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road/oval track favored the well-developed Daytona Prototype (DP) GRAND-AM cars over ALMS’ LM P2 machines, despite the latter’s lighter weight and inherent chassis balance. Horsepower is king here; ’nuff said. The sharp end of the official grid was dominated by DP machines, from Alex Gurney’s pole in the Red Dragon No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Corvette DP to the seventh-placed No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP, the reigning GRAND-AM champs.
Next car up was the DeltaWing (qualified by Katherine Legge), followed by two more DPs before the No. 6 Muscle Milk/Pickett Racing ORECA/Nissan LM P2 entry crashed the party. In the GTLM ranks, it was a crapshoot, with Detroit muscle of Corvette and SRT Viper battling Ferrari, BMW, Porsche (winners at Le Mans); in GTD the battle came to Audi, Porsche, SRT Viper, Ferrari and BMW.
Officiating was a big story of the weekend, with a disqualification – never explained – for the Continental Tire series BMW 200 opener’s winners. That portended more of the same during the 24-hour race with many head-scratching decisions.
Officiating colored the finish in the GT Daytona (GTD) category. Initially IMSA, sanction for the TUSCC declared the No. 45 Flying Lizard Audi R8 first in class after penalizing Level 5’s No. 555 Ferrari 458 Italia for unavoidable contact. Discovering there was no such contact or rough driving on the final lap of the race – when everybody wants to improve their station – the Ferrari was declared the winner. No champers to spray and with most photographers already gone or busy editing their photos; the winning quintet’s Rolex watches were likely already being used by the No. 45 drivers, but I’m hoping Level 5 got them back. Maybe.
This 24-hour race was marred by a horrid accident that maimed Memo Gidley (pole-winning GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Corvette DP) and injured Matteo Marucelli, who had slowed dramatically with driveline problems in the No. 62 GT LM Ferrari 458 Italia entering the very fast kink near sunset, likely the most dangerous time of the day at Daytona.
Memo’s had surgery on his left arm, leg and back, and has since been sent home to recover. Marucelli was released on the Monday and returned home to Italy for his recuperation from a severe concussion. If you’ve seen the videos, you know what a mess this was. Incredibly, Gidley’s team owner, Bob Stallings is sticking around the hospital in Daytona Beach to look after his driver. Now that’s a real man.
It might have been smarter to do a “run what you brung” for the first three races at Daytona International Speedway, Sebring International Raceway and on the streets of Long Beach, the latter being the first stand-alone (without GTLM and GTD) for the new series. Rather than piling on expense after expense and rule after rule – that might or might not work – for two distinct classes, why not see how they coexist before dictating “how” they coexist? IMSA doesn’t see it that way, and therein lies the rub.
When this dysfunctional group gets to Sebring, things will be different. We expected the DP cars to have the upper hand at Daytona, where they’ve raced since GRAND-AM began; no doubt the LM P2 prototypes will have things their way on the bumpy and difficult airport circuit, where World Endurance Championship (WEC) teams come to prepare for the Le Mans 24-hour race (for just those reasons).
I have hope for this new series because of the professionalism of the teams involved. I just hope the officials destined to police them become more proficient at their jobs. Granted, there were 67 starters on the 3.56-mile DIS racetrack and it was a difficult race for everyone – those on and off the racetrack – but to write a rulebook in vanishing ink so it can be changed at will leading up to one of the biggest contests of the season? Not the wisest idea from anybody’s standpoint.
I just hope they get it better next time around.