24 Hours of engine’s screaming, drivers pushing themselves to their absolute limits, fans downing beers and cheering on the drivers in what turned out to be one of the best races I have ever been apart of. This years TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Rolex at Daytona 24 Hour had it all. We saw more fans than ever before, more action on the track than ever and tons of emotion, and I am going to give you a glimpse of race day from my perspective.
For me every day I’m on track starts the same, a nice early wake up and a few minutes to foam roll out (A cylinder device I use to massage my muscles and help warm them up before workouts) and then off to the hotel gym for a short run and stretch session. Personally this quiet time is more for me to think about the day and get into the zone where I feel like I perform my best. The one thing you learn from experience is that at the Daytona 24 Hour the morning leading up to the race flies by, and you often wonder where the time went. This can mean you often arrive to your first stint feeling like you are not fully prepared, so I have adapted my schedule to try and get as mentally calm and ready for the race as possible.
Pit stop action: #45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS: Nelson Canache, Spencer Pumpelly, Tim Pappas, Markus Winkelhock, #35 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS: Seth Neiman, Dion von Moltke, Alessandro Latif, Filipe Albuquerque
Drivers start arriving at the track around 10 a.m. to get ready for our 10:45 a.m. drivers meeting in victory circle. There is always a special type of energy at this drivers meeting. Most drivers meetings you have to force drivers to go to as they are usually a dreaded part of the weekend that we just try to get over and done with as quickly as possible. Here you see drivers arrive early and eagerly await kicking off a new year; and for this year, a new era in U.S. motorsports. This year we had a great speech from our race grand martial, David Hobbs.
He so eloquently got right to the point in the drivers meeting by saying, “We have some of the world’s best drivers racing here this weekend, mixed in with some of the world’s, er… not so best drivers.” If you are lucky enough to have a team radio in to listen to drivers talking to their engineer throughout the race, complaints about other drivers driving skills are heard about as much as engineers calling their cars in for fuel and tires. Directly after this meeting the drivers have to hurry back and go straight into one of the highlights of the weekend for fans and drivers alike, the autograph session. It’s one hour of passion that we drivers love, the closeness between the athletes and fans is what makes sportscar racing so special -- I believe it is vital to the success of our sport in the future. By the time the time the autograph session is over the drivers all have to hurry to the grid for driver introductions and the fan walk. It is especially difficult to be the starting driver for this race, as there is not much time to eat or sit alone in a little quiet spot to get focused. The fan walk is another hour of pandemonium, the amount of fans this year was incredible. At Flying Lizard Motorsport, and also for Audi, connecting with the fans is extremely important to us. So all of our drivers stuck around the cars so that we could hang out with and take photos with you guys.
Filipe Albuquerque and Dion von Moltke
This year the driver order that our race strategist at Flying Lizard Motorsport came up with was: Seth Neiman starting, then Filipe Albuquerque, Alessandro Latif, and then I was in last. This meant I had plenty of time to watch the start from the pits, and then go get ready for my first stint. I hung out in the pits for about 20 minutes to watch the start of the race and then headed straight to go eat. One thing I learnt from my previous races here is that it is vital to control your energy output and emotions not only race day but throughout the whole race weekend. This race requires everything you have as an athlete, so anytime you are not driving you must be resting or getting ready for your next stint. After a quick lunch, I went straight back to our motorhome to lie down, watch the race on TV and take a nap. It may only have been 3 p.m. but I treat it more like the start of my day, especially as you must get sleep anytime you possibly can. In fact I slept for about 30 minutes at that time, which was more sleep than I managed to get at any other point throughout the race.
During the race it always amazes me how little you actually see any of your teammates. Throughout the last few months when you were at a track you were always together all the time, but as soon as the race starts you only really see one of your teammates very briefly on occasions throughout the race. The way our driver order worked this year, the only driver I got to really speak with at length was Seth Neiman. Even though I saw him more often than Filipe or Alessandro during the race, we only managed to talk at length after his first stint.
#35 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8: Dion von Moltke, Oliver Jarvis
We were talking about the great job he did in the car, and how the car was handling. In the middle of this discussion we looked up to the TV in a moment of horror to see the horrific incident involving Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli. As a driver it is always difficult to see things like this, and your thoughts immediately turn to their welfare. During the race both of them were on our minds, especially as we did not know anything about their condition. Although Memo suffered quite sever injuries and Matteo had to spend the night in hospital, I am so glad they are both going to be okay. I had the honor of being Memo’s teammate in the Doran No. 77 Daytona Prototype for half a season in 2010, and I can honestly say he is one of the nicest and hardest working guys in all of motorsports. He is beloved by all in the paddock, and we are all wishing that he will recover well and get back to driving everything he gets into quickly again! Whether it’s Jet Ski’s, go-karts, or back in the TUSC series. This was definitely another trying time for all drivers in the race but you couldn’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed with emotions. You had to remain calm and focused on the task at hand, but we all were obviously wanting to know more about the condition of both drivers and wishing for the best. I decided to wind down and take a nap for 30 minutes before throwing on my nomex and race suit, grabbed my helmet and headed down to pit lane for my first stint.
#35 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS: Seth Neiman, Dion von Moltke, Alessandro Latif, Filipe Albuquerque
When we arrive in pit lane the first thing we do before getting ready is talk with our engineer. He tells us what the other drivers are saying about the car, and gives us the race pace. After that we usually have anywhere from 30 minutes to up to two hours of waiting before we get into the car. For me this is actually one of the hardest parts of this race for a driver. During the night when it’s 3 or 4 a.m. when I first wake up in our motorhome I try to get psyched up, stretched out and mentally ready. Once you do that you get to pit lane and you have to sit for over an hour in the cold weather -- it can be quite difficult to keep that heightened sense of focus while you wait. I started this year’s race with just a single stint, so I got out of the car still very fresh and ready to go again. I did another two double stints throughout the night, and actually slept the least I ever have during a 24 hour race. Throughout the race I got just over an hour of hard sleep, but I realized something new this year. This was my 6th Daytona 24 Hour race, but it the first time I was returning as defending champion and I realized it made me hungrier than ever before. Winning this race last year really showed me how big of a race it is, and how hard it is to win. I really relied on this extra determination and will power to keep as focused as I could be throughout the race.
#93 SRT Motorsports SRT Viper GTS-R: Jonathan Bomarito, Kuno Wittmer, Rob Bell, #35 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS: Seth Neiman, Dion von Moltke, Alessandro Latif, Filipe Albuquerque
Our strategy throughout the race was to survive the night, and be within two laps of the lead lap when the sun came up. When the sun came up we found ourselves running strong and just three laps down, just outside of our target but still within reach. Throughout the race our race strategist, Eric, did a great job getting us laps back and together we were going to need to fight for every inch, and with some great strategy, and a little luck, get back on the lead lap and then battle for the lead. After a further three hours of racing, and with just 2 hours to go we found ourselves one lap back of the leaders and battling for a top five. Throughout my last stint, and throughout Filipe’s last stint to finish the race we had the task to fight and try to overtake the Ferrari we were battling with, while at the same time saving fuel. We were borderline on making it to the end, but two late full course yellows allowed us to push flat out for the final 15 minutes. Filipe did a great job to overtake the Ferrari and hold on for a top five finish! Every year this race seems to get more and more difficult. Experience has taught me a lot of how I need to set my self out before, and throughout the race to perform well -- but every year the learning continues. I had always wanted to win this race badly, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that after winning this race once, I am hungrier than ever to get back to victory circle at the Rolex at Daytona 24 Hour.
I can’t wait to be back at Daytona for my 7th Rolex at Daytona 24 Hour in 2015!
Dion von Moltke for Motorsport.com