Ingram's Flat Spot On Upset At Rolex by Jonathan Ingram There's nothing quite like a surprise ending in a 24-hour race. Given the format of endurance as well as speed, it's not surprising the occasional upset turns up. ...
Ingram's Flat Spot On
Upset At Rolex
by Jonathan Ingram
There's nothing quite like a surprise ending in a 24-hour race. Given the format of endurance as well as speed, it's not surprising the occasional upset turns up.
This year's victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona by Action Express Racing's Riley powered by a Porsche V-8 ranks with two others by the German marque at the speedway by the sea.
Porsche's first victory in Daytona in 1967 by the 907 Longtail co-driven by this year's grand marshal Vic Elford, among others, may not have been an upset. But it was Porsche's first major international endurance victory and -- it can now be pointed out -- its first at Daytona with an eight-cylinder engine.
When Kremer brothers Manfred and Erwin won with their K8 Spyder in 1995, it was a huge turn of events. The factory Porsches built by TWR -- which went on to win twice at Le Mans -- were withdrawn in a dispute with IMSA over a rule change that Porsche officials believed would result in a disadvantage versus the new Ferrari 333 SP. After the Ferraris broke, the 962 chassis converted to World Sports Car configuration by the Kremers went to the front. The humble-looking, open-topped car dubbed the K8 won by five laps.
This year it was the Porsche factory which stole a march versus a field loaded with BMW V-8's. Although officially not interested in the V-8 derived from the Cayenne SUV as a race engine, the Porsche factory built a V-8 and turned it over to private development that began during the 2008 season. Since then, the Lozano Brothers have developed the engine through the Spirit of Daytona team and this year the V-8 found its way into the engine bay of the new Action Express team owned by Bob Johnson. In effect, the new team is an offshoot of Brumos Racing, which this year is running as a one-car team.
All credit goes to drivers Ryan Dalziel, Terry Borcheller, Mike Rockenfeller and Joao Barbosa. After struggling in practice to get the handling right due to the higher center of gravity produced by the V-8 versus the sister Brumos Racing entry and its flat six, the drivers sustained a winning pace versus the Ganassi team's Riley-BMW to pull off the upset.
"I think we would agree," said Dalziel, speaking on behalf of all four drivers, "we didn't really come into this thinking we had a realistic shot. And purely because of pace. We didn't think we had the pace to be able to compete. But the guys, they worked their socks off overnight (on Friday)."
The drivers, said Dalziel, left the track on Friday "down in the dumps. We kind of left off with the clever guys to figure out what we needed to do to get up front. And I think it was pretty obvious from the start we were faster."
The victory was a tribute to the late Bob Snodgrass, the owner of Brumos Porsche who brought the company back into a high racing profile when the Rolex Series for Daytona Prototypes was first launched. It was Snodgrass who asked the Porsche factory to consider the V-8 as a full-blown racing project. When that proposal got turned down, he was able to get the option of privately developing one. The project was also of great interest to Grand-American series co-founder Jim France, a longtime financial backer of Brumos in the years when his son J.C. was a driver for the team.
"It's great to see a project like this come to fruition," said Jim France while visiting victory lane after the race.
It was another upset victory for Gary Nelson of NASCAR fame as well. Not long after winning a Sprint Cup title with the DiGard team and driver Bobby Allison, Nelson came to Daytona with a special project Chevrolet in the summer of 1985. That was a research and development Chevy entered under the DiGard banner for driver Greg Sacks. The Long Islander won the 400-mile race -- his first, last and only victory at the Sprint Cup level -- in what is still considered by most observers a mystery victory due to some magic by Nelson.
This year, Nelson was in his first race as the team manager for both Brumos and Action Express. It was Nelson, a winner in the Daytona 500 with Geoffrey Bodine in 1986, who signed all his e-mails to team members with the slogan "Expect to win."
That, said Borcheller, made a difference.
"I think Gary expected to win and I'm sure there were a few more," he said. "And from those e-mails, it got my hopes up." But it wasn't until the first hours of the race, after the overnight push by the Action Express team to find a solution to the handling issues, that Borcheller really began to believe.
"In the back of my mind," he said, "I still didn't think it was totally possible until after the start."
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.