Daytona 24: Bell Motorsports final report

Bell Motorsports wins most prestigious endurance sports car race in North America. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 1 - Some people may think the old racing axiom of "It's not over until the checkered flag waves" is a little trite, but the Bell ...

Bell Motorsports wins most prestigious endurance sports car race in North America.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 1 - Some people may think the old racing axiom of "It's not over until the checkered flag waves" is a little trite, but the Bell Motorsports team and drivers Terry Borcheller, Forest Barber, Andy Pilgrim and Christian Fittipaldi proved it's still very true Sunday at Daytona International Speedway when they persevered to win an extremely wet Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

The team had some overheating issues and electrical problems with their Kodak-sponsored DORAN JE4 Pontiac #54 at the end which put Pilgrim in the challenging position of having to play defense and offense simultaneously. Still, the championship-winning team of 2003 took advantage of an opportunity which opened up when the Howard-Boss Crawford Chevy team of Andy Wallace, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. developed some even bigger problems in the last 20 minutes of the 24-hour enduro which allowed Barber to take the checkered and put a Daytona Prototype into victory lane in this prestigious race for the first time ever.

Although the eventual winner topped the hourly results sheets for the first three hours and was always in contention, it was the Howard-Boss Crawford Chevy #2 which dominated most of the event. Near the end a spring broke on the right-rear corner of that car, however, and then its left-rear Goodyear came off its rim and turned sideways, causing Stewart to spin out of control and out of any possibility of winning.

Two Porsches finished second and third while another car built by Doran Designs, the Doran-Lista DORAN JE4 Lexus, finished second in class and fourth overall. Wallace, Stewart and Earnhardt ended up third in the Daytona Prototype class and fifth overall.

Most of the race was run under a driving rain which at one point caused a three-hour caution period and another three-hour red-flag period, making this Rolex 24 the slowest on record.

Barber, of Fort Worth, Texas, who owns the car as well as being one of its drivers, was a champion boat racer before switching to auto racing. He said Sunday's victory was a dream come true and ranked right alongside his many boat-racing championships.

"You can't give up in any endeavor," added Barber, a successful businessman as well as a successful racer. "Things can change in the last five minutes. You have to work as hard as you can. We're thankful for the opportunity that came our way today and proud of the people who made it happen, but we never take joy in anyone's misfortune. Our team worked so hard to get us to this point though, and it's a real honor."

Borcheller, the 2003 Daytona Prototype driver champion, echoed the fact that the Bell Motorsports team never gave up. "It was looking tough for us because the car was hurt and we were having to nurse it at the end," he said. "I knew we couldn't track someone down if we had to. [The #2] had a few laps on us and the #10 car was coming pretty hard behind us. I figured we'd be doing real good to finish third and the one-hour mark, and then everything just started turning around. You just never know, especially with this race."

Pilgrim had to baby the car when it was overheating near the end while still trying to hold off all rivals.

"It was basically a question of keeping the temperature around the 220 degree mark," he said. "That last hour I was hearing and listening to every little stupid thing. It was ridiculous. Everything was going wrong."

"Races are often won or lost in the way," summarized Fittipadi philosophically. "Today it came our way and I'll take it."

All four drivers on the winning team received Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches. The team also picked up $100,000 in prize money, the largest amount ever offered by the series to the winner.

-bm/lm-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Andy Wallace , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Tony Stewart , Christian Fittipaldi , Terry Borcheller , Forest Barber