Daytona 24: Rolex 24 final report

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 3, 2002) -- Nearly every team will admit that speed does not win the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Over the years it seemed as though winning the pole position was almost a curse for a team. "Durability and speed are usually...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 3, 2002) -- Nearly every team will admit that speed does not win the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Over the years it seemed as though winning the pole position was almost a curse for a team. "Durability and speed are usually almost inversely related," team owner Kevin Doran confessed after Didier Theys captured the pole for the 40th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona in the Doran Lista Racing #27 Judd-powered Dallara. But this year, durability and speed went hand-in-hand as the #27 Dallara became only the sixth car in history to capture the Rolex 24's checkered flag from the pole position.

Theys jumped out to a strong start at the beginning of the historic twice-around-the-clock race, and although a variety of SportsRacing Prototypes took their turn at the front of the pack in the early hours, including a fierce battle between the Jim Matthews #36 Elan-engined Riley & Scott and the #13 Ferrari 333SP of Risi Competizione, it was the Doran Lista car that always seemed to find its way to the top of the leader board.

But in the 10th hour of racing the team was forced to give up its spot on top when electrical woes sent the Dallara into the pits to change the battery. That opened the door for Intersport Racing's #37 Judd-powered Lola to take over lead, a position it held for 10 hours. As Fredy Leinhard, Max Papis, Didier Theys and Mauro Baldi gave chase from the second-place position, they slowly ate into Intersport's lead while waiting for the leading Lola team to misstep.

That misstep came in the 20th hour of racing. Team owner Jon Field brought the Intersport Lola out of the pits with a seven lap lead, but as he maneuvered his car through the infield, the halfshaft broke leaving him stranded in turn three. The leader was quickly towed back to the pits, where the Intersport crew went to work on the car just behind the pit wall. Although the team repaired the broken halfshaft in only 17 minutes, it was enough time to allow the Doran Lista Dallara back on top.

Intersport's pursuit of the Dallara was short lived, when the team was forced to retire with more mechanical problems only laps after returning to the race. From lap 581, it was Doran Lista's race to lose. A weary, nervous Kevin Doran paced the pit lane in hopes that the V10 Judd engine would survive the final hours of the race. "Those were the longest hours of my life," driver Papis admitted.

But as the 24-hour mark neared it became clear that Doran would get his fifth Rolex 24 victory after all. It was also the second Daytona victory for Baldi, Theys and Lienhard, for their teammate Papis, it was a historic first. "This race in 1996 was very good to me. It opened the door to American racing, and now this is the greatest win in my career," said Papis, who begins CART testing next week. "I'm very happy. And doing it in an Italian car is even better."

The Doran Lista team was not the only one holding their breath in the final hours. The Jim Matthews team was also very anxious to see if Doran's Judd engine would survive, as it ran six laps back in second place. However Guy Smith, Scott Sharp, Robby Gordon and Jim Matthews would have to settle for second place overall.

Rounding out the overall podium was the rookie Rand Racing team, whose #8 Nissan-powered Lola topped the SportsRacing Prototype II class. The strong driver lineup of Terry Borcheller, Anthony Lazzaro, Ralf Kelleners and Bill Rand finished with a 25-lap lead over its nearest competitor in the class.

Paul Gentilozzi returned to Daytona's Victory Lane for the first time since he captured the overall victory in 1994. This time he accepted the top GTS honors for his and co-drivers Brian Simo, Scott Pruett and Michael Laurer's hard fought win in the Rocketsports Racing #3 Jaguar.

The Jaguar did battle with the Byztec Motorsports #00 Porsche GT1 for nearly the entire race, with the two teams racing only seconds apart even after 15 hours of racing. But the Jaguar lost its fiercest rival just before dawn when the Porsche's engine expired, handing over the GTS lead.

The Racer's Group seemed too dominate the GT class for most of the 24 hours, with its #66 and #68 Porsche GT3 Rs both running in the top three for several hours. Eventually trouble found the team's #68 entry, but the #66 Porsche of team owner Kevin Buckler, Michael Schrom, Timo Bernhard and Joorg Bergmeister soldiered on to capture the class victory and seventh-place finish overall.

Hometown heroes Flis Motorsports was finally able to capture a Rolex 24 At Daytona victory, which had eluded the team for so long. The Daytona Beach-based team has accumulated second-place finishes at the famous race, but had not made its way onto the top rung of the podium until today. The team's drivers Doug Goad and Craig Conway partnered with Andy Pilgrim and Michael Ciasulli in the #09 Corvette. Although they did not capture the top spot immediately, once the Corvette found the lead in Sunday's early morning hours, it was there for good.

The Corvette accumulated a tremendous lead over all of its American GT competitors, who seemed to repeatedly fall victim to mechanical woes. By the final hours of the race, the Flis team had already secured its victory. But that did not stop the dedicated racers from continuing when the Corvette suffered wheel and suspension damage. The crew repaired the car and sent it back onto the track to continue to race until the checkered was thrown.

Each of the drivers on the class winning teams were presented with Rolex watches by Rolex Watch USA President Walter Fischer and Grand Marshal Phil Hill in Victory Lane. As one competitor looked down to admire his new watch he remarked, "I told myself I would never buy one of these, because the only way to get one of these is to win it here in Daytona. That's what this is all about."

The Rolex Sports Car Series will next travel to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Nextel 250 on March 2, part of the 20th anniversary of the Grand Prix of Miami.

-grand am-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Guy Smith , Didier Theys , Robby Gordon , Scott Sharp , Max Papis , Scott Pruett , Brian Simo , Mauro Baldi , Anthony Lazzaro , Michael Ciasulli , Phil Hill , Jon Field , Paul Gentilozzi , Kevin Buckler , Doug Goad , Craig Conway , Terry Borcheller , Bill Rand , Michael Schrom , Jim Matthews , Kevin Doran
Teams Risi Competizione