Daytona Rolex 24 Race Report

David Reininger - Daytona, Fla. (February 6, 2000) - The No. 91 Oreca Viper of Karl Wendlinger, Olivier Beretta, and Dominique Dupuy won the Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona International Speedway finishing just 30.879 seconds...

David Reininger -

Daytona, Fla. (February 6, 2000) - The No. 91 Oreca Viper of Karl Wendlinger, Olivier Beretta, and Dominique Dupuy won the Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona International Speedway finishing just 30.879 seconds ahead of the second place Corvette. GTO cars finished in the top three positions overall, with all three Oreca Vipers placing in the top five. The No. 93 car of David Donohue, Jean Phillipe Belloc, and Ni Amorin finished third with the No. 92 of Tommy Archer, Marc Duez and Vincent Vosse finishing fourth in class, fifth overall.

The Vipers performed flawlessly throughout the race, keeping the Corvette of Ron Fellows, Justin Bell, and Chris Kneifel from ever attempting a serious challenge for the win.

"Before I left the pits for the last half hour of the race, I knew the Corvette could be very fast, and that Ron fellows was a very fast driver," said Wendlinger. "But I also knew that throughout the race we'd learned how fast our car could run, and that we could win the race with the pace we'd set."

Rob Dyson's team, who won the Rolex 24 in 1997 and 1999, led this year's event for 14½ hours and 433 laps, leading second place by as many as 13 laps. A high-speed misfire surfaced at 1:00 a.m. causing the car to slow dramatically. Shortly after 11:00 a.m. the No. 91 Viper passed the Dyson car to take the overall lead. The defending champions finished fourth overall, first in class.

"It wasn't the result we wanted, but everyone who enters this race, all 100 of them, wants to win overall," said team owner Rob Dyson. "It's no secret that we wanted to win. That's our objective, and that's been our agenda since I started racing a long time ago."

"Specifically, what happened was an exhaust valve had a crack in it starting about one in the morning. We had a high-speed misfire that was due to a crack in an exhaust valve, and those things don't heal themselves."

The race between Ford, Cadillac and Ferrari in the Sports Racing division ended just after nightfall, leaving the Dyson entry alone at the point and the toughest battle on the course between the Oreca Vipers and GM Corvettes.

One of the pre-race favorites, the Ferrari 333 SP, never saw the sunrise as all three cars were retired by the seven hour mark. The No. 27 Doran entry, driven by Mauro Baldi, Freddy Lienhard, and Didier Theys was the first Ferrari to officially retire, after leading the race for more than four hours.

"We had an air box fire," said team manager Kevin Doran. "It's kind of a documented problem with the Ferraris. It's happened six or eight times before with different teams. It happened to us once before, at Portland last year. In a downshift deceleration mode you get an over-run of fuel in the air box, and for some odd reason, you get a backfire out of an air trumpet, and it ignites it, and all that excess fuel burns, and it takes out the injection wiring harness."

The Doran team attempted to replace the fuel injection system but fond that the engine had ingested material from the fire. "One of the pistons was damaged and the car would have run for an hour or two at best," Doran said.

The outside pole-sitting Ferrari was plagued with bad luck from the start when Alex Caffi spun in the infield on the first lap. Within the first two hours, the car was behind the wall for a series of mechanical repairs which ended six hours later when the car was pushed back to the pits smoking.

"We came here this weekend and had really big expectations to win the race," said Caffi. "I was really convinced we could win the race. Something happened that was strange, having so much bad luck. We were capable of winning the race with this car."

Cadillac ended its 50-year hiatus from motorsports with a second place finish in the Sports Racer class, 13th overall, with drivers Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger and Frank Lagorce. The sister car, driven by Wayne Taylor, Eric van de Poele, which led early in the contest, finished third in class and fourteenth overall.

"I'm really happy with the way the team worked," said Leitzinger. "This particular car had not done 10 consecutive laps before this weekend, so it was major feat to get as far as we did. We just learned what we need to improve on for future races, for Sebring, Le Mans and the rest of the year."

The Cadillac team is expected to race at the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta as well.

In their second year of competition, the No. 3 Corvette was rewarded with a second place finish overall. "Myself, Chris and Justin all drove as hard as we could for 24 hours," said Fellows. It's unbelievable that the car could make it. It was a great fight. We though we could catch them, there just wasn't enough left."

"Let's hope we will win one of the big races this year," said Justin Bell, Fellows' co-driver. "We didn't win this one, but we won in our way, because we did stuff people didn't think we were ready to do yet. Everyone's satisfied, but we'd like to win next time."

Winning the GTU category was the No. 56 Porsche 911 GT3R of Gabrio Rosa, Fabio Rosa, and Luca Drudi, completing 658 laps, 65 laps behind the winning Viper. "This my fourth Rolex 24 race and I expected to do well, but not this well," Rosa exclaimed.

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Andy Wallace , Butch Leitzinger , Chris Kneifel , Didier Theys , Ron Fellows , Eric van de Poele , Tommy Archer , Rob Dyson , Mauro Baldi , Vincent Vosse , Justin Bell , David Donohue , Jean-Philippe Belloc , Luca Drudi , Alex Caffi , Fabio Rosa , Olivier Beretta , Kevin Doran , Marc Duez , Dominique Dupuy