Racing to daylight at Daytona

As the hours wane in this 43rd running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, it's easy to see that passion for the game of racing is playing out. Even as some of the fan-favored teams are forced to retire with mechanical woes there...

As the hours wane in this 43rd running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, it's easy to see that passion for the game of racing is playing out.

Even as some of the fan-favored teams are forced to retire with mechanical woes there are squads and drivers with desire to succeed making their ways to the front of the pack.

While 62 cars began this contest at 12:12PM yesterday, now that 18+ hours have passed mechanical woes and contact have thinned the field. Even as some are capable of continuing to fight after crews effect repairs to stricken vehicles others are forced to admit defeat and pack the transporter in anticipation of the next race in south Florida at Homestead- Miami Speedway next month.

Following their surprising victory in 2004 the Kodak-Bell Motorsports Kodak EasyShare Pontiac/Doran team reinforced their driving lineup with Paul Tracy and Ralf Kelleners joining Christian Fittipaldi and Terry Borcheller. A call to the pits at the green flag to work with a brake bias cable, along with a series of other maladies that eventually resulted in an engine failure and retirement just before the 12-hour mark.

Five-time Rolex 24 winner Hurley Haywood and his co-driving partners JC France, Mike Rockenfeller, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas battled back from Bernhard's hard crash in practice - after the Brumos team had been forced to travel back to the Jacksonville shops and rebuild the Fabcar Porsche. They ran as high as the top ten in the wee hours of the morning after starting the race 27th but a collision in the 15th hour ruined the car's suspension and bellhousing, forcing the courageous crew to call it a weekend.

At the other end of the spectrum, the CiITGO/Howard-Boss Pontiac/Crawford of Andy Wallace, Jan Lammers and Tony Stewart that came oh, so close to victory in 2004 before suspension failure parked the NASCAR star against the wall and retired, had led more than 150 of 535 laps at the time of this report. Stewart's passion for the sport is well known to racing fans; that he'll race anything, anywhere is his calling card. That Stewart wants this race badly is a given; his teammates are both exceptional road racers.

They're being chased by the SunTrust Racing Pontiac/Riley of Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor and Emmanuel Collard, who have led more laps than the team they're pursuing in this twice-around-the-clock classic. Taylor's team has been steady throughout the 18 hours of this race and haven't fallen out of the top five - aside from pit stops - since mid-race.

"I'm waiting for the big panic to happen," opined Bill Riley, designer of the car. "it's been, actually up to this point, I hate to say it, but it's been an actual perfect race for us. The nose hasn't come off, the engine cover hasn't come off, the stops have been good, the drivers haven't gone off."

One of the top teams in this contest is battling back from adversity after a collision just after the 18-hour mark placed the CITGO/Howard-Boss Pontiac/Crawford driven by Dario and Marino Franchitti, Milka Duno and Dan Wheldon in the garage area for repairs. Dario was driving at the time he collided with the Porsche GT3 Cup driven by John Littlefield at the time.

Behind the top two, the Lexus/Doran of Fabrizio Gollin, Matteo Bobbi and Didier Theys held third spot with Bobbi up, followed by the strong Pontiac/Doran of Terry and Bobby Labonte, Jan Magnussen and Bryan Herta with the Dane behind the wheel.

The Lexus/Riley of IRL regulars Scott Dixon, Darren Manning and NASCAR star Casey Mears continued to run strongly despite a garage-area stop around 4:30 this morning for electrical repairs. The trio have led 37 laps thus far, many in the last four hours.

As dawn approaches, exhaustion is evident up and down the pit road but still the teams press on. In addition to racing hard, the two-car Porsche squad known as Team Seattle/Synergy Racing has reached its goal of running 700 laps combined between the pair, raising $368,900 ($527 per lap) for the Children's Hospital in Seattle, Washington.

It is programs like this that show the community the value of a race like the Rolex 24 at Daytona's 3.56-mile road/oval course. But being first to the checkered flags, now only five hours away is the carrot everyone's working for.

"Anytime you're running out front," Tony Stewart acknowledged earlier in the race, "you're having fun. I think we're going to be fine."

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Andy Wallace , Milka Duno , Jan Lammers , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Darren Manning , Fabrizio Gollin , Jan Magnussen , Ralf Kelleners , Didier Theys , Casey Mears , Christian Fittipaldi , Scott Dixon , Bryan Herta , Emmanuel Collard , Wayne Taylor , Terry Borcheller , Hurley Haywood , Matteo Bobbi , Timo Bernhard , Max Angelelli , Marino Franchitti , Romain Dumas , Mike Rockenfeller