Rolex 24 at Daytona race report

By David Reininger - Daytona Beach, Fla. (February 4, 2001) - The Chevrolet Corvette of Ron Fellows, Chris Kneifel, Franck Freon and Johnny O'Connell overcame grueling conditions to earn first place overall in the Rolex 24 Hours...

By David Reininger -

Daytona Beach, Fla. (February 4, 2001) - The Chevrolet Corvette of Ron Fellows, Chris Kneifel, Franck Freon and Johnny O'Connell overcame grueling conditions to earn first place overall in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

Ron Fellows drove the GM Goodwrench Corvette across the finish line eight laps ahead of his nearest competitor, the No. 31 Porsche of Lucas Luhr, Mike Fitzgerald, Randy Pobst and Christian Menzel.

"The conditions were so difficult. Right from the start of the race we decided to do doubles (driving stints) and it worked out great. We stayed in our rotation and when I got in the car at ten o'clock (this morning), I wasn't getting out," said Fellows with a grin.

During the last hour, after being assured of the win, the leading car reported to the pits until the rising gearbox temperatures cooled.

"It was certainly one of the more stranger things I've done, sitting there waiting for the race to be over, even though we had won it," said Fellows. "That's just testimony to how strong the program was."

"We were not going to sit there and get out of the car and say 'thank you very much', we wanted to cross the finish line and win it on the track. We had the lead and there was no reason to take any chances on the gearbox temperatures, so we sat and waited for the last five minutes. Then we did a couple of laps and got the checkered flag."

Finishing second overall and first in the GT class was the No. 31 Porsche of Luhr, Pobst, Fitzgerald and Menzel. Seven GT cars finished in the top ten, six of them Porsches. A seventh Porsche in the top-ten was competing in the GTS class.

"When I looked at the field before the race, I thought it might be possible," said Pobst regarding an overall win. "There were about ten prototypes, but it's very difficult to keep a prototype running right for 24 hours. Porsche has along history of being sorted out and reliable. We all know how many teams have come so close to winning this race and it doesn't happened. Our race went very well for almost the entire race."

"We didn't have any problems," said 2000 Porsche Cup winner, Mike Fitzgerald, co-driver of the second place car. "It was amazing. In this particular race, nothing really went wrong for us. If you hosed that car off right now, it would look brand new. There's not a scratch on it."

Rain during the night caused problems for many drivers, significantly decreasing visibility on the high banks. "It was like taking a street Porsche, draping a blanket over the windshield and driving as fast as you can," said Pobst. "On the straightaways, that's just how it was. There was zero vision straight ahead. You could see the wall out the side and the grass out the left side. It was a crazy insane feeling to be running up through the gears, 140, 150, and not be able to see."

"We relied on when the brake lights came on on the car ahead of us and the racing gods for not having a dead car sitting in the track, said Pobst."

The premier division of the Grand Am series, Sport Racing Prototypes, saw several of the early favorites retire due to mechanical problems. The winner of SRP division, the No. 63 Mazda Kudzu of Jim Downing, Howard Katz, A.J. Smith and Chris Ronson, finished 11th overall, 32 laps behind the leading Corvette.

The SRP class was led by the Dyson entry of James Weaver, Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger, for most of the race. At 9:33 a.m. this morning, the Dyson team was forced to retire from the lead due to an expired engine. At the time, the Dyson car had completed 598 laps, leaving the car in the lead for the next hour. It took the second place Corvette an hour to close the gap and take the overall lead.

Two and a half hours after parking the Dyson entry, Downing's Mazda Kudzu passed the parked Dyson car to take the lead in the SRP class.

"We had to have a little luck here, poor Rob Dyson took it on the chin there after leading most of the race," said Downing. "We thank Rob for that. It takes a little bit of a contribution form everyone here. In every sense of the word, this is an endurance race. We just endured the best this particular weekend."

"We probably lost about twenty laps. We had to bleed the brakes a couple of times and it stuck in third gear a couple of times, so that takes several laps to fix."

Finishing first in the SRP II class and 13th overall, was the No. 21 Nissan-powered Lola of Andy Lally, Paul Macey, Peter Seldon and Martin Henderson.

"The first 23 hours was probably the quickest I've ever experienced and that last hour was probably the longest," said Paul Macey, who intends to compete the full season in the Sport Racing Prototype II class with rising star Andy Lally.

Former US Formula 2000 and Barber Dodge standout, Andy Lally did the bulk of the driving for the Archangel Motorsport Services team, driving at least nine of the 24 hours.

"We knew that we had a couple of weak links on the car that we had to take care of and really look out for, that was the gearbox, the engine and the brakes," said Lally. "The gearbox was the prominent issue that we knew we were going to have to take care of, so we set our strategy up to take care of that."

"We made sure we were matching the revs and using the clutch up and down, even though it's a sequential box. The gearbox was actually fully functional, minus first gear, at the end of the race. It felt a little like it was hanging up, but since we had such a lead, when I got in the car for the last two and a half hours, I put it in fifth gear and never took it out until the checkered flag. Fifth gear all the way around."

Lally's greatest challenge was trying to remain consistent under changing conditions. "We got caught out twice, it was drying up and we'd put intermediate or slicks on and we'd pull out of the pit lane and two minutes later, we'd get nailed with a shower. You couldn't predict it and those were the scary moments."

After pounding the Daytona pavement, helmet in hand, Lally's first Rolex 24 ride materialized just last week when the team's Lola cleared U.S. Customs. "It's been seven years I've been coming down here. It's unreal to get the shot. I've been coming here since I was about 19. It was just unreal."

Lally and Macey plan to compete in the SRP II division in Grand Am for 2001.

Kenny Bupp, Doug Mills, Dick Greer and Simon Gregg won the AGT division driving the No. 11 Chevrolet Camaro. They finished 28th overall, 104 laps behind the winning Corvette.

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Andy Wallace , Butch Leitzinger , James Weaver , Chris Kneifel , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Franck Freon , Rob Dyson , Randy Pobst , Lucas Luhr , Andy Lally , Simon Gregg , Jim Downing , Howard Katz , Kenny Bupp , Doug Mills , Paul Mace , Dick Greer , Christian Menzel , Peter Seldon