DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 6, 2000) - Viper Team Oreca and other GTO (Grand Touring Over) class contenders outlasted the more powerful SportsRacers to score a victory for production-based race cars in the Rolex 24 At Daytona this weekend, the ...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 6, 2000) - Viper Team Oreca and other GTO (Grand Touring Over) class contenders outlasted the more powerful SportsRacers to score a victory for production-based race cars in the Rolex 24 At Daytona this weekend, the inaugural event for the Grand American Road Racing Association.
As most SportsRacers, including defending winners Dyson Racing, fell victim to accidents and mechanical problems, Team Oreca and the GM Goodwrench Corvette team stepped up to provide the majority of the race's excitement.
In the end, the No. 91 Viper GTS-R of Olivier Beretta, Dominic Dupuy and Karl Wendlinger beat the No. 3 Corvette of Ron Fellows, Chris Kneifel and Justin Bell by a race-record margin of victory of 30.879 seconds. The winning car, which was taken through its final stint by ex-Formula One driver Wendlinger, averaged 107.207 mph and recorded 2,573.88 miles in the day-long race that officially clocked in at 24:00:30.926 seconds. Wendlinger battled Fellows down to the wire.
"Before I left the pits in 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 who was leading at the time.
"When I passed the Dyson car for the overall lead, the team told me to take care. I concentrated only on my driving, and I didn't worry about reliability or passing anybody for the lead."
A second Viper driven by David Donohue, Ni Amorim and Jean Philippe Belloc finished third, four laps behind the winner's total of 723 laps while Oreca's other entry allowed the team to sweep three of the top-five spots. Tommy Archer, Marc Duez and Vincent Vosse finished fifth in their Viper GTS-R, recording 691 laps.
The impressive showing was the first time three GTO cars swept the top-three spots in the Rolex 24 and marked the first win for a production-based race car since Scott Pruett, Butch Leitzinger and Paul Gentilozzi won the 1994 event in a Nissan 300ZX-T.
Fourth place belonged to Dyson, the top SportsRacer finisher and the race's dominant team for more than half of the event. While most other SportsRacers faded before the race's halfway mark, Dyson's Lincoln Riley & Scott Mark III led a race high 433 laps over a span of more than 14 hours. The team's shot at a second-straight victory - and third in four years - eventually slipped away with a bent exhaust valve, however, that robbed the team of much needed horsepower.
The race car circulated slowly for most of Sunday and the team could only watch as the stout GTO entries closed in. The eventual winner slipped by Dyson's ailing race car just after the 22nd hour was completed and the Corvette and second Viper soon followed.
While Dyson's day was disappointing, it was a shining performance compared to the rest of the SportsRacer field. Several contenders including the Lista/Doran, Risi Competizione and Auto Sport Ferrari 333 SPs all failed to finish, as did the Konrad Motorsports and Canada's Multimatic Lola 98Bs and several other Riley & Scotts, including the Chevy-powered machine from Phillip Creighton Motorsports.
Surprisingly, the new Cadillac Northstar LMPs and the race's only Reynard lasted longer than the supposedly more reliable Ferraris and Riley & Scotts. After the Lista/Doran Ferrari retired following an engine compartment fire while leading Saturday night, the No. 5 Cadillac of Wayne Taylor, Max Angelelli and Eric Van de Poele stepped up to offer the Dyson team its strongest challenge. The team led the race Saturday night and even kept Dyson in sight when the defending winners retook the lead. Hub failure and transmission woes eventually dropped the car from contention but it did manage to finish its first 24-hour race in 14th place. That position was one behind the team's sister No. 6 race car that ran as high as second before retiring late in the race with a loss of oil pressure. Andy Wallace, Frank Lagorce and Leitzinger drove the No. 6 Cadillac. "We were as surprised as anybody on how the race worked out." said Leitzinger who also saw his squad endure a transmission change. "I think everyone got ahead of themselves thinking it was more of a speed contest. No one really went for the reliability enough."
The Johansson Matthews team ran a Judd Reynard and managed to finish despite four different transmission changes and various other problems. Drivers include team co-owners Stefan Johansson and Jim Matthews along with Guy Smith and Memo Gidley.
Haberthur Racing's No. 56 Porsche GT3R took top honors in the GTU class and an overall eighth-place finish. The team ran a steady race as similar Porsches that set the pace earlier suffered blown engines. Porsches from Dick Barbour Racing, G&W Motorsports and Alex Job Racing all led before retiring. The Gunnar Porsche GT3R of Paul Newman, Michael Brockman and 17-year-old Gunnar Jeannette also dropped out with a blown engine.
"This is my fourth Rolex 24 race and I expected our team would do well, but not this well!" said Fabio Rosa, one of four drivers of the No. 56 machine. "I understand many of the Porsche GT3Rs had mechanical problems which took them out of the race, but we have had very few problems."
Comer Racing's No. 84 Chevrolet Camaro led all entrants in the American GT class and placed 27th in the final Rolex 24 standings. Team drivers included Andy McNeil, John Finger, Ron Zitza, Rick Maugeri and Doug Mills.
The race was slowed by eight caution periods for 32 laps. The only major accident happened just before midnight when Chris Ronson crashed hard in Turn Six in the No. 63 Mazda Kudzu. He was transported to Halifax Medical Center where precautionary X-rays for a possible fractured ankle were negative.
Round Two 2 of the Grand American Road Racing Association is at Phoenix International Raceway April 20-22.
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