This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go see the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Yes, I took the opportunity. I traveled to the race, on a very tight budget, with my friend David. David is the owner of this business, and someone whom I met through sportscar racing (Sebring 2016, to be exact). I proposed the offer, and we both have nothing better to do, so we went. 600 miles round trip, 4 days, 54 cans of beer. What could go wrong?
Well, a lot, actually. We were quite under-packed for the weather, and the raceway was confusing to get into, at best. The temperature was around 45, degrees without the wind chill. With the wind chill, it felt like it was around -45. To add to this, we were kipping the whole race in David’s Tahoe. Now, I’m not a dumb Florida boy. I like the cold. It’s a welcome change from the usually satanic weather we have down here, but this was cold. At one point during the night, I actually woke Dave up with my shivering. The cold never bothered me anyway.
I’m lying, it was awful. It was cold, it was windy, and I’m not going to start on the rain yet. I said at one point that if it was any colder, I would have been looking for Germans over the next hill. My dad called it the “24 Hours of Bastogne”.
Away from that, the track was confusing. We bought the wrong parking pass, so we kipped the first night in the parking lot until we could exchange our passes. The track staff wasn’t the most helpful, save for Wayne, the attendant in Lot 40. Wayne was cool. We like Wayne. Wayne didn’t talk to us like children. Thank you, Wayne. [Wayne is the best. -Ed]
I’m going to stop rambling and talk about the race now.
The race. Ah, yes. The race. Let’s start with the BMW Endurance Challenge on Friday afternoon. Fantastic racing for four solid hours. You see, I like the Michelin Challenge, this funny little series nobody talks about. The drivers are world class, the cars are stuff you can buy tomorrow if you wanted to, and the racing is fantastically close. A few teams had problems, which is normal, but there were very few full course yellows. One incident I recall vividly was HART racing’s fuel problem. I got to have a chat with Ryan Eversley (top bloke, might I mention) and he described it to me this way:
“Ah, yes, the fuel issue. Well, during the race, we got shoved into Penske’s pit box, as is normal. When you call your fuel supplier and tell them you’re in box 47 and need a barrel, they bring you box 47’s barrel. Well, they gave us Penske’s DPi fuel. DPi fuel has more ethanol than TCR fuel, so we couldn’t change the params to match. What was irritating was that they crossed out ‘PENSKE’ and wrote ‘HART’ on the barrel! To add to the frustration, then I ran into someone. Bad day. I feel awful because the team worked so hard.”
Disappointing to see that. I really like HART, they’re a cool team. I had noticed that they were about 5-6 MPH down on the field, But Ryan was hauling massive amounts of ass. I’m talking a truckload here. He also was the bigger man and publicly issued an apology and statement before the team did.
The race was fairly steady for the remaining session time, and everyone seemed to find a groove that worked for them. I must say, the GT350 GT4? Absolutely fantastic noise. It almost hurts! At session end, Compass Racing had won over everyone, their McLaren running smoothly and incident free for the entire race, which is no small feat in endurance racing. Congrats to Compass racing for taking the win in their Mclaren 570 GT4. They put on a show and a half.
On to the main event. This year was the 57th edition of the Rolex 24. It is also IMSA’s 50th anniversary, so everyone is decked out in awesome vintage liveries. Acura is using their Realtime livery, Ford their Castrol livery, CORE Autosport ran a neat vintage Nissan livery on their NISMO DPi cars, and Porsche had an awesome Brumos livery. Everyone was in top form and ready to compete for the next 24 hours.
Mazda had smashed the track record in their #55 DPi, Oliver Jarvis reeling in a 1:33.3(!), putting them on pole, with the two Acura cars close behind. The sister #55 was fourth, and the #31 Whelen Cadillac rounded out the top five. The #81 Oreca was pole for LMP2, #911 Porsche for GTLM, and #13 Ferrari 488 for GTD. The race started without a hitch, and we were down in the kink for the start. You can check that video out on our YouTube channel, and hear the music of our people. We tended to wander for the start while the action was slow. We quickly learned not to do that.
The #3 Corvette made quick work of the #911 911RSR, passing him in the first few laps. The ‘Vettes were quick, when they were running. The Acura Dpi cars were blindingly quick from the start, but later seemed plagued by tire issues. The Cadillacs were reliable and fast, as always.
Around 9pm, the drama started. The #55 Mazda broke down, and shortly after, the #77 could not generate any fuel pressure. They brought the car in and shut the garage. Retired. The night was generally drama free, with the notable exception of a few yellows and the #3 Corvette running out of fuel under a full course yellow. My first comment was, “Really???”. Come on, I thought we were better than this, guys. Get it together, Binky. Around 10ish, Dave went to bed, and I started to head back into the grandstands to watch the race unfold.
At 4:30am, the rain began. Light, at first, before turning into a deluge. Sebring 1965, anyone? The rain was awful to the point the race was red flagged twice, the last one cutting the race short by 10 minutes, declaring Wayne Taylor Racing, and Fernando Alonso the winner. The 24 Hours of Daytona quickly turned into the 24 Hours of Lake Okeechobee. To add to that, it was frighteningly cold.
We got soaked. Cold and soaked. We left an hour before they called the race, and didn’t regret it. We were miserable. However, while the race was green, it was absolutely incredible racing. World class, really. If you ever have the chance to go to the Rolex 24, please do. We left satisfied and with ringing ears, content with the weekend. Congratulations to WTR, Dragonspeed, RLL BMW, and Grasser Racing. A big surprise was PerformanceTech, a local team to us, for second place in LMP2 with a Bronze/Silver team. Everyone put on a great show, and I wont forget it quickly.
Maybe I’ll pack better next time.