|The race winning car enters the night|
Monday, January 30, 2012
Twenty-four stories from the Rolex 24 at Daytona:
1) AJ Allmendinger. Allmendinger turned in a monster three-hour shift to close out the race, going door-to-door with Allan McNish and besting the three-time Le Mans winner. The victory caps a remarkable month. It began with Richard Petty Motorsports boss Robbie Loomis saying he would turn Allmendinger loose if signing Kurt Busch to replace him would help attract sponsors. Turned out Busch was exactly what sponsors didn’t want, but no way Allmendinger was going to stay at RPM after that. In short order he signed with Roger Penske Racing to replace Busch, became a part-owner of Michael Shank’s IndyCar team, consistently was at the top of the speed charts during Daytona Sprint Cup testing and finished the month wearing a Rolex watch. Year of the Dragon? Could be the Year of the “Dinger.”
2) Justin Wilson. Co-driver on the winning team, Wilson was making his first start since breaking his back at Mid-Ohio last year. He'll test his Indy car later this week. Nice comeback.
3) Michael Shank Racing. Not only did the Shank team win its first 24, the other team car finished third. A friend of both Allmendinger and Wilson from their days in Formula Atlantic, Shank decided his future was as a team owner rather than a driver. He’s also forming an IndyCar team with Allmendinger.
4) Ford. The Blue Oval was in the 24 victory lane for the first time in 13 years and won big, sweeping the top three places. The Fords had been a tick slower than the both Corvettes and BMWs in pre-season testing, although there was talk of sandbagging. Grand-Am has been following NASCAR’s playbook in trying to keep all the competitors on a level playing field and after being hit a 500 rpm reduction, the Fords were reluctant to risk further penalty by showing their hand before the race. The first indication that perhaps the Fords had more under the hood came in qualifying with a surprising pole position. Once the race started, the Fords quickly moved to the lead. An added bonus, fewer revs translated into better fuel economy for the Fords.
5) Andy Lally. If there was anyone at Daytona happier than Allmendinger, it had to be Andy Lally. It was his second straight Daytona 24 GT win and fourth overall. But it was clearly the sweetest. After winning Daytona last year, Lally and TRG Motorsports tried its hand in the Sprint Cup series. Lally won Rookie of the Year honors by default; no one else ran enough races to qualify. But the season ended badly when the team dropped from the top 35 in points and Lally refused to start-and-park. That’s when the team released their longtime driver. Lally went to Magnus Racing for the 24 Hours, helping to defeat the five car TRG team in the process.
6) Porsche. Porsche also pulled off a 1-2-3 sweep, turning back the new GT entries from Ferrari and Audi in the process.
7) Daytona Prototypes. The new DPs looked great, especially the Corvettes. Even the Riley-Fords were much improved from the Gen Two cars. Hopefully Ford and BMW will try and add a little more brand identity to their cars.
8) GT. It was the most competitive GT field in history. In addition to the European makes, a host of Mazdas, a Chevrolet Camaro and a Ford Mustang also were in the field. The Camaro showed promise.
9) The Infield. For the first time in race history, the infield sold out. There’s a big difference between the infield at a NASCAR race and the infield at a Grand-Am race. At a NASCAR race the infield is filled with motorhomes and camper trailers. At a Grand-Am race it’s tents.
10) Scott Pruett. Pruett failed in his attempt to match Hurley Haywood with five overall 24 wins. It wasn’t for lack of effort. At one point Pruett was heard on the radio wondering aloud how the No. 8 Ford could blow pass him without a portion of its rear bodywork.
11) Race Management. Taking another page from the NASCAR book, two “debris” cautions in the final four hours wiped out a minute-and-a-half Ganassis lead and kept the cars bunched for an exciting finish.
12) Sir Jackie Stewart. Filling in for the missing grand marshall, A. J. Foyt, Stewart turned in one of the most understated “Drivers Start Your Engines” you’ll ever hear.
13) Marco Andretti. Andretti pulled a Foyt, getting into a car he had never driven before, at night, and on a track he hadn’t driven on since Skip Barber Days – after testing his Indy car all day. No drama, although he did have dehydration problems, along with several other drivers.
14) Foyt and Gurney. Missing at Daytona was America’s most famous endurance racing tandem, A. J. Foyt and Dan Gurney. The winners of the 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans were both sidelined with knee troubles. Foyt, 77, the grand marshall for race and former winner, had knee surgery two weeks ago, but planned on being at the track. However, an infection sent him back to the hospital, where he was expected to remain through the weekend. Gurney, 80, who won the very first Daytona sports car race 50 years ago, was still recovering from recent knee replacement surgery and remained in California. Gurney’s son Alex was an early leader before car troubles knocked them out of contention.
15) Hurley Haywood. After 40 years and a record five wins, Haywood is supposedly retiring and was named grand marshall for the 51st race. But hold on. "I never said exactly I was hanging up my helmet.”
16) The Corvettes. Beautiful and fast, but fragile. The fastest of the Vettes didn’t last 30 minutes.
17) Grand-Am. A great start to the season for Grand-Am, which remains in a battle with the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) for control of American road racing. ALMS gets its turn next at Sebring.
18) Ford V6 Turbo. So dominating were the Fords that talk of a V6 Turbo under development seems like overkill, especially with Grand-Am willing to limit engine output in an attempt to keep competition on a level playing field. But it fits in line with future Dearborn production engine plans and – just a thought – the new turbo engines at Indy. I know, I know, those are V8s. Just saying…
19) Chip Ganassi Racing. The fact that the Ganassi team didn’t win, didn’t even make the podium, is news. The acknowledged top team in Grand-Am didn’t have the pace of the Fords, but was still in position to win before the “debris” cautions. Only a broken transmission in the final hour kept them off the podium.
20) Starworks Motorsports. Probably had the fastest two Fords in the race. But an off-track excursion by Lucas Luhr in the bus stop damaged the rear body work and eventually slowed their lead car. A force to watch during the season.
21) Travis Patrana. Driving a Ferrari for Michael Waltrip Racing, he seemed to have more fun than anyone else in the race.
22) 761 Laps. A new record distance for the race.
23) Jack Roush, Jr. Not in the 24, but Little Roush drove a Roush Racing Boss 302 Mustang to victory in the BMW Performance 200 on Friday, the first race in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series.
24) Allmendinger Again. So impressive was Allmendinger’s performance he gets the first and last mention. Throughout his final shift the pursuing Starworks Motorsports team encouraged their drivers to hound Allmendinger and try and rattle him. “Keep the pressure, he’ll buckle to your pressure.” He didn’t. Could be a career defining race for Allmendinger.