It took 24 hours to run the race, but it was the last one was stuffed with the high action as four cars were still trying to figure out how to gain victory on the track and in the pits. Along with the obligatory crashes, spins, mechanical issues and retirements had come numerous penalties, a double-digit number of full-course yellows and two hours of fog that turned early Sunday morning into a stretch of parade laps.
The final hour would make up for the morning – drivers who might have been happy just to get on the podium had a shot at victory as the end of the race approached, and that turned into a few gambles that paid off, and at least one that didn't...
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Chip Ganassi's team owned it, the #1 Telmex Riley-BMW taking pole position and the number two spot on the grid and winning the race with Juan Pablo Montoya behind the wheel at the checkered flag. But to get there, it had to hold off defending winner AJ Allmendinger in the #60 Michael Shank Racing Riley-Ford, and two Corvette DP cars.
Cautions – 16 full-course cautions over the course of the race – kept bunching the field back up, so there was never any such thing as a commanding lead. On top of that there were some stellar driving performances, the #60 Riley-Ford coming from seven laps down, twice, due to two mechanical issues, to come closer than anyone would have expected to fighting for the win.
The Corvette DPs, which had their parity formula played with up until the day before the race, didn't go down quietly. The black and orange #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP driven by Max Angelelli at the final stint came in 21 seconds behind Montoya, and was in the hunt for the win until the final burst of pit stops with drivers still on a breakneck pace and no one able to really conserve fuel.
The #9 Action Express Racing Corvette DP with Joao Barbosa doing the final stint had to serve a stop-and-go penalty for avoidable contact – the Daytona officials loved passing that one out – which knocked it out of the battle for the lead. It would finish fourth.
Scott Pruett, one of the drivers on the winning team, collected his fifth win in the 24-hour race at Daytona, joining Hurley Haywood in the league of quintuple victors. The Ganassi team has an astouring 50-percent win rate at Daytona, taking its fifth win in ten tries.
On the GT side, Audi finally took its maiden victory in the race it calls "Showroom Daytona." Filipe Albuquerque qualified his WeatherTech R8 in sixth, followed by René Rast in the #52 APR Audi in 11th, the Rum Bum Racing Audi driven by ex-DTM driver Markus Winkelhock was 16th and Matt Bell in the #51 APR Audi started the race in 27th.
Each team led at least once during the race, but each also suffered penalties and mechanical issues that dropped them back into the pack. The Weather Tech Racing Audi hung around in second and third through the first 23 hours of the race, in spite of a few spins and penalties for incidents like avoidable contact. The black #52 APR Audi was also hit by time penalties and a Daytona Prototype, dropping three laps down by the time the sun came up on Sunday. The Rum Bum Racing Audi was socked with a three-minute penalty when it passed the pace car under a full-course yellow; one of the drivers said the team radio didn't work and the pilot didn't know he was in the lead and forbidden to pass.
One of the APR drivers had said that the Audi's didn't have the best straight-line speed, and it showed in the last hour during a battle with a Ferrari. On just about every lap Rene Rast would swap places with the FXDD Ferrari 458 Italia, the Audi having the advantage on the infield curves, the Ferrari pulling away on the high-speed sections. At the point Rast and Lazzaro were in the lead of the GT class, with Winkelhock in third in the Rum Bum Racing R8 and and Albuquerque in fourth. After Rast and Winkelhock pitted, though, Albuquerque took the lead and was able to build a big enough lead so that when he pitted for a splash of fuel with just seven minutes left, he came out in first place.
It was an all-R8 podium at this point, with Winkelhock in second and Rast in third. Rast hounded Winkelhock, though, and the Rum Bum Racing Audi ran out of gas on the last half of the last lap, through the Bus Stop, cruising to a halt just before the entrance to the pit lane.
Alburquerque took the win by less than 1.5 seconds over Rast in the APR Audi, third place going to the #69 AIM Autosport FXDD Ferrari.
On the way to the airport after the race a colleague asked if anyone thought Audi had been sandbagging about its performance – after all, we went from the head of customer motorsport just wanting to show the brand is competitive to winning the race and having two cars on the podium. We don't think so – after its troubling first year in the series, as well as the genuine excitement we saw when Audi took the lead for the first time, we think the team was as surprised as anyone.
The GX class was swept by Porsche Caymans, David Donohue driving the winning #16 Porsche Cayman FX to the finish. The three diesel Mazda6 GXs suffered from the start, their speeds down on competitors – Clint Bowyer calling them "chicanes" an interview – two of them retiring in the first hour, the last one, driven by rookies, going into the fourth hour but stopping on the track.
Grand-Am returns on March 2 from Texas, when the series moves to the Circuit of the Americas just outside Austin. While you wait for the calendar to turn over six weeks, enjoy the video below of the four Audi Sport customer racing R8s being built from start to finish, time-lapse style.