The 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona: What we learned, what we saw
There was also some pretty good racing, so let's have one last look at the weekend. Oh, and there was that 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO Series II...
If you want to skip the reading bits and go to the photos, there's a high-res gallery of 158 images above and a couple more below. Enjoy.
DP / LMP2
The last time Chevrolet took overall victory at Daytona was 2001, back when Ron Fellows was driving the Corvette C5-R in the GTS class. The drought has ended, No. 5 Action Express Coyote-Chevrolet Corvette DP driven by João Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, Sébastien Bourdais and Burt Friselle crossing the line first at the checkered flag, having led more than a third of the race – 272 laps – and setting the fastest lap at 1:39.180 at an average speed of 129.220. That's only about one second more and mile per hour less than the average speed of the pole lap set by the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing DP that did the loop in 1:38.270, averaging 130.416 mph. What's more, the car won the race having experienced gear selection issues since the morning.
The victory was the second overall for the Action Express Team, following their conquest in 2010 that also included Barbosa. It was the third class victory for Barbosa, the Portuguese driver having claimed a GTS-class win in 2003 in a Mosler/Chevrolet. It was Fittipaldi's second overall win and Sebastien Bourdais' first, the Frenchman overcoming little incidents like a spin during the night at the Bus Stop when he bumped the other Action Express car being driven by John Martin because he was "expecting a little bit of courtesy by my teammates." Bourdais said after the race that he'd tried to win a Rolex at Le Mans and that didn't work, so he came over here to win one but came in second so many times he thought they'd give him a Rolex out of pity. That didn't work, either. Now he finally has one, the right way.
The victory came because of one odd circumstance and one finicky rule. The last full-course yellow that came with about 17 minutes left was the odd circumstance we'll get to later, the finicky rule is that when the course goes back to green, drivers can't begin racing again until they pass the flag. The No. 5 car, in the lead when the course went green with about eight minutes left, passed the flag and hit the throttle. A Prototype Challenge car that was laps down was in between Barbosa in the lead in the No. 5 car and Max Angelelli in the second-placed car, the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Dallara-Chevrolet Corvette DP. That PC car also got the jump on Angelelli, and even though the DPs are much faster on the straights he couldn't get around it until the first turn. That ruined his chances of making a real play on Barbosa, and he crossed the line just 1.461 seconds behind. It was a welcome return to racing for Wayne Taylor, the team owner that hadn't driven in four years and came out of retirement for this race.
Speaking of the pole-sitting No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing car, it was the only Corvette DP not to finish the race due to its terrible collision with the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia being driven at the time by Matteo Malucelli. In fourth place at the time, exiting the International Horseshoe and driving full throttle into the sun, Memo Gidley in the No. 99 Red Dragon jinked left to get around another Ferrari that was passing Malucelli, who was creeping along the left side of the track the due to engine failure. Gidley rammed him at full speed, thought to be more than 100 mph, tearing off the front of his monocoque so badly that his feet were left dangling in the air after the crash. After being extracted from their cars, both drivers were airlifted to a hospital. Gidley had surgery on his left arm and left leg and awaits surgery for a back fracture, Malucelli escaped with a concussion and has been released. His Ferrari was the only one of the seven in the race not to finish.
The leading LMP2 was the No. 6 Muscle Milk/Pickett Racing ORECA-Nissan 03, coming in fifth driven by Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Alex Brundle, three laps down on Barbosa. The next LMP2 was the Oak Racing Morgan Nissan, 17 laps down.
The podium was completed by Brian Frisselle behind the wheel of the No. 9 Action Express Coyote-Chevrolet Corvette DP, 20 seconds down.
There were three Ford Ecoboost-powered cars in the race, including two in the cars of defending champions Chip Ganassi Racing. Driver Scott Pruett, who won last year, was going for his sixth Daytona victory in the No. 1 Riley-Ford Ecoboost DP. The team had almost nothing but trouble, losing 33 laps after a shunt with a slower GTD car during the night before numerous engine issues with the turbocharged V6 would force retirement with 90 minutes left. It was classified in 43rd overall at the finish. The No. 2 Ganassi car lead throughout portions of the night but had to call it quits in the final hour due to floor damage, classified in 15th. The No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Riley-Ford DP was the other EcoBoosted team, finishing 47th overall but still running at the end.
Elsewhere in the top class, the DeltaWing Coupe made its big-time debut, doing 288 laps in 16 hours before retiring with transmission failure. It was ranked 61st overall at the finish. The Mazda SkyActiv Diesel Prototypes played rolling chicanes again this year, after the GT-class Mazda6 diesel racers did it last year. We applaud Mazda for aiming to innovate, but their pace was almost hazardous. Both cars retired with minor issues, the No. 70 with an oil-pump belt failure, the No. 07 within an hour of the end because a blocked radiator caused overheating.
The No. 54 CORE Autosport team of Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, Mark Wilkins and James Gue claimed Prototype Challenge honors, a lap ahead of the No. 25 8Star Motorsport PC driven by Tom Kimber-Smith. This was the only class where there was a lap differential between the first two finishers. Third place went to the No. 38 Performance Tech Racing car, nine laps down.
Porsche claimed the GTLM class with the CORE Autosport factory team in its No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet sharing wheel duties. They were 2.8 seconds ahead of the works BMW Rahal Letterman Lanigan team in the No. 55 BMW Z4 GTE piloted by Andy Priaulx, Bill Auberlen, Maxime Martin and Joey Hand. The BMW team worked the 'slow and steady wins the race' angle; the Z4 GTE couldn't match its competition on the straights – the team itself calls it a "significant top-speed deficit" – so they made sure to stay on track instead of the pits. Said Hand, "If you just keep this thing rolling round the racetrack and spend as little time in the pits as possible you stand a chance." The car ran well and they didn't hit anyone, so over the whole 24 hours the No. 55 car spent 14 minutes in the pits. The second RLL car, the No. 56, finished in fourth after staying up with the leaders during most of the race, but probably had a shot at third if not for a broken wheel bearing requiring a lengthy stop.
The pole-sitting SRT Motorsports No. 91 Viper GTS-R driven by Dominik Farnbacher, Marc Goossens and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third, four laps down, after both it and the No. 93 cars spent a lot of time leading the GTLM pack. After being strong for the first eight hours, a power-steering line failure struck the No. 91 car overnight as the No. 93 was leading, causing it to lose 12 laps while in the pits. It didn't have another major issue during the race, but as the No. 91 left the pits, the No. 93 entered the pits to fix damage due to heavy contact after it got bitten by a lack of traction in cold tires, and lost six laps, then had driveshaft problem later on that left it stranded on the track. There were other little incidents like the stop-and-go penalty issued to the No. 91 because it lost a wheel nut after a pit stop, but things look really good for the Viper team this year.
Problems also beset the Corvette team, the two C7.Rs breaking in their racing legs with this race. Thoroughly competitive when they were running, leading early in the race, but engine overheating sent the No. 3 C7.R out of the race for good after having fought from the back of the grid to the head of the class. The No. 4 recovered from a water leak five hours in to be fighting with the No. 911 Porsche the next morning, but got knocked out by a transmission bearing failure with less than three hours to go while in second place. After a lengthy trip to the pits for a fix, it climbed back to finish fifth in the class.
This class was the problem child. As is well known by now, it took four hours and a whole lot of consternation to figure out who the winner was, which is why the victory lane picture of the GTD class winners was taken at night, with no one but teammates and course workers around. Still, it gave Ferrari its first class victory at Daytona since 1998.
When Alessandro Pier Guidi in the Level 5 Motorsports No. 555 Ferrari 458 Italia finished 1.2 seconds ahead of the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS driven by Markus Winkelhock. Seconds later, Pier Guidi was issued a stop-and-hold plus 75-second penalty for avoidable contact on the last lap with Winkelhock, erasing his victory and dropping the team to fourth. Social media blew up at the call, and it was still blowing up when, four hours later, IMSA reversed the decision of the race director and reinstated the No. 555 car to first place.
After the reorganization, third place was nabbed by The No. 58 Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT America.
The Other Audi R8s
Flying Lizard didn't show its hand until late in the race, hanging out around the middle and bottom of the top ten in GTD over much of the night. When the No. 555 Ferrari started swapping the top two in-class positions from about hour 18 to the end of the race, it was merely filling the spot that had been taken by the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari from Saturday evening and overnight. As with the RLL BMW in GTLM that kept the ship aright and on course, Flying Lizard didn't do anything wrong, just kept turning laps and gaining positions, moving into the lead on Sunday morning and swapping it with the Level 5 car. The second Flying Lizard car, the No. 35 Audi, finished sixth in class.
The other Audi R8 LMS' didn't do so well. The first one went out on Lap 5 when the No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports car driven by Charlie Putman spun backwards into the wall in Turn 1 after braking. The No. 32 GMG Racing car made it seven hours, then had contact with a PC car that sent it caroming into the end of the pit lane wall head-on and out of the race.
The No. 48 Audi R8 LMS of Paul Miller Racing, the class pole-sitter, stayed at or near the top of the class for half the race, then suffered a water leak and other issues that lead to longer and longer pit stops. It would cross the line 16th in class, having set the fastest lap of the race before it got into trouble.
The 16th and final full-course caution of the race is still a puzzle – no one we spoke to was clear, officially, on why it was called. Everyone we spoke to unofficially – including a highly respected commentator and former Daytona driver who called it "Very contrived" – believes it was meant to manufacture a close finish.
After persistent brake problems, the No. 22 Alex Job Racing Weathertech Porsche 911 GT America driven by Leh Keen at the time had a brake failure with about 17 minutes to go in the race. Keen went off the track at the International Horseshow and into the tire wall, but got the car going again quickly and drove off under his own power. The DeltaWing and numerous other cars had done the same thing before Keen, and only got local yellows for their troubles.
Max Angelelli, in the second-placed car overall, behind Joao Barbosa, said of the caution, "No, I wasn't surprised. We need a yellow. There was a lot of debris." There was debris at the corner, but none of it had anything to do with Keen's incident. On the other hand, Barbosa, leading the race, said he was "very surprised" at it.
The official results, however, don't say anything about debris. The cause of the last yellow flag is listed as "#22, off course." Why the race needed three laps under full-course yellow for a car that quickly recovered from an accident under its own power is, well, still a puzzle. Officially.
The Decision. The Reversal.
That yellow is what caused The Decision. If not for bunching up the cars for the final eight minutes of the race, Pier Luigi in the Level 5 Ferrari would have had to make a huge mistake in order to be caught by Winkelhock in the Flying Lizard Audi. That might have happened, sure – it is racing. But our opinion is that it should have taken that to happen, instead of the yellow flag happening.
What was also peculiar was that the race director was so confident of his decision to levy the "avoidable contact" penalty that he made the decision on the cool-down lap. The specific rule applied here is:
48.3 AVOIDABLE CONTACT. Any Driver who, in the sole opinion of the Race Director, initiates avoidable contact with another competitor, whether or not such contact interrupts the other competitor's lap times, track position or damages other competitor's Cars, and whether or not such actions result in actual contact, may be warned or penalized pursuant to Art. 60 of the RULES. In accordance with Art. 62.2.1.B, any action or decision (or any alleged inaction or non-decision) taken by or imposed by the Race Director, Supervisory Officials or IMSA Officials in this regard is conclusive.
The first notable line is that contact isn't necessary. That makes sense, because if a car moves out of the way to avoid what would be avoidable contact, then that impedes a "competitor's lap times." But the final line is also of note, declaring that any decision by the race director is conclusive – it can't be protested or appealed.
The reversal came four hours later, but apparently not because of the protest lodged by Level 5 Motorsports. As IMSA VP of competition and technical regulations Scott Elkins explained to Autoweek, "the rule book is very clear on what items in the regulations are available for protest. As this is a race procedure, it is not an item that can actually be protested or appealed in any way." It appears IMSA officials did this on their own initiative – and rightly so – but it wasn't because of the team protest.
Elkins said the race director was trying to get "finality prior to the end" of the event and added, "The process worked. If you're asking could we have done it differently, I don't think so." One would think the race director could have delayed that initial finality for an hour, say, and tried to get it right.
All because of that last, little yellow flag.
The DP Domination and Balance of Power
There were five Corvette-powered Daytona Prototypes in the field. They led the race for 593 of the 695 laps. The one driven by Memo Gidley didn't finish because of that terrible accident. The other four swept the first four finishing positions, dominating the Ford-powered cars and the LMP2 cars in straight-line speed the whole time; the Fords didn't finish, the first LMP2 car finished three laps down. Corvette won the last two engine championships in Grand-Am, so no one doubted the strength of its program. It has 50 more horsepower this year than last year, but that might change before long.
Two GTLM cars finished in sixth and seventh overall, ahead of the supposedly faster Prototype Challenge cars, two of which came in ninth and tenth. The No. 91 Viper finished 12th overall ahead of the next PC car in 13th.
Everyone expected it to be a year of finessing the balance of power, the question will be whether IMSA does so before Sebring in a few weeks or, because Daytona is such an unusual track, waits to see how the cars do on a handling circuit first.
There was a lot of talk before the race about the speed differential between the classes and how that might affect incidents and the result. However, closing speeds weren't the biggest talking point afterward – racing lines were. If there was anything more consistent than the Corvette DP pace and reliability, it was drivers complaining about other drivers. Jordan Taylor in the Turner Motorsports DP said, "I think it was a unique year with a lot of drivers making questionable moves out there." Brother Ricky Taylor said, "There are a lot of cars and good drivers. You can definitely see the transition from when the starting drivers get in to the gentlemen drivers who get in second. It gets a bit hairy." Father Wayne was the bluntest of all, saying, "I don't think the car qualifying is necessarily OK when you have paying drivers who quite honestly aren't good enough to be on the track. "
It was the same in other classes. Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 GTLM Corvette said, "It was pretty crazy and lots of unusual lines being driven. Lots of people are going off and not thinking when they come back on. It was an eventful first hour, for sure." Tony Vilander in the No. 63 Ferrari that lead GTD until the morning and a broken steering arm dropped it down the order, complained, "There are some guys who really don't know what's happening and that makes it difficult," while Guy Cosmo in the No. 556 Level 5 Ferrari said, "Some guys have been pretty crazy out there."
Oh - and There Was This...
Ferrari had this sitting outside its hospitality, the first 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO Series II built for that season. The successor to the Ferrari 250 GTO and the FIA-rejected 250 LM, Phil Hill and Pedro Rodriguez drove it to victory in the 1964 Daytona 2000-km Continental, the first sports car race held at Daytona. It also won the 12 Hours of Sebring that year for US importer Luigi Chinetti's North American Racing Team (NART). It is estimated to be worth $75-$100 million.
The next race in the series is the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, March 12-15. We'll be back then.
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