Daytona International Speedway is synonymous with NASCAR but once a year, sports car racing rules the roost for the prestigious Rolex 24. The course uses most of the famous oval but also includes a winding road through the infield to make a 3.56 mile circuit with a total twelve turns. The entire infield becomes a gearhead village of sorts. All the displays that would normally be found at Midway during Speedweeks are set up near the Sprint FanZone. On paper, the combination of motor homes, tents, vendors, a carnival (with Ferris wheel), the race course, teams, fans, trams and media, etc. seems primed for chaos but that wasn’t the case. It was well-organized and folks were well-behaved for the most part.
I was up on the Sprint Fan Deck for the start and hoped to catch a glimpse of the action in the garages right below us. However, all the drama was happening in Pit Road which was just beyond our view. The excitement started to build after the national anthem and then everyone started to cheer loudly when we heard, “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!” Soon our applause was drowned out by the incredible roar of the race cars’ engines. It was an astounding noise level that abated as the Audi R8 pace car led the seventeen Daytona Prototypes, thirty-six GT’s (Grand Touring) and six GX cars around the circuit. Just as people were adjusting their ear plugs and I realised that I forgot mine, the fleet came back around. After the pace car zoomed into pit road, the race cars really took off and it was on!
Before I headed to the Grandstand with my companions, there was a moment to gaze at the Rolex 24 Heritage Exhibition display from the deck’s rear. We had a bird’s eye view of some past winners in both GT and Daytona Prototype classes going back as far as the 1960’s. Quite frankly, I could have spent the better part of the afternoon ogling them but I needed to get to a spot where I could see the race! It took us a little while to find the correct tram to the front of the speedway, but during the trip, we saw the other fan areas which were very, very close to the race action. At one point we actually drove between turns and had race cars flying past us. I tried to get shots of the cars but unluckily caught none of them. It was equal parts exciting and scary to see the DP’s on the high banks on one side, while hearing the GT cars screaming by on the other.
One of the best aspects of this particular race is that there’s no assigned seating. Of course, we trekked high up the Sprint Tower and settled in there to watch the race. I broke in a brand-new ear protection headset that was purchased in the Fan Zone. It did the job marvellously and comfortably. The drawbacks were that they cost much more than the disposable plug-in type and almost a bit too efficient. I couldn’t hear any announcements and was probably pretty easy to sneak up on. This is probably why you see many fans wearing radio headsets because without them, it’s really hard to know how the race is progressing. From what I could see, it was quite exciting and although they had about twenty-two hours to go, those drivers were working hard to hold their ground. Although there were very few fans in the Grandstand, I did notice parents there with their kids. It’s lovely to see families enjoying events at the speedway, especially an endurance race.
I left the speedway well into the race’s sixth hour. Unfortunately, SPEED Channel didn’t carry over their coverage throughout the night so I didn’t resume watching until the next day. It was a thrilling race. Colombian NASCAR driver, Juan Pablo Montoya crossed the finish line first for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in a BMW/Riley DP car. He was followed by Italian Max Angelelli in a Corvette DP for Velocity Worldwide. While last year’s winner, AJ Allmendinger of the USA for Michael Shank Racing in a Ford/Riley DP placed third by a hair. 2012 turned out to be a very difficult year for the former Penske Racing driver. A repeat win here at Daytona would have been a sound announcement of his return to form. However, it was a hard fought third-place and he more than proved his worth.
Audi made a strong showing in the GT class as Filipe Albuquerque of Portugal took Alex Job Racing to the manufacturer’s very first Rolex victory in their Audi R8 GRAND-AM. German driver René Rast took second place in his APR Motorsport Audi while AIM Motorsports FXDD’s Ferrari 458 was right on his tail for third place. In GRAND-AM’s new GX class, it was a Porsche Cayman sweep for the top three spots. Napleton Racing’s David Donohue of the USA was first and twenty-sixth overall. Their driver, Nelson Canache is the first Venezuelan to ever win this race. They were followed by Bullet Racing from Vancouver, Canada in thirtieth place. The third step on the podium was occupied by BGB Motorsports. All of the racers, regardless of where they placed, are now in the history books as this is the last Rolex 24 before the merger with the ALMS next year. At this time, the new class system has been released but many questions remain. For now, we can all say that this was a successful race and look forward to the next event, which will be at Circuit of the Americas on March 2, 2013. I’d like to extend special thanks to Mrs. Diana Milner for all her assistance. It is very much appreciated.