One hopes the 50th celebration of anything will run without a hitch. That racing legend A.J. Foyt should fall ill shortly before his spell as Rolex 24 grand marshall began wasn’t the best start. Saying that, nobody could have predicted that the bi-centennial running at Daytona would prove to be one of the closest in recent years.
Those still awake with four hours of the day-long event to run witnessed a titanic three-way battle for the lead between last year’s race winners Chip Ganassi Racing and the event’s dark-horses, Starworks Motorsports and Michael Shank Racing. Although expected to dominate proceedings from the get-go, engine issues in qualifying had slowed the Ganassi steamroller, and the #8 and #60 Fords were already in a fight of their own by the time the #01 car caught up. The trio several times sparked white knuckles on pit road by running three-abreast through traffic into turn one.
Just as both Ganassi cars had done the day before, the #60 (driven by a resurgent A.J. Allmendinger) and the #8 (with Ryan Dalziel at the wheel) went door mirror-to-door mirror on the 300+kmh back straight. Though the lead continued to swap hands, a late off-track excursion by reigning FIA GT1 World Champion Lucas Luhr allowed Starworks to maintain its lead to the flag.
After a record 761 laps and 4345 km covered during the 24hrs, Allmendinger, Ozz Negri, John Pew and Justin Wilson – who made his racing return at Daytona after an injured back left him on the bench for 2011 – secured Michael Shank Racing’s first Rolex 24 victory at their ninth attempt. Only five seconds deprived Dalziel, Luhr, Alex Popow, Enzo Potolicchio, and Allan McNish – twice a runner-up in the Rolex 24 already – of their moment on victory lane.