Organisers of the Rolex 24 must be rubbing their hands together with glee. The 12Hr mark has just ticked by and over half a dozen cars remain in contention for outright victory, enough to keep nervous bookies chewing their fingernails.
After snatching pole position from erstwhile pacesetters SunTrust Racing, Starworks Motorsport – courtesy of long-time driver Ryan Dalziel – had established a 7s advantage over Michael Shank Racing’s Ozz Negri by the time the first pit stops rolled around. Both ‘powerhouse’ outfits enjoyed 1-2 stints at the top of the leaderboard shortly after the six hour mark, though a full course yellow – required to sweep up Magnus Racing’s #44 Porsche GT3 at the Bus Stop Chicane – allowed former-ALMS Champion Allan McNish in the #8 example to re-take top spot as the race reached midpoint, NASCAR favourite A.J. Allmendinger continuing Michael Shank’s charge in second.
Nobody predicted that the top three would be devoid of a Chip Ganassi car for the first two hours, but engine management issues during practice hit last year’s race winners hard. Indeed, the #01 car failed to make it out for qualifying at all, and was forced to start from the back of the field. Some demonic driving from reigning-Grand-Am Champion Scott Pruett and IndyCar race winner Graham Rahal soon had the team tussling for top spot, which had transformed into the lead shortly after the two-hour mark.
Memo Rojas gave the team a mild scare by rubbing door handles with team-mate Jamie McMurray at close to 190kmh as dusk fell, before rapid brake wear necessitated a lengthy pit stop under yellows, dropping the #01 car four laps down. Despite suspension problems kicking in during the same caution period, stints from IndyCar Champions Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon kept the sister #02 BMW/Riley in third place.
So far the GT class has been an all Porsche affair. Brumos Racing and their polesitting #59 car maintained its lead at midpoint, while Magnus Racing’s #44 entry – despite their earlier problems – kept a watchful eye in second. GP2 runner Jeroen Bleekemolen had wrestled TRG’s #67 Porsche into the final podium position as the clock hit 12hrs.
The event has not been kind to all competitors, however. After their superb qualifying efforts, Suntrust Racing’s #10 Corvette Daytona Prototype lasted only 14 laps before engine issues crippled the charge. Joining the 2005 Daytona 24Hr race winners for an early shower were early leaders Gainsco Racing – undertray problems striking shortly after Memo Gidley’s run in the #99 car – and GT race favourites APR Motorsport, their #51 Audi R8 succumbing to clutch issues shortly after the third hour.
UAE-based Oryx Racing has also endured a tough event. Qualifying 15th was an achievement worthy of celebration, considering the late delivery of their car. But having run out of fuel shortly before the driver change, the #74 Audi R8 also suffered clutch problems before a trip into the barriers for team owner Humaid Al Masaood prompted the first full-course yellow >>>
Shots By Camden Thrasher