I dare say that if you didn’t at least take a little bit of time out of your weekend to watch some of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, you’re not a racing fan.
Sports car racing may not be the biggest thing going, but this was the first race of the year (okay, so there was the Chili Bowl earlier in the month…) and the beginning of Speedweeks at Daytona (since there wasn’t any on-track testing for NASCAR).
Regardless, the action was great, and you couldn’t have asked for much more than four cars being in contention in the closing laps. This after 24 hours of full-throttle racing (without rain, they were flat-out the whole time) and covering over 2,600 miles.
But could you ask for more? I could, and will. Read on as I review the 47th Rolex 24 at Daytona from a good, bad, and ugly perspective.
Good: The weather. Mother Nature delivered perfection. No rain, the cold from earlier in the week moved out, and it looked like it was just a beautiful winter weekend in Florida.
Bad: No rain. I’m not talking about a monsoon here. But this would have really challenged the competitors. Consider last year in Formula 1; Silverstone separated the men from the boys. Otherwise they should set up a sprinkler system from Lake Lloyd in the infield and pump some water on the track for a few hours to make things a little more interesting. But honestly, I think they did okay without.
Good: The run by the top-four cars. Brumos had the speed and overcame some pit-road miscues to take first and third on the podium. The 01 Ganassi car got lucky with a caution allowing them to repair splitter damage without losing too much ground and did everything they could to fall just short of a third-straight overall win. Wayne Taylor’s SunTrust Ford/Dallara ran great in fourth – showing the wisdom of going with proven engine technology to ensure reliability.
Bad: The run by the 99 Gainsco Bob Stallings car. It suffered an electrical problem taking out the tail lights which required repairs, and then the gearbox went kaput. This took the team I was hoping would dethrone Ganassi out of the running for the win. You had the primary pilots of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty joined by former CART Champion Jimmy Vasser, and three-time defending Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson - So much talent gone to waste.
Bad: The 02 Ganassi Lexus Riley was strong early, but splitter damage would leave them in the not-so-envious position of having to make a change under green – effectively taking them out of contention. Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon are going to be tough to beat this season in IndyCar.
Bad: The number 16 car for (Roger) Penske Racing led early and looked like it could add insult to the injury of defrocking the CGR team. Nothing would have brought the Captain more pleasure in beating his rival Ganassi than to do it by preventing his car from making history. Sixth place overall wasn’t good, but not all bad considering how other big names fared. Roger couldn’t draw Chip into running in American Le Mans Series head-to-head, so Penske decided to come play in his adversaries’ sandbox.
Ugly: The number 2 car for (Richard) Childress-Howard Motorsports was a non-factor all weekend. They didn’t even make it on the track for the first qualifying session. After addressing some gremlins during the race, including a door that didn’t want to stay closed, at least they did nurse the car home in eighth overall – 33 laps down. This was one bad run that can’t be blamed on Danica Patrick.
Ugly: Michael Shank Racing’s two cars stunk it up, both succumbing to Ford engine failures, resulting in 41st and 47th place on the score sheet.
Good: The drive put in by the TRG (The Racers Group) and their Porsche GT3s. Ninth and tenth overall is a great day for GT teams up against the much faster Daytona Prototypes.
Bad: The number of cars Farnbacher-Loles Racing fielded (5) and lackluster performance: 13th, 15th, 16th, 26th, and 27th overall. They didn’t even get a podium finish. Five cars! And they were the same Porsche GT3s TRG went one-two and Wright Motorsports finished third with.
Ugly: A run across rumble strips or some other off-track excursion punctured the fuel tank and broke the pump on the SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 of Sylvan Tremblay and Nick Ham. These guys could have given the Porsches a battle, instead they spent 23+ hours running to make points.
Really Ugly: Team Sahlen. Three guys on the team named Nonnamaker, two Corvettes, only one started, and it made it all of 30 laps. Thirty? I could have done better on a bicycle and still enjoyed the party Saturday night. Please… If you’re not going to be worth a damn, don’t embarrass the bowtie by fielding a Vette.
Conduct of the Race:
Good: The call not to penalize Max Angelelli for racing hard with the Brumos Porsche and they both spinning in turn 6.
Bad: A record number of cautions (25) for 117 laps (both records). Yes, there were too many yellow flags, but it helped keep things tight (though that seemed to be happening based on the quality of the competition anyway).
Bad: Waving the white flag before the 24-hour clock had expired. One more lap wouldn’t have hurt, would it? Or was the 58 car on fumes?
Ugly: The drive-through penalty assessed to the 02 Ganassi car for shooting the chicane at the Bus Stop because the brakes failed. Dario Franchitti immediately pitted the car, and they lost two laps as a result of a loose brake line. Why add insult to injury at that point? Dumb.
Good: SPEED’s coverage was good, as usual. Bob Varsha’s toes probably hurt a little from David Hobbs stepping on them so much.
Bad: The lack of overnight broadcast. Grand-am.com could have at least had an audio cast couldn’t they? SPEED went out to Irwindale for the Toyota All-Star Showdown, so I’ll give them a pass on that front. It would be costly to have crews on cameras and running the truck all night, but it would have been fun to watch flag-to-flag.
I was working overnight after monitoring live timing and scoring (see below), I couldn’t wait for 6 a.m. to roll around and SPEED’s coverage to resume. Last year I think grand-am.com had audio, and a live webcam that wasn’t worth a whole lot, but was better than nothing. Put one on the front stretch and one looking down pit road and let ‘em roll.
Good: The Grand-Am.com web site had live timing and scoring for the entire event. NASCAR.com also had articles, but being that the France family now owns Grand Am, and there were a number of Cup drivers in the field, this is no surprise.
Bad: IndyCar.com had nothing about the race, yet the biggest names in their sport were involved: Scott Dixon, Danica Patrick, Dario Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay… What else would they talk about right now?
Good: The win by David Donohue 40 years after his father, Mark, did the same. Not to mention he did it from pole.
Good: Margin of victory: .167 seconds. If only it had been as close as the July race at the track... (Can you say, "Pruett by a nose!")
Good: Record number of cars on the lead lap (4). If only the 02 hadn't had the splitter issue, they would have been there as well. And the 16 certainly had the speed.
Bad: Juan Pablo Montoya complaining that the speed of the Brumos Porsche, “Wasn’t fair.” Come on, Juan, be gracious in defeat. If anyone had a right to complain about a lack of speed, it was the Gainsco guys.
Ugly: Did I mention the Sahlen team’s poor performance? I think a used Taurus on a doughnut could have gone farther than they did. At least Corvette will be redeemed in American Le Mans.
Good: The racing season has officially begun!
Bad: There’s not another Grand Am race for three months… Three MONTHS! Who made this schedule?
Ugly: After the greatness of the DP race this weekend, see above. The GT racing will be much better going forward, and this year is going to be another great battle for the points championship. I’m ready for more now. I’d really like to see these guys come to Texas Motor Speedway for a 4-6 hour race on the Roval.
Yes, every other racing series will kick off between now and April 25th (the next race on the schedule), but if you don’t like the action in Grand Am, I dare say you’re not a race fan.