Monday, February 1, 2010

Action Express Racing Porsche Wins Rolex 24 hour of Daytona, Mazda takes GT honours

Photo Source: Grand Am

With rain pelting Daytona International Speedway, the 2010 Rolex 24-hour of Daytona starts single file behind the safety car (DP cars following a Mazda RX-8 and GT cars were packed behind a Mazdaspeed3). While there are a number of rain-driving experts in the Grand Am Rolex series, 19 minutes past until the Rolex Series field were set loose.

As the green flag was finally given to the competitors, the first lap saw some serious jockeying for position. Even as the green first lap of a 24 hour race will count for little on Sunday afternoon, DP cars challenged the polesitting #10 SunTrust Racing Dallara Ford by the second turn with the Crown Royal pulling along the side of lead car. Driven by Angelelli through the first stint, the #10 SunTrust car would be under heavy attack due to less than stellar handling which saw him settle in 7th place after 10 minutes under green.

Photo Credit: Grand Am

Wheeling the #01 Target/Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Riley, one of the spotlight prototypes for the weekend, Scott Pruett flew from fourth to first as the tightly-packed Daytona Prototypes stormed down the backstretch to lead the first green flag laps on the race. The #01's team car, the #02, was a who's who of Chip Ganassi Racing's IndyCar and NASCAR empire for 2010, the #02 lineup consisted of Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Moytona and Jamie McMurray. Taking the lead early, this BMW-powered Riley would be a consistent placeholder in the early stages of the race. However, the #02 car did not go uncontested as 5 different Daytona Prototype teams held the top spot at some point in the endurance race's first 3 hours. Taking turns in the lead were the Doran Racing #77 in the hands of Memo Gidley, the #59 Brumos Porsche, a #2 Crawford Chevy driven by Dane Cameron and the #02 BMW Riley.

The GT class also saw a quick fight for the as the #30 Mazda RX-8 shot past the class leading #69 SpeedSource entry early. An eclectic variety of vehicles which ranged from the race proven Porsche GT3s, the hard-working Mazda RX-8s as well as the GT newcomers BMW M6 and Chevrolet Camaro all had their class leading moments. As the race endured through the initial hours, one of the newer cars would demonstrate the common new race car bugs. The #94 BMW M6, campaigned by Turner Motorsport, had one driver reporting intense heat around the foot pedals. Prepared to remedy his with a NASCAR trick, teammate driver Boris Said carves up a foam foot container as an insole for his upcoming driving stint. More problem crept forward as an air flow restriction took the BMW out of the lead GT position. Recovering the obstruction, the Turner Motorsport #94 continued the full race since for a respectable 8th place in GT.

Photo Credit: Grand Am

A tough race for all racing machines, as the race extended beyond midnight (about 8 hours, 30 minutes into the event) the 3.56 mile road course wore hard on the Daytona Prototypes in particularly. The first and major casualty was the #02 Target/Chip Ganassi Racing car which suffered a terminal engine failure after leading over half of the event up to that point before 12:20PM. With other Daytona Prototype contenders leading in the night following the #02 retirement, the #75 Krohn Racing car and the #59 Brumos Racing Porsche had opportunities to light the way around the Daytona high-banks. Both vehicles encountered problems shortly after leading with the #75 requiring an extended pit stop to address body damage and a brake pad change knocking the Krohn Racing team out of winning contention.

The Brumos Racing Porsche #59 were the defending overall winning team running drivers Raphael Matos, David Donohue, Butch Leitzinger and, for the last team in Rolex 24-hour of Daytona competition, Hurley Haywood after a career which saw 6 class victories come for the racer. Preventing Haywood's 7th win was misfortunes that slowed the Porsche engined Riley overnight with 20 laps lost in a garage stop to replace a rear end gear. The #59 Porsche would eventually retire from competition claiming 11th in DP class and 26th overall in the event's final standings.

At midpoint, the GT battle had also seen a fair share of excitement with the #57 Chevy Camaro entered by Stevenson Motorsports running second behind defending GT class Daytona winning #67 TRG/Flying Lizards Motorsports Porsche GT3 team. The pole-sitting SpeedSource #69 Mazda RX-8 was still in contention through the halfway point of the event despite the car being nosed into a tire barrier after sliding off-course.

While the DP leaders suffered setbacks through the 8-12 hour mark of the 24-hour of Daytona, the 18-hour mark claimed to be savage on the GT field. Interrupting the hotly-contested class battle were a slew of mechanical gremins. The first car to be slowed was the #57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro which was leading past the 3/4 mark of the race. Spending a long-time behind the wall as a result of transmission issues, the new Grand-Am Rolex Series GT car lost the chance to take a debut victory.

The #57's main competitor, the #67 TRG/Flying Lizards Motorsports Porsche GT3, would be the next to fall to the grueling 24-hour run. A throttle spring break required two unscheduled pit stops during the course of the race. While the #67 Porsche continued to be stay in contention until the end, the #69 SpeedSource Mazda was not as lucky as a water leak slowed the RX-8.

While the 2010 Brumos Racing team fell from competition, the #9 Porsche by Action Express Racing (built from the team which was last year's second Brumos team) rose to the front in a fight between the #6 Michael Shank Ford Riley and the remaining Target/Chip Ganassi Racing #01 car.

Surrounded by considerable media attention at Daytona, the #99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley faced an uphill battle since the first practice on Thursday when Jimmie Johnson misplaced the car while passing a GT runner. Through Thursday night, an entire team went into refurbishing the rear end of the #99 car, named the 'Red Dragon'. An example to teamwork and effort, the Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing returned on Friday placing some competitive laps in the final two practice sessions leaving some to think the #99 'Red Dragon' could be a contender through the 24-hour race duration. While maintaining a healthy pace through the first half of the race, The fire was ultimately lifted from the Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing team by an oil pump failure.

Further consolidating the survivors in the Daytona Prototype class, two more engine casualties claimed the vehicles of #55 Crown Royal/NPN Racing and the #6 Michael Shank Racing into the noon time hours on Sunday.

Judged as a race-changing move, the #01 Target/Chip Ganassi car, being piloted by IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, made an abrupt drive down pit road turning behind the wall. Probably acting in caution after the loss of the #02 car, after two laps mechanics of the red and blue #01 BMW Riley found no problems with the machine sending the car back out into competition. From this point, the #9 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley took a firm grip of the race lead. Portugal Grand-Am driver Joao Barbosa took the wheel through the final two plus hours of the race never setting a wheel wrong. Despite the best efforts from a charging #01 BMW Riley being hustled by Scott Pruett which saw the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing car close over 40 seconds in the final two hours, the Action Express Racing #9 Porsche Riley crossed the line first as a little mentioned underdog before the green flag fell on Saturday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Grand Am

Overcoming early setbacks the second SpeedSource car, the #70 Mazda RX-8, succeeded in winning their 2 GT class title at the Rolex 24 hour of Daytona in 3 years shared by Jonathan Bomarito Nick Ham, David Haskell and team principal Sylvain Tremblay. Taken through the final stage of the 24-hour race by Bomarito, the SpeedSource #70 ended up crossing the finish line 4 laps ahead of the #67 Porsche GT3.

Photo Credit: Grand Am

The 2010 Rolex 24 hour of Daytona is now in the books continuing to provide a healthy variety of happiness, heartbreak, assured excitement as well as surprise. The harden sports car driver and team talents outwitted the finances and bravado of the skilled sportsmen from other racing series. Teams of the #9 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley and the #70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 celebrated to the euphoria of Daytona victory lane. For the drivers, the happiness included the sights of their new Rolex watches.

Once again on this most prestigious of North American endurance races, it was proven the difference a day can make.

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