In 1966, Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby won the first Daytona 24-hour endurance sports car race over Shelby teammates Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant.
The margin of victory? Eight laps.
Nearly 60 years later, the winners of three of the five classes in the Rolex 24 At Daytona weren’t decided until the final lap, their margins under eight seconds. It wasn’t just the finish that was fierce. All 24 hours were.
Which leads us to the first of three takeaways from the weekend:
This Race Is beyond Intense
“Every stint here is just flat out,” said Tom Blomqvist, a key player in Meyer Shank Racing’s overall win with Oliver Jarvis, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud. “You’re managing so many things. You feel like you’re racing nose to tail from literally the green light.”
That’s from an established pro experiencing the race for the first time.
“It’s very different from what I’m used to,” Blomqvist said. “Honestly, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”
The Rolex 24 is a must-see for fans and a must-enter for the best racers in the world. It’s also a must-win. The evidence of that was everywhere on the final lap, when incidents decided two of the classes, including the door-slamming conclusion in GTD PRO.
“These last two hours have been maybe the most stressful of my life,” said Mathieu Jaminet, who tangled with Laurens Vanthoor on the final lap for the GTD PRO victory. “I mean, what a crazy fight with Laurens! We all know how good he is, one of the best GT drivers out there in the world. We had a great fight. It was sometimes on the limit, maybe even over.”
Race Fans Are the Best Fans
After the qualifying race Jan. 23, a lone fan sat outside his RV at Daytona International Speedway, bundled in a parka and stocking cap in the cold night air, stoking a fire and watching the replay on TV.
If you attended the Rolex 24 and the days leading up to it, you know how unusually cold it was for Florida. The chill of the overnight hours Sunday showed on every face. Yet there they were, clamoring to get a view, following every lap with curiosity and wonder.
Fans of sports car racing don’t necessarily follow a particular team, driver or manufacturer. An example of that may be the owner of the pickup parked at Daytona whose side offered a meticulously eclectic wrap of sports car drivers’ faces through the years. From David Hobbs to Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Newman to Ryan Briscoe, Steve McQueen to Boris Said – there they were.
Sports car fans are overall fans – fans of the sport itself, fans of the art and craft of racing. They’re different from fans of other sports. They aren’t cheering for their city or their alma mater; they’re cheering for the beauty and drama of their sport.
And they are hardy folk. They prove it again and again, for hours and hours.
The Password Is ‘Perseverance’
Devlin DeFrancesco knew precisely how many laps his team fell behind the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) leader early in the race. Three.
“I’m sure because I did not get off my phone for four hours straight,” DeFrancesco said. “I was looking and refreshing (the live race timing and scoring page).”
Despite the deficit, DeFrancesco and his teammates – Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward and Eric Lux – weren’t worried. They had time, cautions and wave-arounds in their favor.
“If there’s 16 hours left and with 61 cars, there’s going to be a bunch of cautions,” Herta said after wheeling the No. 81 DragonSpeed USA ORECA LMP2 07 to victory. “You’ll get your lap back. I wasn’t worried.”
The laps were lost to pit road speeding penalties created by a technical malfunction, which kept the DragonSpeed crew busy throughout the race.
“I think we really hurt our crew,” DeFrancesco said. “They’ll need a good night’s sleep because we put them through the ringer a little bit.”
It was worth it. The No. 81 won in a highly competitive LMP2 class by 7.089 seconds to give Herta and O’Ward their second Rolex 24 wins and the first for Lux and DeFrancesco.
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