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2015 Daytona Rolex 24

 

Shhh! I am about to tell you a secret…  But, first some background.  In 1979, I my honeymoon started with a visit to the Daytona 24. This was my first time back since then, and it was a return in style. That brings me to the secret – I attended as a guest of Porsche Motorsports and spent my time in the VIP compound. What a way to watch a race! On arrival in the designated parking area, we were greeted by several waiting golf carts. The golf carts were there to drive us from the parking area to the compound. And what a luxurious compound it was – a blazing white tent with “Porsche” in red letters across the top, white tables and chairs, sofas, and plenty of room to spread out. After being greeted we started to look things over. There was clearly going to be ample food and drink. There were many TVs, a countdown clock waiting for the race to start, spotlights highlighting sayings by Ferdinand Porsche for inspiration, and more. Multiple meals were going to be provided during the day and the bars (two, one indoors and one inside) were there for drinks and beverages. Out back was a silver Porsche 918 Hybrid to look over. There was also a pit roof seating area for our use.

 Porsche Motorsports VIP Compound

Porsche Motorsports VIP Compound

The staff was made up mostly of Porsche North America staff but there was also a full catering and bar staff. Everyone, and everything, was ready for 24 hours of racing.  Three of Porsche North America’s drivers (Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, and Marc Lieb) came to speak with us. I learned that while Le Mans has roughly 7 hours of darkness, Daytona would have about 13 hours of darkness. Daytona is clearly a challenge. Members of PCA came by to visit, but they mainly stayed in the PCA Porsche corral on the far side of the track. (The new PCA 911 GTS Club car was on display there.)

Since this was only Friday afternoon, we started to settle in. We checked radios and walked around. Our passes gave us almost complete access to everything but the hot pits. We walked through the garage area and watched the teams making last minute adjustments. I saw a few friends and everyone was in a great mood and ready for a great race.

We marveled at the many Porsches on display as past winners of the race in the “Spectator Fan Zone”. I did not see the Hurly Haywood/Danny Ongias/Ted Field Porsche 935 car that I watched win in 1979, but there were many great Porsches there -- 962s, 914’s, 935s, 911s and more. The display showcased Porsche’s past dominance of this event.

As we walked around, I made a mental note of good photography locations for the race. I noticed almost immediately that on turn 2, I would need a step stool to photograph over the fence.

The first race up was the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series race – the BMW Performance 200 – on Friday afternoon. Both classes were won by Porsches. Fifty-one cars raced for two and a half hours over the 3.56 mile Daytona circuit. Winners of the Grand Sport class and the overall winners of the race  were brothers Matt and Hugh Plumb in the No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche 911, followed by Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell in the No. 6 Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R.  Stevenson teammates Lawson Ashenbach and Matt Bell were third in their No. 9 Camaro Z/28.R.

Spencer Pumpelly (not a stranger to readers of these pages) and Luis Rodriguez, Jr. took the victory the Street Tuner Class in their No. 17 RS1 Porsche Cayman. In second was Eric Foss and pole sitter Justin Piscitell in the No. 56 Murillo Racing Porsche Cayman, followed by David Murry and Ted Giovanis in the No. 64 Team TGM BMW 328i.

We went to dinner at Winghouse down the street from the track with friends. After a good meal, we retreated to our hotel to get some sleep (in Palm City, FL, 40 minutes away). We were back at the track by 8 in the morning. Just in time for a great breakfast in the Porsche compound. After the heavy rain stopped, we walked through the garages and during the pre-race activities we walked out on the banking. There were many people there; all were amazed at how steep the banking was at the start/finish line. I am sure we all thought – if the banking is this steep here, how steep it is in the turns!

It was 2:30pm, and time for race start, before we knew it. The countdown clock started in the compound. And the race was on. The Daytona prototypes thundered into Turn 1. But I was really here to watch the Porsche Motorsport team cars. And they did not disappoint in the early goings of the race. They challenged the Corvettes and Ferraris for the lead and stayed in contention. This was supposed to be an endurance race, but the Corvettes, Ferraris, Porsches and BMWs in particular ran it as a sprint. No quarter was given and none expected. Every car took advantage wherever it could. I took pictures over the fence as we walked around the track (by one count we walked 8.5 miles).

Before we knew it, it was night. I don’t remember so many lights in 1979. I guess the lighting is an improvement. The track is now lit most of the way around. There were pit stops and crashes in the early evening. We had steaks for dinner. We drank wine (compliments of the open bar).  We had a snack a few hours later. Around 10 pm we started to leave the compound to walk more. Then we learned that the compound would close at 10. We panicked. Boy, was I glad I had insisted on our having rooms for Saturday night; we had planned on staying in the compound overnight. We started the trek to our hotel (40 minutes away) at 11 pm.

 Night Pitstops

Night Pitstops

We were back at the track at 4 am. This time we went high up in the immense grandstands for a night view of the goings on. (There were people sleeping on the seats despite the 40 degree temperatures.) We then made our way back around the circuit in anticipation of photographing the sunrise behind the cars. Sunrise did not disappoint either. At 8 am we went to the Porsche compound for breakfast.  Then, we walked some more. We were tired by this point and spent much of the time after lunch in the compound watching on TV. The cars and drivers were tired as well. With the coming of light, many cars had mechanical problems. This seemed a time for failure. In the compound, we learned the Porsche Motorsport cars had a shunt overnight (with each other). We learned that the lead Ferrari was out of the race. It became a race in the GT Le Mans class between the two Corvettes and a BMW. The prototypes were charging around in their own race of drama. And one of the GT America Porsches had hit an opossum. (The pit crew found it in the trunk hours later, named it “Ballast”, and gave it a twitter handle.) The end was near.

In the prototype class, after 24 hours, 740 laps and 2,634.4 miles, the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona came down to a seven minute, 30-second sprint that saw the No. 02 Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley DP squeeze out a 1.333-second victory over the defending Rolex 24 champion No. 5 Action Express Chevrolet Corvette DP. The Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP had to settle for third.

In the GT Le Mans class it was close as well. The No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R  (driven by Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe) took the class win and a surprising fifth overall, just 0.478 seconds ahead of the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE. This was Corvette's first Rolex 24 win since 2001. The Porsche Motorsport team cars 911 (driven by Tandy/Pilet/Lieb/Christensen) finished 5th in class, and car 912 (driven by Bergmeister/Bamber/Makowiecki/Christensen) finished 7th in class. While it had not been a good day for the Porsche factory team, it showed the car has the speed. Wins will come; the season is just beginning.

In GT Daytona, the No. 93 Dodge SRT Viper finished first in class, 7.6 seconds ahead of the No. 22 Alex Job Racing/WeatherTech Porsche 911 GT America. Oh, and Ballast finished 11th in class.

I am already making plans to go back next year. You’ll see me in the Porsche Motorsports VIP area.

All images are taken with a Fuji XT-1 Camera and Fuji lenses (mainly a 50-140 f2.8)