Endurance racing is an inhospitable, gladiatorial arena of gasoline, oil, blood and tears. You can arrive with multiple championships under your belt but often your only real edge is the ability to regulate your sleeping habits better than the opponents.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway has tested the wills of men for 51 years. In that time, technology has improved, rules evolved and sponsors have poured millions of dollars into achieving a single win. What hasn't changed is the dedication each team devotes to its ultimate goal: Finishing on the podium and walking away with an exclusive wristwatch - courtesy of Rolex, naturally.
The Rolex 24 is divided into several categories. The top of the food chain is the DP (Daytona Prototype) class. Next in the pecking order is the GT Class - this year with 34 entrants. Finally, the all-new GX Class comprised experimental cars; in this case there were several Porsche Caymans with 911 3.8L engines plus Mazda6 SkyActiv Diesel racecars.
The pit garages are a wonderful place to observe the mayhem before the green flag. Teams practicing driver changes, mechanics squirming under cars, and fans packed into the narrow passageways trying to glimpse their favorite drivers.
On the infield, a tribute section was devoted to historic cars from almost every previous race. There were vintage prototypes and whaletail Porsches, all of which took to the track for a few victory laps before the main event began. The historic fleet was greeted by cheering fans and was a wonderful sight to behold.
Our plan of attack was to embed ourselves with several teams to open a window into the race. As fate would have it, this year would be a good one for the underdog European marques.
The team from european car would divide to conquer the Rolex 24. Josh Brown tailed Turner Motorsport's twin BMW M3s (# 93 and 94). Alex Rogan would monitor the returning DP champions at Chip Ganassi Racing (# 1 and 2) in their BMW-powered prototypes, as well as keeping tabs on the AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 GT cars (# 61 and 69). While Ezekiel covered Audi R8 Grand-Am racers being run by APR Motorsport (# 51 and 52), RumBum (# 13) and WeatherTech (# 24).
As the sole supplier for racing tires to Grand-Am, Continental Tires ensures a level playing field and puts the driving back into the hands of the drivers.
This year, only 30 sets were permitted for GT cars, with 32 for DP cars during the 24-hour race - including slicks and wet sets. For DP cars, tires can last up to 50 laps during the day and up to 70 in cooler nighttime racing.
By the end of the race, Continental had processed roughly 4500 tires, having brought 12000 to the race (8000 slicks and 4000 wet) in 17 transport trailers.
While they won't use all the tires, Continental must be prepared for anything the weather and the race throws at them. Amazingly, the processing lines (three this year) can dismount, mount and balance a tire in under 2min, with the service crew processing more than 200 tires per hour during peak pitstop times such as a full-course yellow.
APR # 51 crew watching # 52 arrive for fresh tires and fuel
The early morning fog slowed the pace considerably, making the race even more exciting once it cleared
The early morning fog slowed the pace considerably, making the race even more exciting onc
In the winner's circle with five-time winners Chip Ganassi Racing
There are certain teams that excel in all areas, regardless of the machinery or personnel. Teams that are always dicing for the victory. Teams like Chip Ganassi Racing.
Fielding top talent and producing consistent podium finishes at the highest levels of North American motorsport, Ganassi's rise to IndyCar dominance in the '90s meant they've seldom left the spotlight or winner's circle. With three team and four driver's championships since entering Grand-Am racing, plus four overall Rolex 24 victories, they were strongly favored in 2013.
The Daytona Prototype class follows the time-honored tradition of matching an "off the shelf" sports car chassis, made by RileyTechnologies in this instance, with the powerplant of your choice. Since 2011, Ganassi has campaigned 5.0-liter V8 BMW engines built and tuned by Steve Dinan.
With the ability to pull driving talent from his other teams, the Ganassi cars are never short on hotshoes. This year, car # 01 included Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Kimball. Car # 02 was similarly outfitted, with Joey Hand, Scott Dixon, Jamie McMurray and Dario Franchitti on the roster.
The Target/Telmex team intended to dominate from the start, securing the front row with # 01 on pole and 02 alongside. A third BMW-powered machine rounded out the top three, with the new Team Sahlen Riley-BMW sliding into third spot.
If there was any doubt about the potency of the BMW engines and Riley chassis against the Corvette-bodied cars that dominated in 2012, it was cast aside as the green flag dropped. Pruett in # 01 pulled away from the field, leaving everybody in his wake. With Scott Dixon behind the wheel, # 02 drifted back into the pack after a missed shift at the start. By the end of the first hour he was running fifth as # 01 continued to lead.
Throughout the 24 hours the Ganassi team operated with the utmost professionalism, nailing pitstop after pitstop, avoiding the penalties and pitfalls that can put a car out of contention. Both cars remained in the hunt and both led until McMurray made contact with the wall in # 02 exiting pitlane on Sunday morning.
Several laps down, # 02 eventually succumbed to transmission failure with Franchitti behind the wheel and only three hours remaining. We caught up with Dario shortly after: "I lost drive going into turn one and I coasted it to the Horseshoe," Dario confirmed.
He also revealed a rather surprising fact about the Ganassi drivers in the 24 who find their main employment in either NASCAR or IndyCar. "It's an amazing outfit and we just do this for fun," he enthused. "None of the other [non-Grand-Am Ganassi] driver's get paid to do this race. We do it because we want to."
Although no endurance win is ever in the bag, the Ganassi squad showed its class at the 2013 Rolex 24. The # 01 Target/Telmex car ended the race as it began: out in front, crossing the line just 22sec in front of the Velocity Worldwide Corvette DP after 24 hours.
Ganassi scored its fifth overall victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which marked Scott Pruett's fifth overall victory, and he's now tied with the legendary Hurley Haywood for most overall victories at the 24.