Any form of motorsport requires an enormous commitment on behalf of everybody, whether it's a one-man operation preparing his autocrosser for a local event or a multi-million dollar Formula 1 team. The economies of scale may be vastly different, but everybody goes into it with a will to win.
While the driver inevitably receives all the attention, he's simply the one who presses the pedal. Before he gets the chance to show the ladies his skills, there are parts to be fitted, components to be checked and adjustments to be made.
In January, we were invited to join our friends at Turner Motorsport for the Daytona round of the Grand-Am race series. The team has traditionally fielded a number of BMW touring cars, and this year would be no different; it had entered an E46 M3 and brand new E92 M3 into the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge that took place on Friday, as a warm up to the big event - the Rolex 24.
The famous 24-hour event is open to both GT cars and Daytona prototypes and, for the first time, TMS had entered a car - a BMW M6. In reality, it's BMW-shaped thanks to the carbon fiber body panels that clothe the Riley tubular chassis. Under the hood, pushed almost into the cockpit, was a naturally aspirated 440hp E39 M5 V8 engine; a motor that was homologated for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car series and had proved reliable in other applications.
The car was bought ready-to-race at the end of '09, leaving the team scant time to learn and prepare it for the Daytona testing at the beginning of January. All they could really do was prepare it to the same impeccable standards lavished on the touring cars and hope for the best.
We carried a number of blogs on the car's preparation, and encourage you to visit youtube.com/turnermotorsport for videos of the car's initial testing and some Daytona footage. However, the entire race has been filmed for a special webumentary on the team's first 24-hour race.
Dawn over Daytona
Taking a redeye out of Los Angeles, we arrived in Orlando, FL at the buttcrack of dawn. The short drive to Daytona got us to the famous Daytona International Speedway at 8am, where Turner Motorsport's crew of 40 people greeted us. They were divided between the two Continental Challenge touring cars, the M6 GT and support staff for tires, engine, suspension and catering, etc. Many were volunteers, happy to participate in the historic occasion of Turner's first 24-hour race. Among them were former employees who'd worked on previous Grand-Am and SCCA World Challenge campaigns.
The driver line-up was particularly impressive. Four pilots would guide the M6 through its torture test; Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand are BMW Works drivers, driving the ALMS M3 GT2 for BMW Rahal Letterman Racing as well as TMS M3s for many years; Boris Said is another TMS regular who's currently driving Nascar and has experience in prototypes, touring cars, etc; Paul Dalla Lana was sharing a BMW 328i in '09 with Will Turner. As it turns out, these four would endure more than just exhaustion to bring the BMW home.
While the touring car team appeared to operate in a serene bubble, the GT team was more flustered. An oil leak in practice resulted in a top-end strip-down, while a fire in a later session brought inevitable concern. "Smoke, smoke, smoke!" aren't words you want to hear over a communications headset!
Fortunately, the damage was minor, caused by an alternator wire chafing on the carbon bodywork. It was dealt with during the pre-race strip-down that began late into Friday afternoon and continued almost up to the start of Saturday afternoon's race. All the major components were replaced, from the brakes (calipers, rotors and pads) to the suspension uprights and axles, while the transmission and differential were fully rebuilt.
To the uninitiated (and even some initiated), it didn't look like the car would make Saturday afternoon's grid. It was in too many pieces to start the race, never mind finish it.
Yet the dedicated team of TMS mechanics methodically worked through their tasks, bolting the car together in time for the rain to arrive as the grid was formed. Despite the deluge, the M6 looked regal in its yellow and blue TMS color scheme as Joey Hand prepared for the first stint.
Dusk til Dawn
This may seem like stating the obvious, but 24 hours is a very long time. Yet races like Le Mans, Nürburgring and Daytona seem to make it almost mundane. You can read about them, watch video footage, catch it on TV; but until you've endured 24 hours of motor racing, you have no concept of what a monumental task the teams undertake.
A regular race is about 40-60min; F1 is around 120min; but after four hours at Daytona we were ready to go home.
The noise, the activity, the drama; it's incessant. There's also the agony of wanting the car to keep going. You wish it round every lap, and after four hours your brain hurts.
Adding to the stress is the inevitable hiccups that occur during race that make you doubt whether this machine can last the distance.
Problems encountered during 24 hours included collapsing hoses. The corrugated pipes were lined to smooth airflow but the team was unaware the inner lining could delaminate when hot. This led to three problems; firstly, Auberlen reported a loss of power, caused when the intake pipes collapsed and suffocated the engine; then the pipe ducting cold air to the driver's footwell collapsed. With the engine located so far back, and the downpipes passing below the aluminum floor, the drivers were burning their feet. Joey Hand suffered particularly badly and was clearly in pain. Bill Auberlen was able to swap feet for braking and acceleration, so seemed to cope better. However, he covered his shoes in aluminum foil before his second stint, while Boris Said lined his shoes with burger boxes.
Another collapsed hose also created a brake cooling issue on one corner. It meant the crew had to change pads twice, losing extra time.
However, the biggest time loss during the race was attributed to a broken alternator belt. Unfortunately, the complex drive system meant it was impractical to change the belt, so they had to swap batteries every hour. But as the batteries ran flat, the engine would misfire. The team wasted valuable time chasing the misfire until the low voltage problem was diagnosed. The team's Bosch technician was then able to alter the dwell timing on the ignition to prevent the misfire as the batteries ran flat prior to the next swap.
You might also notice swathes of yellow tape on the side of the car. This was applied after an incident while Auberlen was driving. A collision ripped off the skirt and Grand-Am were concerned about the quarter panel falling off, so requested the tape.
With no yellow flags through the night, all these problems had to be diagnosed and rectified under green. And yet the #94 M6 soldiered on. It thundered through the night and greeted the dawn, running into a sunny afternoon to finally finish at 3pm.
Despite a mountain of doubt before the race, the team finished 15th overall out of 45 starters. It also placed eighth in the GT category behind a string of Porsche GT3s and Mazda RX8s that have years of experience.
The car completed 675 laps at an average speed of 100.017mph, 80 laps behind the winning Action Express Racing Porsche Riley prototype. Yet it was as if the team had won. They climbed the mountain and saw the promised land. Their M6 survived 24 hours at Daytona and nobody can take that away from them!
Position: Help with pit setup, fueling, tires, mechanics, Sleeping, etc
Nickname: Sleeping Beauty
Time with TMS: Since 2002
First 24hr race? Yes
What were your expectations? With the team's history I knew we'd have a great shot at it. But I began to think it might be difficult with the car in pieces on Saturday
How was Daytona24? I had a blast. This was the most fun I've had at a race in 8 years and the team worked well to overcome some issues that could have been major problems
Favorite moment: The finish. I've dreamed of doing this and it was awesome
Worst moment: Being photographed sleeping. I slept for 40min from 6am Saturday till 10pm Sunday... yet there's a photo of it!
Looking forward to 2011? Absolutely. I was part of the State and National swim teams and the feeling at the end of the race was up there with those championships. I'm hoping to do more 2010 races if I can get more days off from my real job
Describe your experience: For a race fan it's one of the greatest experiences there is. If you're not a race fan, don't bother. I took three of my 11 vacation days to work a 24hr race with almost no sleep in 40 hours - they'll never understand
Position: Fabricator, mechanic, tire changer
Time with TMS: 1 year
First 24hr race? Fifth How was Daytona24? For our first 24 with a new car and new team entering the most brutal endurance race in America, we can be proud of our accomplishment. We led early and resolved multiple issues
Favorite moment: Joey taking the lead
Worst moment: Intake hoses collapsing
Who exceeded your expectations? Joey Hand for driving a double stint with a blister the size of a silver dollar on his right foot. The gas pedal was so hot he was cooking and needed help getting out of the car
Did you sleep? Are you kidding? It was a 38-hour day!
Describe the experienced: I love it! If you think you're tough, can handle pressure, stress, happiness, sadness, frustration, anger, humility and pride at once; this is the race for you
Boxers or briefs? Boxers. Cotton, not silk
Survival tips: Keep a level head. Remember it's a test of your endurance as well as the car and drivers. Eat constantly, drink Red Bull
Position: IT/web manager, electronics support, webcam operator
Time with TMS: 3 years
First 24hr race? Yes
How was Daytona24? It was a positive, life-changing event - something that will stay with me forever
Favorite moment: When Joey took the lead in the rain
Worst moment: Boris radioing the car's voltage during the race, "11.6... 11.5... 11.4..." Each time the voltage trickled down, so did spirits in the pit box
Any changes for 2011? I'd probably force myself to sleep a couple of hours. By the end I was bordering on delirium. Forty hours without sleep is brutal
Who exceeded your expectations? Joey Hand - he went above and beyond to do a double stint (90min) and sacrificed several layers of skin burning his right foot on the thrHOTtle pedal without complaint
Boxers or briefs? Yellow 'n blue boxers for luck
Daniel William Reardon
Position: New product manager, fuel/fire bottle, pit set-up
Time with TMS: 2 years
First 24hr race? Yes
What were your expectations?Be prepared for anything
How was Daytona24? One of the most exciting weeks of my life
Favorite moment: Joey getting first place less than an hour into the race
Worst moment: Realizing the handle on the fuel filler was installed backwards and wouldn't fuel the car
Any changes for 2011? Get more sleep the night before and wear clothes under my firesuit
Who exceeded your expectations? David Habel. He was a great help to the refueling, assisted the techs and was everywhere we needed him to be
Did you sleep? About 45min, but the firesuit was just too uncomfortable
Describe your experience: The longest 24 hours of my life. It's something you'll never forget - being awake for 24 hours, running around, jumping walls and staying alert; nothing compares to 24 hours at Daytona
Boxers or briefs? Boxers on race day
Survival tips: Stay warm, keep moving, stay alert, don't leave pitlane, eat well and rest the day before
Final thoughts? I really enjoy myself but it's not as glamorous as people think. There's a lot of hard work and long hours, but watching it come together is a great experience. I love racing and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else
Position: Driver #94 M6 and #97 M3
Time with team: 4 years
What were your expectations? To win, of course - I race to win. It wasn't out of the question because we had the pace and driver line-up to go the distance.
How was Daytona24: It went well considering the team had never done a 24-hour race before. A couple small things held us back, but it was my first time finishing the Daytona24, so that was a bonus.
Favorite moment: Leading the race early in the rain.
Worst moment? The first problem with the air intake hoses
Did you sleep? No, I couldn't
Describe being in a 24hr race: : It's grueling. We had burnt feet, dehydration, sore muscles... It's tough, but driving a racecar is all I ever wanted to do. We complain about it, but only in the moment
Boxers or briefs?: Briefs - I like to know which way I'm going!
Position: Team owner, driver, chief spark
Nickname: Big Shooter
Time with TMS: Since its inception in '93
First 24hr race? Second
What were your expectations? I really wanted to win but this was our first try at the Rolex 24. So it's unrealistic to think we could win first time but I thought we could do it anyway. In hindsight, my goal was to finish
How was Daytona24? It was one of my most memorable races that we didn't win! With all the teamwork, energy, drama, excitement, frustration... it was an amazing race Favorite moment: Finishing
Worst moment: Thinking the engine had a terminal problem halfway into the race
Looking forward to 2011? Yes. I wish we could've done it again the next day
Who exceeded your expectations? The whole team! I'm not kidding; every person stepped up, going above and beyond. They are all heroes to me
Did you sleep? As much as on my last Vegas trip with Salama - so not at all!
Describe being in a 24hr race: It's like a regular race until the sixth hour, then you realize we're only a quarter of the way through
Boxers or briefs? Speedo thong, of course.
Survival tips: Don't wear a watch, pee before the start, only consume items with caffeine and hire the best team on the planet
Position: Race strategy in pits and driver
Time with TMS: 12 years
First 24hr race? Third
How was Daytona24? Almost as good as 24 hours of sex (although I'm more tired after the race, of course)
Favorite moment: Watching Boris cut up my styrofoam burger box to make a heatshield for his shoes
Worst moment: Spending six hours in the middle of the night strategizing to get laps back, and then losing them to small mechanical problems
Who exceeded your expectations? Mel and Linda. They served more food than I normally eat in a week
Did you sleep? About 4min in 5-10sec increments between 2- and 7am
Boxers or briefs? Boxers... no tighty whities at TMS
Final thought? Put Salama behind the wheel if you want to win!
Consumed during Daytona 24hr:
• 20 pitstops for 60 slick tires, 4 wet tires, using 400 lug nuts
• 22 gallons of fuel burnt every 50 minutes, 29 stops for fuel means 630 gallons used
• 120 bottles of water, 80 cans of soda, 24 bottles of Gatorade, 60 granola bars, 80 cups of coffee, 60 Red Bulls, 48 scrambled eggs, 75 ham sandwiches, 40 candy bars, 4 boxes ofcookies, 15 Advil