We first visited the Daytona 24-hour race in 2010, following BMW specialist Turner Motorsport (TMS) when it debuted in the Grand-Am Rolex GT series with a BMW M6 (et 6/10).
We were back in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “the 24” but, to be honest, it’s a grueling race to watch. We can’t imagine what it’s like for the teams competing!
Starting at 3pm, we were exhausted by 3am. Ours ears were ringing from the screaming Wankels in the Mazda RX-8s and our eyes sore from the mixture of glaring headlights, brake dust and campfire smoke. And yet the race was only halfway through. The cars must endure a further 12 hours.
The “big race” is supported by the Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge that took place on Friday. More of a production-based touring car series, it saw the debut of Aston Martin’s Vantage GT4 in the GS category, but even this was overshadowed by the arrival of two Audi R8s in the Rolex GT class.
Entries for the Rolex-sponsored 24hr race are divided into Daytona Prototypes (DP) and GT cars. The latter resemble production cars but are allowed tubular chassis, race engines, competition transmissions, etc. Similar to the FIA’s GT3 category in ALMS racing, Audi had developed a specific Grand-Am specification of its R8 customer racecars and two teams had purchased them.
With our friends at APR running one of the cars, we divided our time between the R8 and the two BMW M3s entered by Turner Motorsport. You can read about each team’s adventures over the page and see the videos at youtube.com/eurotuner
We concentrated our efforts on the GT category because these particular cars were entered by the same tuning companies that modify your road car, giving them enormous relevance to what we do on the street.
In a packed 58-car field, it was the 14 DP cars that dominated on the track; the winning Michael Shank Racing BMW Riley set a fastest lap of 1:41.473sec at an average lap speed of 113mph and covering 761 laps, with the pole-sitter recording an average speed of 127mph. Whereas the top-finishing GT car, the Magnus Racing Porsche 911 GT3, set a best lap time of 1:48.582 at an average of 108mph and completed 727 laps.
As a result, there’s lots of passing and more than a few crashes involving the faster DPs knocking GTs off the track – this happened to the APR R8 and destroyed both its chance of winning and some expensive suspension components.
Both classes came down to a very close finish. After 24 hours and 49 lead changes, Shank Racing beat the Starworks Ford Riley by 5.198sec. The GT class was similarly close, with the Magnus Porsche beating the TRG 911 GT3 by only 9.412sec.
Shank Racing got two cars on the podium when its second car finished third, on the same laps as the winner. The team owner, Michael Shank, had been seeking a Rolex victory since 2004 and was understandably delighted with the result.
The dream team of Juan-Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Jamie McMurray in the Ganassi Racing BMW Riley could only finish fourth following a broken shifter that took four laps to repair. They finished only one lap down, defeated by the reliability of the top three cars.
Our favorite quote of the day was from Justin Bell – TV presenter, son of legendary Derek Bell and driver of the second Magnus Racing Porsche GT3. When we asked him if the track was slippery causing all the yellow flags, he replied: “No. I don’t know. There’s some f@%king idiots out there though!”
With Speed TV picking up the race coverage, we were disappointed to find them running repeats of game shows during the night, with viewers switching to an online feed to stay connected.
The 15-race Rolex schedule continues until late September, so try to attend one event or watch it on Speed TV. You can find the calendar and results at grand-am.com along with details of the Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge and well as other supporting races.
Meeting the tire demands of a 24-hour race is a major undertaking, and one that Continental gladly accepted when it became the sole supplier to the Grand-Am Rolex series as well as the Continental-branded Sports Car Challenge.
Bruce Foss, Continental’s Grand-Am manager, explained the weekend’s commitment, which begins with 12000 tires on 17 trucks. This equates to 8000 slicks and 4000 wets, with one front and one rear size for DP cars, but two different fronts and four rear sizes for the GTs.
Each DP car is allocated 32 sets (128 tires) for the weekend, with GT cars allowed 30 sets (120 tires). This number allows the teams to change tires at each pitstop (approx every 45min, dictated by fuel tank size), although the rubber can last three stints or more when required.
Where Bruce typically has a staff of 25 people for a Grand-Am weekend (and 4000 tires), at Daytona he had 86, including 70 service personnel working in shifts on ten tire-changing machines and six balancers plus bead breakers. At full tilt they could change 220 tires an hour – with demand increasing following a yellow flag, for example.
Teams can opt to re-use old tires or have them scrapped. If discarded, the teams are charged a disposal fee and the tires are recycled.
There was concern this year over smaller 20-gallon DP fuel tanks requiring more pitstops and extra tire changes. However, the number of yellow flags meant the tires were lasting longer. Expected rainfall also failed to materialize, simplifying the procedure considerably.
Through Thick & Thin
APR Motorsport’s Audi R8 endured a long battle to simply finish the Rolex 24.
The APR Motorsport pit garage was packed with people snapping photos of the brand new Audi R8 Grand-Am. This marked the first time Audi would compete at Daytona in the Rolex 24, and the excitement was infectious.
Through Audi’s customer-racing program, APR Motorsport and Oryx Racing were both able to obtain and enter Audi R8 Grand-Am racecars in the GT class. Audi’s program has been running since 2010, offering first the R8 LMS and now in Grand-Am spec.
R8 on Track
The APR R8 started out strong in its first Grand-Am event, placing 15th in the GT class and 27th overall on the grid. Two hours into the event, Audi factory driver Emanuele Pirro reported clutch problems and pitted alongside the Oryx R8 that had also come into the garages four laps prior.
After a 70min service, the APR Audi dropped to 55th overall, but the team remained positive, clicking off laps, strategizing pitstops and triple-stinting their drivers.
After fighting through a field of fast Porsche GT3s, APR was positioned 33rd in class when the unthinkable happened. Going into turn three, Nelson Canache was hit from behind by a Ganassi DP car. The R8 spun off the track into the guardrail, causing extensive damage.
On the right side, the front tie-rod had been bent 45˚ while the rear hub, suspension and wheel were badly damaged. Using Audi and APR crewmembers, they pulled the rear hub assembly from Audi’s R8 test car to fix the racecar. Although tired, the team fought back to 33rd in the GT class and 46th overall by the following morning, but with 12 hours remaining. Then as the final minutes counted down, Dr Jim Norman spun into the grass. The crew was devastated but Jim was able to bump-start the R8 and completed the race 31st in GT and 44th overall.
Stephen Hooks – Team Owner
“It’s the first time the R8 has been in the US and its both a great opportunity and privilege to be part of something as historic as this,” Stephen Hooks smiled. “We worked on the setup during the “Roar Before the 24” testing and found a lot of speed.”
“Everything was looking really good. Then 15min before the end, Jim got into some debris into the Bus Stop chicane and had a lazy spin. We all thought that was the end!” he exclaimed.
With earlier clutch problems, the starter motor wasn’t functioning so the car had to stay running. “Somehow Jim was able to convince the corner workers to bump-start him. He then drove through the paddock, revving the engine to get people out of the way, until he got back to pitlane. We taped up the damage and he went out for the last two laps. It was hair-raising and exciting at the same time!”
Ian Bass – Driver
“The car was very reliable and easy to drive. I ran the fastest time in the car, which was encouraging. But at that point we were concerned over the length of the race. So they radioed to tell me to slow down a little. I then had to reprogram myself for the rest of the stint,” Ian said.
Before Ian’s next stint he reflected: “I remember waking up for my stint and realizing I’d overslept. I figured something had to be wrong and the team reported the car had been in the garage for the last hour.
“This is my third Daytona 24, which I won in ’06 in a Porsche, and the next year we were out by the second hour. It comes down to mistakes; one mistake is huge because another team is there to take your place. Our team was the star because of the hours they put in – it doesn’t compare to what I did in the car.”
Hard Day's Night
Turner Motorsport struggled to find the pace with its two BMW M3 GT racers.
Having replaced its tube-framed BMW M6 with M5 V8, the Turner Motorsport crew adopted two of latest E92 M3 racecars. But these aren’t factory-built FIA GT3 cars; they’re purpose-built Grand-Am machines on custom Riley chassis and M5 powertrains. This is Grand-Am the hard way…
The team had secured a brace of factory BMW drivers from the US and Germany, including Bill Auberlein, Dirk Muller, Dirk Werner and Jorg Müller as well as Boris Said, BMW privateer of 2011 Paul Dalla Lana, and newcomer Michael Marsal (who helped with our 325i budget track day feature – et 4/11). With this line-up, they should have been invincible. However, the pace of the Porsche GT3s surprised everybody, leading to speculation that the 911 teams had been sandbagging to gain a weight or power advantage.
The two M3s also suffered a series of minor mechanical issues that saw both drop laps as each problem was rectified. The biggest setback was after 86 laps when car #94 encountered a terminal engine problem. After chasing it for too long, the team decided to retire the car and focus on #93. Back at the workshop they discovered a small nut had come loose in the air box and was ingested into the engine.
Car #93 continued to encounter annoying problems, the worst of which was a broken axle that cost them 20 laps. The drivers made no mistakes and an aggressive pitstop strategy saw lots of double- and triple-stinting but they were unable to claw back the deficit. The car eventually finished 27th overall, 16th in class but 36 laps behind the GT winner.
Will Turner – Team Owner
“It was such a frustrating weekend for us,” Will lamented. “We knew the cars were fast and that we had great drivers, but we spent too much time chasing a series of small problems. That kept us in the pits too long and we never recovered.
“We tried all kinds of strategies and the drivers made up lots of positions but we could never get back on the lead lap; we just continued to fall behind.
“This year saw an unusually fast pace, which compounded our problems. But we have to start from scratch with a Riley chassis because BMW doesn’t have anything suitable for this series. There’s talk about allowing DTM cars into Grand-Am in the future, but who knows how long that could take and what the cars will cost?
“Right now it’s easier to buy a Porsche 911 GT3 than to build your own car. The new cars from Audi and Ferrari had some teething problems but we were surprised to see a 458 finish fourth in class at its first attempt. These cars are clearly going to be fast and make our task harder. But Turner Motorsport is ready for a fight and look forward to the challenge.”
Michael Marsal – Driver
“I love this race because it’s anybody’s to win yet is one of the toughest in the world. The top teams have an advantage but you still need preparation, skill and lots of luck. You also need to call the right strategy, a good pit crew and mechanics to get the car home,” explained Michael.
“Will (Turner) and BMW produce an amazing racecar, and moving up into the GT class has been a huge step from the TMS GS touring car. But we have one of the best prepared teams in the business and Will is always on our ass about pitstops, tire changes, hitting our marks, and doesn’t tolerate risky overtaking.
“My first stint came around 7pm – it was dark but went really well. I had fresh tires and brought the car back two places higher than where we started.
“I did exactly what I was supposed to do – keep the car in one piece and maintain position. The first 20 hours aren’t about racing but about pace, so every stint must be the same. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have the car to win this year.
“I love everything about this race, from the racing to the fans, the infield fireworks and the atmosphere before the start. I especially like to drive as the sun comes up; it gives you hope of finishing. But the toughest part of the race was driving 12-4am because you’re so tired and mistakes happen so quickly. I’m just happy we all did our best and look forward to trying again next year.”