How did I let this one sit on the bucket list for so long? I guess in some defense, it is on the other side of the country, but… The Rolex 24 is an event that every race fan needs to experience, especially anyone who likes the sights, sounds, and smells of sportscars. My trip to Daytona came together on very short notice due to a well-timed and placed business trip. Surprisingly it was easy to arrange: tickets are cheap ($95 for 4 day pass to just about anywhere except the luxury suites), a comfortable hotel was available less than 30 minutes away in Flagler Beach, and that along with a variety of layers for the unpredictable weather is about all you need.
Access is surprisingly easy. Daytona International Speedway is just off I-95, and 3 hours before scheduled green flag time, even surface street traffic was pretty light. Since I was essentially winging it, I had no infield or reserved parking. Nevertheless, I managed to get into the free lot on the northeast corner of the grounds. Great place to park at the last minute – just a hundred yards or so from the Turn 4 Tunnel that leads to the infield near the garages. Just where I wanted to start the day.
Before heading to the track, as I was checking out the Rolex 24 website, I came across two lists: ‘Top 10 Spots to Watch the Rolex 24’ and ‘Top 10 Things First-Timers Should Experience’ on the Rolex 24 Things To Do page. First thing to do: head to the garage area to be nearby when the Pit Lane opens for the Fan Grid Walk.
One of the particularly cool things about TUSC/IMSA is the access provided to pits, paddocks, cars, and drivers. Unlike other series, for instance that one that begins with ‘F’ and ends with ‘1’, TUSC/IMSA makes a concerted effort at openness and actively fosters a connection between teams/drivers and fans. Access and fan engagement is something that TUSC/IMSA has gotten right. The Rolex 24 Fan Walk, an hour of up close access to the pits, cars, drivers, and front stretch, start/finish banking is really something special.
Just before the marshals began clearing the grid I ran into SoCal’s own Connor De Phillippi as he was preparing to pilot the #19 GTD Porsche on its opening stint. Connor would also be driving the #18 car, where he would be spending most of his time.
About 30 minutes before roll off, the grid was cleared. I decided to make my way to the infield kink for the race start. At the Rolex 24, it’s open seating in all the stands, and I never had a problem finding a place to sit or stand where I wanted to.
The roar of engines marks the green flag drop, and it’s just seconds until 53 cars enter the infield. Scott Dixon in the Chip Ganassi Racing #02 car was off to a quick start leading out of the International Horseshoe. The kink is a very fast part of the infield, and with how close you can get to the track, you can really appreciate the speed. Sights and sounds are fantastic!
After watching at the kink for a bit, I headed over the Turn 2 (inside) stands to watch the cars come of the NASCAR Turn 2 banking while the sun was still high. Along the way, I checked out a few of the car corrals and party scenes and stopped in the PCA tent. The PCA tent had two big screen TVs set up: one showing the broadcast action, the other showing the full timing and scoring. Nice!
The Turn 2 stands are about as far away in the infield that you can walk, and there were just few of us there surrounded by a sea of RVs. Great place to relax a bit. While at Turn 2, the Prototypes began to catch up with the GT Daytona class cars. As cars launch out of the infield onto the banking, a fair amount of passing gets done between NASCAR 1 and the Bus Stop Chicane near the end of the backstretch.
Next, I wandered around the infield checking out the various vantage points. I ‘tuned in’ to radiolemans.com on my mobile phone to listen to their broadcast of the race and use my ear buds as hearing protection, and I pulled up live timing and scoring on the IMSA app.
For the first few hours of the race, there was lots of action but no big surprises: the Chip Ganassi, Action Express, Michael Shank, and Wayne Taylor Racing ran at or near the top of the Prototypes. Core Autosport and Starworks Motorsport headed the Prototype Challenge class. The usual suspects led the GT classes – Corvette Racing, Falken Tire Porsche, Risi Competizione Ferrari, RLL BMW, Porsche North America in GT Le Mans (GTLM) and Riley Viper, Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, GB Autosport Porsche, and Paul Miller Audi in GT Daytona (GTD). The fields were pretty tightly bunched and very competitive with numerous lead changes. The infield was a great place to hang out moving between the two horseshoes, the Sprint Fanzone with its food, drink, and big screen TV, the garages, and that deck on top of the garages.
As the sun set and nightfall came, I settled in at the West Horseshoe and the small grandstand near Turn 6 (where cars exit the infield and onto the banked oval.
Finally, after standing at the top of the Turn 6 stand for a while with it fully dark, I began to shiver in my t-shirt and shorts. Time to head back to the car for jeans and a fleece and a hot cup of coffee along the way. Another cool thing about this place and this race: there are plenty of places to get food and drink and the lines are never too long. A brisk walk thru the garages, out the Turn 4 tunnel, to the car and back, and I was back in the infield but a lot more comfortable!
The first North American Endurance Cup bonus points were awarded at the 1/4 point of the race with class leaders #01 Chip Ganassi with Joey Hand behind the wheel in Prototype, #54 Core Autosport in Prototype Challenge, #3 Corvette Racing in GTLM ,and #93 Riley Motorsports in GTD.
As midnight approached and the race seemed to quiet down a bit, decided to grab a few more shots and start heading back to the car.
Along the way, the Ferris Wheel caught my attention, so I decided to check it out. With almost no line, that would be the last stop before heading back to the hotel.
The plan for Sunday was to check out the main grandstand and the viewing from there, so I parked in the lot of the big NASCAR building right across the street from the track. Once again, easily in and parked, and I was in the grandstand in no time. The most significant events during the night were the two factory Porsches taking each other out in the infield, the Team Falken Tire Porsche experiencing a crank case failure, and the Risi Ferrari retiring with electrical problems, so there were no Porsches or Ferraris left in the hunt in GTLM, which seriously degraded the battle in that class. The factory Porsches (#911 & #912) both eventually made it back into the race and the #911 was running at the end, but they were never in contention after their crash. So it was a bit of a different race come Sunday morning.
Watching from the main grandstand far exceeded my expectations. You can still get pretty close to the action, and you can also get high to see the entire track – whatever your preference.
Is this the last racing series with both exciting and varied engine sounds?
On the first green light lap following a Full Course Yellow (FCY) with just over three hours to go, the #4 Corvette tagged a back marker prototype car that wiggled in Turn 6 coming out of the infield and caused enough damage to drop the #4 from contention following a fairly lengthy pit stop for repairs that cost 4 laps.
With two hours to go in the 2015 Rolex 24, there were still close battles going in all but the PC class, where the #54 Core Autosport seemed to have things under control. In the Prototype class, the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing car driven by Max Angelelli led the Chip Ganassi #02 piloted by Scott Dixon and the #5 Action Express car with Sebastien Bourdais at the wheel. In GTLM, it was down to the #3 Corvette Racing and #25 BMW Team RLL cars, and in GTD, it was the #93 Riley Motorsports Viper leading the #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche. All other cars running with laps down in class at this point.
The #02 Chip Ganassi car and the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing car were running nip and tuck for the last couple hours of the race. Scott Dixon’s ability to drive fast while ‘making fuel’ in the #02 and Jordan Taylor’s hard charging in the #10 made it likely to come down to the wire.
In a dramatic twist, the PC class leader #54, driven by Colin Braun, clobbered the wall coming out of the bus stop chicane with just under 20 minutes to go and ultimately finished third in class. During the ensuing FCY, in another twist, the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing car pitted suddenly for a driver change – apparently to avoid a drive time violation for Jordan Taylor. Sadly, the team still missed the mark, perhaps by 1 lap, and were disqualified.
Congratulations to class winners #02 Chip Ganassi Racing, #3 Corvette Racing, #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, and #93 Riley Motorsports!
Thank you IMSA and Daytona International Speedway for a great race and a fabulous experience. I’ll be back!
Lots more pics at Rolex 24 at Daytona 2015
Rolex 24 Podium Positions By Class
||S.Dixon, T.Kanaan, K.Larson, J.McMurray
||Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
||J.Barbosa, C.Fittipaldi, S.Bourdais
||Action Express Racing
||R.Westbrook, M.Valiante, M.Rockenfeller, G.Cosmo
||J.Magnussen, A.Garcia, R.Briscoe
||B.Auberlen, D.Werner, A.Farfus, B.Spengler
||BMW Team RLL
||O.Gavin, T.Milner, S.Pagenaud
||M.Guasch, A.Novich, A.Palmer, T.K.-Smith
||J.Mowlem, T.Papadopoulos, T.Drissi, B.Alder, M.Plowman
||J.Bennett, C.Braun, M.Wilkins, J.Gue
||B.Keating, D.Farnbacher, A.Carter, K.Wittmer, C.Lawrence
||C.MacNeil, L.Keen, A.Davis, S.Gisbergen
||Alex Job Racing
||M.Snow, J.Heylen, P.Dempsey, P.Eng
Rolex 24 Tips & Suggestions
- Go to the Rolex 24 website and check out the Top 10 Spot To Watch and Top 10 Things To Do. Make a point to check out as many as possible. Of these, my favorites, in no particular order:
- Various infield grandstands
- Infield scene in general
- Ferris wheel
- Front stretch
- Top of Daytona Rising
- Garage scene
- Fan Walk
- Get there early! There is so much to see and do at the Rolex 24, and you’ll want to do it all.
- Get infield parking if you can, especially if you’re a local and you have a car you can take to one of the corrals or if you have an RV.
- Take clothing options and layers. Over nighters have fire pits for a reason!
- Wear comfortable shoes; this place is huge!
- Take a pocket charger or extra batteries for your cameras, cell phones, and other gizmos.
- Make sure you have hearing protection.
- Get the Daytona International Speedway and IMSA mobile apps for your phone.
- Bring an earbud headset to listen to the race.
- Use Full Course Yellow periods to go move around and check out something new. Since it takes a while to go thru the whole pit cycle, you won’t miss the action and you’ll probably like what you find.