JANUARY 24, 2015
One of the many facets of an event the caliber of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, is the historical links to the sport, the track (Daytona International Speedway), and, especially, the drivers who have made a name for themselves in sports car racing.
For the 53rd running of the iconic race, the command “drivers, start your engines” was given by Grand Marshal Jochen Mass, the German driver who enjoyed great success in sports car racing after leaving the Formula One circuit. The honorary role as Grand Marshal is fitting for Mass who, in endurance racing, was victorious at the 1972 Spa 24 Hours in Belgium; the 12 Hours of Sebring which he won in 1987 with co-driver Bobby Rahal; and the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans which he won in 1989 at the wheel of a Sauber Mercedes C9.
Reflecting on his racing career, Mass considers his legacy his wins at Le Mans and Sebring. “I enjoyed my years in Formula One, but Formula One it is a wonderful series to race in if your car is good. This is true in any series but in Formula One it is especially true, it can be a lot of fun if the car is splendid. During my Formula One period I only had a few years with very good cars and those were my years with McLaren in the mid ‘70s, the Arrows were not bad either. Even though I did 120 Formula One races, it was only a short span in my life.”
“As wonderful as Formula One cars are, when I look back over the years as far as the fun factor is concerned, there were many wonderful cars that I raced. In the beginning when I drove the Alfa Romeo GTA which was my first race car, it was fantastic, a very fast car. After a while I raced for Ford with their Capris which were both magnificent and beautiful race cars. I won the German Championship and the European title as well as the 24 Hours of Spa in 1972 with Hans-Joachim Stuck in a Capri. We raced those cars all over the world. The Chevrons I raced in 1971 through 1973 in the South African Springbok Trophy Series were fantastic, so each series you have to look at separately in order to appreciate the cars for what they were. I loved those old sports cars, they were great fun and I loved driving them. I guess some people will measure their appreciation for a particular car or series statistically, based on the success one had with a car in a particular series, but I do not see it that way. When I look at my years of racing, I look at every era I raced and at the variety and types of cars I drove and they each had their own charm and importance that they represent to me as far as my driver development, I look at them all individually. I loved racing in those years, traveling around the world and racing such magnificent cars on wonderful circuits.”
After his win for Mercedes, he tutored the company's young stars, including Michael Schumacher, before retiring at the end of 1991. He appeared, as himself, in the 2013 Ron Howard film Rush about the 1976 Formula One season; these days he can be found driving and demonstrating the historic cars of the Mercedes-Benz museum.
“Racing here at the Rolex 24 At Daytona is truly memorable,” concluded Mass. “I raced here five times between 1977 and 1987 and finished third in 1985 and again in 1986. I also had two pole positions, once in 1977 and again in 1987. Daytona has so much history and it is one of the most iconic endurance races in the world. I loved racing here.”
At 1410 EST, when Mass gave the driver’s the command, the 53 starters about to do battle on Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56 mile course were heading into a 23 mph west-northwest breeze that was gusting to 29 mph. The headwinds have a slight negative effect on top speed, while producing more downforce which aids the cars going through the corners and actually makes them more stable. With 24 hours of racing just begun, the next benchmarks come with driving into the setting sun (1753 EST), and 13 hours of night driving before the sun rises at 0716 EST on Sunday. The champions will be crowned at the conclusion of the twice-around-the-clock challenge at 1410 EST on Sunday, January 25.
Daytona International Speedway