JANUARY 25, 2014

 

Being hailed as heralding a new era of sports car racing, the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona is the first race under the International Motor Sports Association, the sanctioning body for professional motorsports racing, that merged the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series with the American Le Mans Series to create the new Tudor United SportsCar Championship.  As both the first major race of the 2014 season and the debut event of the new series, the predicted interest in this historic endurance race – from drivers, teams, manufacturers, and especially fans – was realized today as the race got underway today at Daytona International Speedway.  With a record 67 cars entered in four classes, over 200 drivers basked in the attention of a record number of fans during pre-race activities on the crowded infield.

At 1410 EST, the command “drivers, start your engines” was given by Grand Marshal David Hobbs, the British driver who raced in the inaugural edition of this race in 1962.  Hobbs’ 30-year history in the sport covered all levels of racing and led to his being included in the FIA list of graded drivers, essentially designating him as one of the best in the world.  Inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2009, he has worked as a commentator on the sport since 1979.

“The sport has changed over the years and drivers tend to be specialists in their specific form of racing,” said Hobbs.  “But this is true of all sports and actually in most things in life today.  In the old days a doctor might one day be doing heart surgery, the next day he would fix a broken leg and another day he would stitch up someone’s cut finger.  Now all doctors are specialists, even a GP is a specialist.  In racing it’s certainly the same.  Someone like Mario Andretti would one day be racing a front engine roadster on a dirt track and then he would go to Spa Francorchamps and race a very sophisticated Formula 1 car and of course he won a Formula 1 World Championship.”

“When I raced at Le Mans for the first time in 1962 it was in a Lotus Elite which had 85 horsepower.  Going downhill with a following wind it might do 125 mph and the Ferraris were doing about 185 mph, so the closing speeds were pretty horrendous.   In the 24-hour race we are watching today and tomorrow even the slowest cars are pretty quick.  The slowest Porsche 911 will probably be doing 180 mph and the Prototypes will be doing about 195 mph which is nothing like the closing speeds from years back.  However with 67 cars in the field and over 200 drivers with very mixed ability, it presents a different kind of challenge.  In my racing days, endurance races were tough to finish so you had to baby the car.  Race cars today are so reliable and so bulletproof you can drive them flat out.  So if you are in a Prototype car and you are leading the race it’s very difficult to give up too much time while you are lapping traffic.  You have to be careful, but you must keep humming along.  It is a big responsibility for the fast guys when they are lapping slower traffic to make sure they pick the right place to get by.”

Hobbs’ observations have proven to be near the mark.  About two hours into the race, drivers who had completed their first stint were reporting that the pace on the track was definitely high, as was the intensity level, and they were seeing aggressive moves which are made possible due to confidence in mechanical capability of the vehicles.  Unfortunately, as the race approached the three hour mark and the angle of the sun was becoming more of a challenge, Italy’s Matteo Malucelli reported to his team that he had lost engine power in the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia he was driving in the GTLM class.  Memo Gidley, heading into the sun at the wheel of the much faster Prototype car that had started on pole, the #99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP, hit the #62 on the way to the kink – the high speed corner in the infield.  The resulting impact sent both drivers to local hospitals and halted action on the track for an hour and 25 minutes.  The effect on the rest of the field will be seen over the coming hours as the racers process not only their concerns for their fellow drivers, but also refocus their attention on the race which will now require new strategies after the prolonged stop to racing. 

At press time (1900 EST), there had been no further update on the condition of the two drivers.  

The 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona started at 1410 EST on Saturday, 25 January 2014.  The winners will be presented with the coveted Rolex timepiece at the conclusion of racing on Sunday, 26 January 2014.

A partner of track racing in Daytona Beach from its beginnings in the late 1950s, Rolex has been Title Sponsor of this motor-sport legend since 1992. The Rolex 24 At Daytona celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012 – just one year ahead of the Cosmograph Daytona, the Rolex chronograph dedicated to racing drivers. On its launch in 1963, the watch brand baptized its new model “Cosmograph Daytona” to mark the connection with the Daytona International Speedway, the fastest American track of its era.

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