Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona: Action Express Racing Wins, Behind the Scenes with Starworks Motorsport


What Happens When Not Racing Can Be Pretty Tiring, Too

1:17am EST — While the final results are out from the 2010 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, with the #9 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley driven by Joao Barbosa, Terry Borcheller, Ryan Dalziel, and Mike Rockenfeller beating the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley driven by Scott Pruett, Max Papis, Memo Rojas, and Justin Wilson by less than a minute.  The top two cars were on the same lap (755) while the third place Crown Royal/NPN Racing BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Christophe Bouchut, Lucas Luhr, and Richard Westbrook was only four laps behind.

While the behind-the-scenes pictures taken and posted on Twitter during the race can be found through VMRonSunday on Twitter, there are far more emotions involved than can be shown in pictures in any race, and they are amplified by sleep deprivation in a twenty-four hour race.  Here, we take a look at the Rolex from one team’s perspective.  I interviewed driver Ian James for the Starworks Motorsport DP team Thursday night, just before he went out to practice under the lights.  Not his first Rolex nor his first twenty-four hour endurance race, in fact he began racing in the Rolex ten years ago and finished third in class at Le Mans in 2006, he was only signed for the Rolex five days previously.  His fellow drivers for the Rolex were Bill Lester, Mike Forest, and Dion von Moltke.

His interview was an informative take on how some racers move to sportscars after early junior-level open-wheel success and why Le Mans in more challenging than Daytona, but will be fully fleshed out later here at OASTD and in the Rolex-themed Formula1Blog podcast.  Suffice to say that he was wholly kind to an uninformed writer and the entire team became kind to me as well.  I spent the first eight hours of the race in their pit, watching stops and driver changes and talking the crew and family members of the drivers.  For much of the race, I felt like I had a vested interest in willing the number 7 car forward and ahead and the crew through some difficult bits of fixing, even though I had only met them days or minutes before.  That is how one chooses one’s favorite team, often enough, simply through knowing someone or feeling some visceral connection to a driver or sponsor.

Racing is a sport of emotions and adrenaline for both the fan and participant.  The heartbeat quickens when waiting for the start and when counting down the laps or seconds until the end.  The key might well be willing one’s hands not to shake, or to have the blood return feeling to them.  The anticipation ebbs and flows, of course, as the on-track actions does.  Often enough, the first sign of trouble comes not from the driver, but from the television coverage of the event available on a flat screen TV strapped to the side of a semi-permanent awning.

When the team’s first incident of the evening occurred, it was just such a case.  The #90 Spirit of Daytona Menard’s sponsored Porsche Coyote spun right in front of the the Dion von Moltke-piloted Starworks car, appearing to leave him safe, but at the last second, spinning and catching rear bodywork below the wing.  With a collective, “oh sh*t!” the team was jumping and moving before the replay could be started on TV.  Staying out of the way is harder than it sounds, when you’re not quite sure when to zig or zag out of the way of a man with parts and supplies, back to the garage where the more than minor repairers are made.   Before the end of this race, there did not seem to be a single DP car that did not spend some amount of time in the garage.

Before that incident, though, there was time to have a good look at the set-up of the pit and watch those who would make it their home for the next twenty-four hours.  Cases of Gatorade go right next to the Dr. Pepper, with only a bit of fruit to counteract the crackers and cheese and usually-seen-in-a-lunchbox pudding cups and candy.  Lots of peanut butter chocolate stuff and little of the coffee one would expect.  Catering arrives for supper (buttered pasta and chicken, it looks appetizing, if bland and made to suit no palates instead of all), but is taken away again before the entire crew can eat.

When that first incident occurred about six hours into the race, the lounging and relaxing between stops crew seems a bit transformed, as though a switch has been flipped to danger mode.  Parts and tools are transported to the garage before von Moltke can bring the car the rest of the way around the track.  Not having been present in the garage, I can only say that the car took a bit of time to be returned to the track, but was soon underway and lapping again, after a brief return to the pit stall to double check the work.  According to driver Bill Lester when later talking to Grand-Am, the team lost twelve laps after the metal wire connector to the alternator broke.

There comes a time, at about eleven or twelve o’clock at night, about one third of the way through the race, when everything seems to settle.  When the cars and drivers who had seemed extraordinarily racy for the first few hours of a very long race have spread out a bit and the crews are napping in their seats or on the ground.  It is a time when the television coverage lapses for viewers at home, but the true meat of the twenty-four hour endurance racing occurs.

The fireworks are over and the crowds have thinned in the dwindling temperatures.  This is when the endurance part kicks in, not quite as much for driver as crew.  He drives for his stint, then moves off to a motorhome to relax and attempt sleep.  They catch quick bits of sleep between the hourly stops and constant readiness to repair.  From the dead of night to dawn, it can be a time of quiet desperation on the part of a team with a car to fix or calm and sure driving that racks up the laps.

It was this time, when the crew needed their rest most and the visitors seemed to have melted away that I left the team.  Running comfortably about where they started (twelfth), I had no idea what the night would bring.  It brought little for the team that I could find out later, but a lose nose at about 6:30am while Mike Forest was driving.  It had appeared that there were issues with the front piece of bodywork for some time, as it had regularly come off during pitstops with more frequency than that of other teams.  Still, the #7 led for a couple of laps while being driven by James during a round of pit stops about five hours into the race.

It wasn’t until I was watching the racing out at the turn 1 infield grandstands that the race ended for the team.  On cold sticker tires, von Moltke exited the pits and ran directly into the barrier at the entrance of turn 1.  He hit the barrier and came into heavy contact with the #48 Marquis Jet Porsche GT3, which was being driven by Bryce Miller at the time.  The #7 had to be taken back to the garage on the back of a truck, where the team set to work determining what could be fixed.  Unfortunately, with five hours left in the race and a cracked engine casing, there was nothing to be done but pack it up and go home.

Not the first DP team to retire (that would be the #02 Ganassi team, as Juan Pablo Montoya brought the car dramatically quickly into the garage, remained in the car for moments and got out, as the crew members stood around and looked generally dejected at just after midnight), nor even the second or third, the Starworks Motorsport #7 was the fourth DP to retire, while another four DPs would complete less than one hundred laps more than the team.

With the rest of the season remaining and no race approaching the length of Daytona, the Starworks’ speed looks to put them in the top eight DPs regularly.  The race continued to cause attrition, with DPs and GTs dropping out regularly before the twenty-four hours were up.  At the end, Scott Pruett could not catch up Joao Barbosa and the SpeedSource Mazda driven by David Haskell, Silvain Tremblay, Nick Ham, and Jonathan Bomarito won the Gt class for the second time in three years.

Endurance racing, particularly at Daytona, is a test more of longevity of parts and a driver’s ability to manage their output effectively.  Still, the emotion for winners and those who don’t finish cannot be diminished.  Even for those who do not win but finish or even race for part of the time, it is a monumental race and mountain to climb.  See you on the other side, where it is warmer and drier and infinitely less fun.

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