American Mark Patterson has started seven Daytona 24 Hour Races – six of them in a Daytona Prototype – and has a best result of second place from 2006 race. This year he drives with Martin Brundle , Mark Blundell and Zak Brown in the no.23 United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley car.


Here, the 59-year-old describes a lap around the 3.56 track for the January 29-30 endurance event

195-196mph past the start-finish line in 5th gear into Turn 1, allowing the car to drift up towards the wall before braking extremely hard as you point down off the moderate banking at this point on the track. Pause, three downshifts, slightly of the brake as you let the car find mid-track and one final downshift to first gear before turning in left, almost brushing the tire barrier. Tinniest of pauses as you let the car point/complete its directional turn, then quick progressive pedal application to wiggle through two violent twists that together make up Turn 2…same place Justin Wilson ripped off our right rear wheel by dropping off the rumble strips into an ever deepening dip on the other side of the curbing as the race progressed (we were in second place at the time). Up to 2nd and 3rd gears as you approach the first of 2 infield horseshoe turns, braking hard and trailing into a right Turn 3, earlier than it looks, climbing high on the curbing, quickly restoring full power on the exit as the car wants to lean left and slip across the camber off track.

Straight on down towards the Kink changing to 4th gear on turn-in, which the big boys take absolutely flat, using every ounce of braking to bring the car back down under control into the 2nd (right hander again) horse shoe turn (Turn 5), using all the curbing you can find and getting back to gas as patiently as traffic will allow you, avoiding in the rain all the bumpy and puddle-filled left side exit curbing. Two quick upshifts down the final infield straight to Turn 6, braking hard and late on the right side and getting into and onto the curbing to allow for a powerful shot out, as there are in truth just two exits that determine your lap speed at Daytona: Turn 6 followed by the massive banking and back straight, and then the exit to the back straight chicane, followed by an even longer set of heavily banked turns (flat in the rain) and the main straight, which isn't straight – it's shaped like a very large boomerang. Turns 3 and 5 care generally taken in 1st gear in dry conditions at around 50 mph, while Turn 6's minimum speed is 62 mph.

Exiting Turn 6 with your right foot crushed to the floor, the car will dance around underneath you, especially on cold tires, and it's imperative to get the nose pointed properly as you cross back towards the NASCAR banking (called NASCAR 1 and 2), as more than a few cars have met their demise as the car squirrels out of control and rams the crisply painted white walls. Seems impossible, but it happens every year. Grab a pillow on the banking and snooze through 4 upshifts…the newly resurfaced track has essentially no rough patches or bumps any more. Set alarm clock at 180 mph, as at around 185 mph in 5th gear, applying as much braking as the engineers have provided is as necessary as breathing, for the complex little bus stop lies ahead. At night, Grand Am uses a very bright yellow flashing arrow to suggest the upcoming direction in case your alarm clock doesn't go off and you can see it from hundreds of yards away, always reminding you this is a corner where you can let the entire team down permanently in a 24 hour race, should you make just one little mistake here.

Brake, pause, wait, 2 downshifts, turn in and aim for the first heavily serrated rumble strip, on final downshift to 2nd gear, bang, bounce as evenly as possible over the first curb keeping as straight as possible and barely touching the second curb. Somewhere in here you're going to bottom out at between 88 and 93 mph, keeping the car no wider than the middle of the track and right here you can determine your lap time if you have the courage and the car stable enough to progressively ass gas and not cause an enormous crash slipping over the final two curbs. Almost all GT cars can clear these curbs and if the stray off track, have enough clearance to keep racing. This is not the case for Daytona Prototypes, which have an inch of clearance and inevitably destroy the front splitter, radiator and often the under-tray as well. In the wet, exiting the chicane is very tricky as you accelerate and many a driver has visited the wall in a demonstration combining superior courage and inferior wisdom.

Exiting in 2nd gear, the rest is a processional Sunday afternoon drive moving up to 5th gear and hoping no GT traffic will spoil a good lap cluttering up the entry to Turn 1 as Daytona's timing beacon is right before the first horseshoe.


The Checkered Flag will be bringing you more news and updates in the build up to the race, the race itself and the post-race reaction.