A.J. Allmendinger finally broke Michael Shank's Rolex 24 at Daytona duck, taking victory for the Ohio based team by just five seconds at the end of the 50th edition of the famous American endurance race. Starworks Motorsport's no.8 entry was second, the second Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian car completed a podium sweep for Ford powered Riley Daytona Prototypes.
Allmendinger tried to explain some of the importance of the victory after the race; “the last seven years this whole team, Mike Shank Racing, went through a lot to get to this point, and it’s really cool not only to win the race but to have two cars on the podium, to have really all the guys that have worked really hard. It’s the same group of guys that I’ve seen for the last seven years, Ozz can attest to that and Justin can attest to that, that it’s a small group of guys that Mike puts together, and they work their butts off, and it’s really cool this year to have them get a well-deserved victory and a second car on the podium. I feel very fortunate.”
NASCAR driver Allmendinger – sharing the no.60 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian with Justin Wilson, Ozz Negri and John Pew – took the checkered flag after a nail-biting battle with Allan McNish in the Starworks Motorsport Riley-Ford. The pair came close to a disastrous end with just a few hours left when they touched at least twice going around the Daytona International Speedway banking.
Stepping out of the car soon after double Le Mans champion McNish was critical or his rival for the move, blaming him for the side-to-side contact. In truth it is almost impossible to apportion blame – should it be required – as both men appeared to converge on the same sport of Floridian real estate in turn two of the tri-oval superspeedway.
The moment was the climax of the lead battle, coming after McNish had first taken the lead going through traffic then robustly rebuffing an attack by Allmendinger around the outside of turn one, a move the Michael Shank driver was critical of in post race interviews. Allmendinger held the inside line for the bus stop chicane, McNish ceding the lead. The Starworks car was soon passed to Lucas Luhr who never appeared to have the pace necessary to challenge Allmendinger for the lead despite a number of full course caution periods in the final hours. Only Ryan Dalziel – the final part of the star driver trilogy that had powered the Starworks no.8 during the race – could make an impression on Allmendinger's lead, and his contribution came too late to affect the ultimate result, though a final, last gasp caution period could have brought a very different result.
Inside the final hour a number of spinning GT class cars threatened to bring the race to a sprint finish – like the 2011 race – it was fact Allmendinger was fully aware of.
“There were sure a lot of cars spinning out the last 20 laps,” he said. “I haven’t won in five years, so I didn’t really want a green-white checkered. I kept seeing guys spin. I’m like, get them behind the wall, get them going again.”
However, to focus on the battle between Shank and Starworks teams is to deny how close Scott Pruett and the rest of the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates no.01 team came to retaining their Rolex 24 title.
Though almost forgotten behind the fast Fords and the new Corvette DP both of Ganassi's Riley-BMWs had their time at the front of the race, but both would ultimately fall foul to gearbox related maladies. The no.02 car led in the earliest hours of the morning but with Scott Dixon in the cockpit the car pulled into the garage for the team to repair a broken gear shift linkage. While the repair was quick – only costing the team four laps compared to the leaders – with the trio of Riley-Ford all but faultless up front they were ruled out of the lead battle.
The sister car's race at the front lasted longer as the quartet of Pruett, Memo Rojas, Joey Hand and Graham Rahal where contenders of the lead right into the closing stages of Sunday afternoon.
Pruett's last stint in the lead came at the end of the twentieth hour when first Ozz Negri then McNish passed the multiple Rolex Series champion under braking for the bus stop.
Pruett was never able to get back on terms with the leading duo and fell off the overall podium in the penultimate hour. After stalling pulling away from a scheduled pitstop, and then incurring a drive-through penalty for pitlane speeding, Pruett dropped back after completing a handful of slow laps with only third, fourth and fifth gear available to him. A gearbox change in the pits dropped the car back to sixth place overall.
Pruett's drive-through had allowed Felipe Nasr to take third position overall to end a giant-killing performance by Shank's second team. From the four man team of Sunoco Challenge winner Nasr, Indy Lights men Gustavo Yacaman and Jorge Goncalves and NASCAR driver Michael McDowell only McDowell had Rolex 24 experience, but he and his South American co-drivers were occasionally stars of the race.
The no.6 car spent much of the second half of the race hovering just off the lead lap, gaining laps back under caution, then losing out again during some of the long green-flag runs which lent the race a quite different tone to previous editions of the race.
The same late flurry of caution flags that cost Pruett the lead put Yacaman in the no.6 back on the lead lap, only to fall back two laps down with a punctured right-rear Continental tyre.
Two more quick cautions – and the repeatedly rapid Nasr back in the car hauled the car back onto the lead the lead lap, the Brazilian in position to clinch third position the moment Pruett hit trouble.
Behind the podium finishers came those that had found trouble during the 24 hours, starting with the no.02 Ganassi entry and the no.5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP.
Driven by Darren Law, David Donahue and Christian Fittipaldi the no.5 was the best finisher of the five brand new Corvette designs as all suffered mechanical problems to varying degrees.
The heavily fancied Suntrust Racing entry was the only official retirement from the DP field, suffering engine failure inside the first hour. The remaining Corvettes, of Bob Stallings Racing, Spirit of Daytona Racing and the no.5's team car at Action Express fumbled through the 24 hours all bouncing from one problem to another including a failed water pump (Stallings) and a broken axel (Spirit of Daytona).
While the Gainsco backed Stallings team's two hour-plus delay was too great to overcome, the extended periods of green flag running through the night allowed most of the delayed Daytona Prototypes to climb back above the fastest and most reliable of the GT cars, creating an all DP overall top ten.
50th Rolex 24 at Daytona Daytona Prototype results:
1. No.60 Michael Shank Racing – Allmendinger/Negri/Pew/Wilson
2. No.8 Starworks Motorsport – Dalziel/Luhr/McNish/Popow/Potolicchio
3. No.6 Michael Shank Racing – Goncalves/McDowell/Nasr/Yacaman
4. No.02 Chip Ganassi Racing – Dixon/Franchitti/McMurray/Montoya
5. No.5 Action Express Racing – Donahue/Fittipaldi/Law
6. No.01 Chip Ganassi Racing – Hand/Pruett/Rahal/Rojas
7. No.77 Doran Racing – Frisselle/Frisselle/Lowe/Tracy
8. No.90 Spirit of Daytona Racing – Garcia/Gavin/Magnussen/Westbrook
9. No.9 Action Express Racing – Barbosa/Borcheller/France/Papis
10. No.2 Starworks Motorsport – Andretti/Hunter-Reay/Mayer/Potolicchio/Potolicchio/Valiante