The 50th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona featured a strong NASCAR contingent, with Penske's new signing AJ Allmendinger, and Ganassi duo Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya, as well as Michael McDowell and Italian road course ringer Max Papis in front running DP cars. The GT class also featured a strong cast, with twice Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, X-Games star Travis Pastrana, and the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Andy Lally all challenging for glory. So how did they get on?
Let's start with AJ Allmendinger. The 30 year old Californian was the lead pilot in Michael Shank Racing's #60 MSR Riley-Ford shared with Ozz Negri, John Pew and Justin Wilson, and drove a tenacious final stint to hold off the charging pole sitting car of Ryan Dalziel. Allmendinger's breakthrough win ended a five year drought dating back to his time in Champ Cars. He hopes that this against the odds win for his close friend Shank – who are rumoured to be running Paul Tracy in their debut Indycar foray this season – will mark the start of his best season yet, as he looks to race his way into the Chase for the first time with the #22 team.
Shank's second car produced a giant-killing performance in the hands of McDowell and his South American rookie team mates. 27 year old McDowell, who will be looking to race his way into the Daytona 500 with Phil Parsons Racing, was placed alongside British Formula 3 champion Felipe Nasr and Indy Lights challengers Jorge Goncalvez and Gustavo Yacaman in the old Riley Mk. XX chassis. The #6 team spent much of the race on the fringes of the lead lap, and was in prime position to capitalise on the misfortune of Scott Pruett -last year's winner in the lead Ganassi car – and snatch a surprise podium.
Ganassi twins McMurray and Montoya had a tough time of things in the #02 Riley BMW, suffering gear problems while 2008 Indycar champion Scott Dixon was behind the wheel in the early hours of the morning. Despite getting the problem turned around in a sprightly four laps, the damage had already been done, and with no problems for the leading trio, they were condemned to a lowly fourth place finish.
In GT, Andy Lally brought the Magnus Racing Porsche 911 team their first ever win against a competitive field of 45 entries. The 36 year old New Yorker, partnered by reigning double Porsche Supercup champion Rene Rast, Richard Leitz and owner John Potter, took his fourth Rolex 24th win in style ahead of the Jeroen Bleekemolen TRG Porsche. Sadly Lally won't be back in NASCAR in 2012 – he will be racing sportscars full-time instead.
Waltrip made his second appearance in a twice around the clock event, having ran the Le Mans 24 hours last year. Waltrip, sharing with business partner Rob Kaufmann, Portugese driver Rui Aguas, and Travis Pastrana – who used the Rolex 24 to prepare for his Nationwide debut to come at Richmond in April – suffered clutch issues which cost the Ferrari 458 an hour of repair time, and gearbox induced off-track excursions in the latter stages. Nevertheless Waltrip was still running at the finish, salvaging 35th overall.