If you had casually followed the 2012 Rolex Series, watching the races as one-offs rather than as rounds of a year long championship you would probably think it was a season dominated by the fleet of Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototypes. So it would come as a shock that every major piece of silverware evaded the bow-tie teams, instead going to teams running Riley chassis in the premier class.
Teams running the new Corvette design won eight of the year’s 13 races, Spirit of Daytona Racing and SunTrust Racing each accounting for a trio of victories. Action Express Racing picked up the other wins, Darren Law and Joao Barbosa winning on the series’ debut on Detroit’s Belle Isle and in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen – the win in the series’ mid-summer headline race – the largest race win for the Corvette teams during the season.
On the other hand in their BMW-Riley it was another pair of drivers twice winners in 2012 – Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas – who won the championship, adding a third consecutive title to the streak of the Chip Ganassi Racing team.
At the start of the year, at the 50th Rolex 24 at Daytona it was a battle between another two Riley chassis, though powered by the Ford engine that seemed to have the advantage around Daytona International Speedway, that battled for the lead on the high banks. The lead cars representing Starworks Motorsport and Michael Shank Racing actually touched on the turn two banking in the climactic hours of the race that fell to the Shank team – A.J. Allmendinger, Ozz Negri, Justin Wilson and John Pew – for their first Rolex 24 success.
Unfortunately the big start to the year would be the high point for the MSR team, regular drivers Negri and Pew failing to add another podium in the remaining races, potential strong results undone by bad luck – Pew getting violently caught in the grass at Barber Motorsports Park – or small mistakes – such as falling a lap down in the Homestead-Miami Speedway race run in – and then shortened by a torrential downpour.
Victors on both occasions – the second and third rounds of the championship respectively – were the teams who would go on to win three times in 2012.
On the strength of their winning records both teams should have been factors in the overall championship. However, Richard Westbrook – the only man to complete the full season in Spirit of Daytona’s deep blue #90 only finished tenth in the standings, Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor sixth for SunTrust.
Both team’s depth down the order was due to a number of retirements that more than matched their visits to the top step of the podium.
Though their season began with early engine failure at Daytona SunTrust Racing were thrust back to the fore with back to back wins at Homestead and New Jersey Motorsports Park. However, then Angelelli and Taylor began an unenviable run of four consecutive DNFs. Accident damage at Detroit, Mid-Ohio and Road America put them out of the race – specifically out of the lead at both Detroit and Road America – before suspension failure made them unwilling spectators at the Sahlen’s Six Hours.
Spirit of Daytona Racing were also victims of contact, and also while leading. Westbrook was knocked out of the lead on Belle Isle while trying to lap a GT class Mazda. An early spin by Westbrook’s regular co-driver Antonio Garcia would rule them out of contention, just as Michael Valiante – sitting on for Garcia – got tipped into spin at lap one, turn one of the race at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
The trip north of the border gave the Chip Ganassi Racing pairing their second win of the season. Earlier in the season the defending champions had taken a first win of the season at Road America, snapping a streak of five Corvette DP wins leading an all Riley podium – for all the Corvettes were strong the differing strengths of the third generation chassis and engines swung the balance of power violently from race to race.
Though only winning for the first time in late June Rojas and Pruett had been a constant in the formative points standings, four podiums in the first six races enough to keep them in contention against the equally consistent Starworks combo of Ryan Dalziel and Enzo Potolicchio – never out of the top six through the first half dozen races – and the Corvettes.
They had lead earlier in the season, only for a poor result in New Jersey handing the initiative back to Dalziel and Potolicchio. Three successive podiums, each finish taking a step up, ending in the Road America victory turned the title chase around in the Ganassi pairings favour and through the second half of the season they never gave up the lead.
The crucial moments in the last six races are a little debateable. Peter Baron’s reaction to the contact between Dalziel and Ganassi guest driver Juan Montoya during the Rolex Series’ historic first race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway slightly over emphasises the importance of the result. The final tipping point, that almost certainly took the title out of Dalziel’s reach, was a spin and subsequent penalty that meant he and Alex Tagliani – joining the team for the Canadian round – could only finish eighth as Pruett and Rojas took a second win of 2012.
Without one the title race would have be closer, but the title was still destined for Ganassi, only a second half of the season without both moments would have made the finale at Lime Rock the climax it deserved to be.
Starworks would not end 2012 empty handed. Not only did the team scoop the LMP2 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship but Alex Popow and Sebastien Bourdais’ win in Indianapolis clinched the North American Endurance Championship, the result at Indy added to the second at Daytona and a Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in which Dalziel and Potolicchio completed the podium.
The new NAEC ‘championship within a championship’ and the main title also fell to different teams – and different manufacturers – in the GT class.
The class was greatly improved – at least in terms of depth for 2012 – new cars from Audi and Ferrari joining the Porsche, Mazdas and Camaros that had been the backbone of the class.
Porsche, previously the strongest manufacturer in the class faced severe pressure, though representatives of the Stuttgart marque occupied the entire podium for the Rolex 24, new team Magnus Racing heading familiar names Brumos Racing and TRG.
Magnus Racing with drivers Andy Lally and John Potter – also the team owner – would go on to win the NAEC. Their win at IMS followed a fiery and frightening exit from the Six Hours of The Glen when the cockpit of the Porsche burst into flames, thankfully after Potter had bailed from the #44. Their NAEC triumph – their two wins the only such results for Porsche through the whole season – to some extent mirrored the Riley Daytona Prototypes championship run, but the winners of the overall GT class did anything but.
Early back to back wins at Homestead and New Jersey gave AIM Autosport’s Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato in the new Grand-Am spec Ferrari 458 a stranglehold on the championship standings which, with eighth podiums in the 13 race season – never finishing outside the top eight, they never released.
They clinched the title with a round remaining, moving into an unassailable lead over Stevenson Motorsports’ Robin Liddell, even a win for he and co-driver John Edwards at Lime Rock Park to end the season unable to close the gap to less than 27 points – the equivalent of a top four result.
Two poor results – 15th then 14th – at Indianapolis and on the series’ second Watkins Glen visit cost Liddell a run at the title. At Indy Liddell was one of the drivers caught out by the torrential rain that blighted the race, slapping the wall as he splashed into the pits. However at the New York track, the poor result came courtesy of title rival Assentato, the Ferrari driver tagging the rear of the Camaro under braking for the very first corner of the race.