The Rolex 24 at Daytona was its usual all-American blue riband event, kick-starting both the US and Worldwide endurance racing seasons. Hidden behind all that Americana was a sizable strand of British red, white and blue as fifteen of the drivers in the main event were entered on British licenses. Here we take a look at how the British got on over the pond.
The best British result is also one of those fairy tale stories you see in the movies but never expect to happen. Phil Keen, known in the UK as one of the better GT drivers, a nine year veteran of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship made his first appearance at Daytona International Speedway. Winner of the 2014 Sunoco Wheelen Challenge Keen claimed a prize drive in the Action Express Racing/Wheelen Corvette DP which came fifth in class and seventh overall after 24 hours of racing.
An amazing three laps behind Keen came one of the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship’s best known Brits, Oliver Gavin. One of the full season drivers of the #4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R, he shared with Simon Pagenaud and Tommy Milner on a drive to third in GTLM. That third place put him in eighth place overall, in a race started by 24 prototypes. Gavin has long shown the USA what a British GT driver can do, having first raced for the factory Chevrolet team since 2002.
Next up is Tom Kimber-Smith who more than made up for being outpaced by GTLM rivals by winning the Prototype Challenge class. One of the most hotly contested classes, Kimber-Smith and his team mates Andrew Novich, Andrew Palmer and Mike Guasch survived a long running battle with both CORE Autosport, who looked to have the race tied up, and BAR1 Motorsports to take the victory by a lap. You would expect nothing less from a three times Le Mans class winner.
Also on the PC podium was the only car in the race to carry two Britons. The BAR1 #16 Oreca FLM09 carried Jonny Mowlem and Martin Plowman to second place in the class. Plowman deserves a special mention as he was one of the very few drivers to pull double duty, racing not only the #16 machine but the #61. Unfortunately for him and his team mates Marc Drumwright, Ivo Breukers, Shelby Blackstock and Remo Ruscitti, the SRA backed machine retired after fourteen hours of racing, the victim of an engine problem.
The GTD class wasn’t a good one for British drivers, with only two Brits entered, both in Porsche GT America race cars. Best of the duo goes to Scotsman Rory Butcher who along with team mates Damien Faulkner, Kuba Giermaziak, Mike Skeen and Michael Avenatti came back from dramas during the race to take seventh in class and twenty-first overall in the ‘Coffee Rocket’. The #81 Tully’s Coffee sponsored GB Autosport Porsche lost 17 laps to the class leader over the course of the race but was still fighting at the end.
That was more than could be said for the #23 Porsche GT Amerca at the hands of Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing. The team took on Daytona for the second year running with Alex Ribera, Mario Farnbacher and British racer Ian James sharing the driving. Unfortunately the engine on the 991 let go on lap 233, eight hours it the action.
Solidly into the ‘tales of woe’ part of the classification we find our next Briton, the Porsche factory driver Nick Tandy. The factory 911 RSR racers managed to avoid the disappointment which hit their customers, Team Falken Tire but still had problems of their own. Namely a breach of the first rule of motorsport: “Never hit your team mate!”
Both the #911 of Tandy, and the #912 headlined by Jorg Bergmeister were damaged in an accident on the banking. The #911 fell to fifth in class and twenty-seventh overall. The #912 came off much worse.
The lesser damage to the #911 let them stay ahead of the only British entry to the race, the Aston Martin Racing effort. The team are mainly focusing on the FIA World Endurance Championship this year but entered a sole Vantage GTE at the hands of Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana, Stefan Mucke, Matthias Lauda and Darren Turner. Long-time AMR factory driver Turner was the man the team turned to when they needed a solid pair of hands. An accidental spin for Dalla Lana damaged the clutch of the car which turned a promising race start into a long test session. Turner spent two long stints in the car, pounding round the Daytona road course, setting times on pace with the race leading ‘Vettes. The car finished sixth in class, 93 laps behind the #3 C7.R.
Jack Hawksworth’s RSR Racing Oreca FLM09 joined the long list of eight cars across all four classes which was forced to the sidelines with engine failure. The #11 carried the hopes of Britain, Canada, Brazil and the USA through the night time hours and well into the Sunday light before it parked up, with only four and quarter hours to go.
Ryan Dalziel expected to fly the Scotts saltire for much longer than the 389 laps that the #1 HPD ARX-04b Coupe managed to turn out. Gearbox failure put the Tequila Patron ESM machine out of the race just after the halfway mark. Still, he had more of a race than Ben Devlin in the #07 Mazda Prototype from SpeedSource. The two LMP2 diesel machines both retired, with the #07 getting a better run than the #70, the victim of overheating, (#07) and an oil pump failure, (#70).
The unique LMP2 cars did achieve one thing though, Mazda now claim the title of being the first diesels to lead the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Alex Brundle was hoping for a better run in the Krohn Racing Ligier JS PS-Judd until an engine related problem put that effort into the trailer. The team are to investigate further when they get back to the factory to identify the exact cause of the problem. No such investigations are required for Andy Meyrick who astounded with the pace of the DeltaWing DWC13 for the one hour and twenty-three minutes the gearbox lasted. The unique, dart shaped prototype was last seen being dragged through the infield on a tow rope, the first of twenty cars to officially retire.
There was very good news in the Continental Tires Sportscar Championship’s BMW Performance 200 for the sole Brit in the race. Robin Liddell shared the #6 Stevenson Motorsport Chevrolet Camaro with American racer Andrew Davis. The pair took the second step of the podium behind the Porsche 911 of Matt and Hugh Plumb, making Liddell the only Brit to stand on an overall podium at Daytona during the big weekend.
Sunoco 200 Challenge winner Oskar Kruger failed to finish in his prize drive in the Continental Tires Sportscar Challenge.