The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona 2011 was held January 29-30 at the 3.56-mile (5.73 km) Daytona International Speedway, a combined course made up of portions of the NASCAR tri-oval and an infield road course.
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates’ magical run continued with their fourth overall victory in the 49th Rolex 24 At Daytona at Daytona International Speedway.
In the final minutes of America’s premier sports car race, a late caution suddenly turned the Rolex 24 At Daytona into a sprint race.
The No. 01 BMW Riley with driver Scott Pruett behind the wheel held off the sister Ganassi Racing car – the No. 02 BMW Riley and driver Scott Dixon – on a final green and white restart to capture one of the most competitive twice-around-the-clock challenges in history.
“It’s exciting for our team having a one-two finish,” Pruett said. “I think that’s how you one-up what you do here. I think that’s absolutely amazing and I’m proud of our whole organization.
“The 02 car is great, having a team car in this race you get to bounce things off each other in practice and in testing and really try and make the most out of that opportunity to put two cars up front.”
It was the fourth career overall Rolex 24 victory for Pruett and second for co-driver Memo Rojas while Graham Rahal and Joey Hand earned their first coveted Rolex watches.
Ganassi won three Rolex 24s between 2006-08 and has earned runner-up finishes the past two years.
“I don’t drive the cars, I don’t change the tires, I don’t work on the engines,” Ganassi said. “There are lots of people, lots of great competitors that it takes to make up a team, and I’m just the guy that gets to stand up there and talk about it.”
The winning No. 01 entry covered 721 laps, 2,566.76 miles, equivalent of a trip from Daytona Beach to Los Angeles. The margin of victory was 2.070 seconds and there were four cars on the lead lap.
Rounding out the top three was the runner-up No. 02 Ganassi Racing entry with Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and 2010 Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray. Third-place honors went to the No. 9 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley and drivers Max Papis, Christian Fittipaldi, JC France, Joao Barbosa and Terry Borcheller.
Capturing the attention of all in attendance was the remarkable come-from-behind performance in the GT Class as the #67 TRG Porsche GT3 went from starting the race in last position, to take a convincing win in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona 2011. The pole-winning qualifying time of driver Andy Lally (Northport, N.Y./Dacula, Ga.), which set a new lap record, had been disallowed after qualifying. As the 24-hour endurance challenge went on, it was rumored that the clutch on the #67 car had become problematic, causing the drivers to lift a bit early going into turn one and the bus stop chicane – adding to the drama of the GT race.
“The big problem of course was the matter of losing the clutch with 17 hours to go in the race and that makes things very difficult as you can imagine,” said Lally about the problems with the #67 car. “What it means is there cannot be any mistakes made. If you spin out for some reason and have to be towed back to the pits you’re going to lose three or four laps and you might as well just pack it up and go home because your race is done.”
In the end, the lead was converted to a win for the team that included drivers Brendan Gaughan (Las Vegas, Nev.), Wolf Henzler (Nuertingen, Germany) and Spencer Pumpelly (Arlington, Va./Suwanee, Ga.).
“It’s an incredible thing that we did. . . to drive so many hours without incident and shifting gears without a clutch,” said Lally. “We actually had to knock it out of gear and then match the revs of the engine with the speed that the rear tires were going in order to get the car into gear and to do that for so long is amazing. It was pretty tricky but we all seemed to figure out how to do it. This is absolutely the greatest feeling there is to win the Rolex 24 At Daytona.”
Rounding out the podium in the GT class was the No. 48 Miller Barrett Racing Porsche GT3 and drivers Bryce Miller, Tim Sugden, Bryan Sellers and Rob Bell in runner-up honors and Dempsey Racing in third place with actor Patrick Dempsey, Joe Foster, Tom Long and Charles Espenlaub.
For Dempsey, it was his first podium in the Rolex 24 and a huge step in both his racing career and the team’s progression.
“I think it’s important for our development as a team,” Dempsey said. “The sacrifices Joe has done personally and professionally to get us here; and (engineer) Kirt (Wightman), our team, they have worked so hard the last few months with not the kind of funding that other teams have.”
Dempsey got emotional about his finish in his post-race interviews.
“You just think of the waves of emotions,” Dempsey said. “I started racing at the Panoz school a long time ago, and Joe was the head instructor and Charles was the instructor, and from that getting off the couch from watching SPEED on Sunday, to go and follow your dreams and to be here, it’s pretty special.”
Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona 2011 – Photo Gallery (click image for larger picture)
[Source: Rolex 24 at Daytona; Photo credit: Rolex / Stephan Cooper; TRG; Porsche N.A.]