A Weekend of Winners

At some point after a Tudor Sports Car Series race last fall I was speaking to Tom Papadopoulos, a competitor, who in practice drove both a factory Aston Martin car and a similar private entry. Tom is President/Owner of Autosport Designs on Long Island, NY and a former two-time winner of the Ferrari Challenge Series. His company once prepared and raced Astons for the factory. I remember his comment about driving the factory unit against a professional teammate. The other guy was quicker and Tom knew where and how, but, he said, “at this point in my life, I’m not prepared to go there”.

AutoSports Designs Daytona Racer

If you are a team owner involved in endurance racing, that’s the kind of thinking that is music to your ears. When the first goal is to bring the car home, and the second goal is to bring it home first, drivers with large egos don’t cut it. Tom was the “amateur” on the BAR-1 Autosport Designs team last weekend and he did yeoman’s work. During the night, when it is clammy cold in Northern Florida, and as I lay on my warm comfy couch, I tracked him moving the team up three places during his stint. But early Sunday afternoon, when they needed luck and speed, the team turned to their professional drivers and got half of what they needed.

In our winner-take-all culture, less than positive platitudes about finishing second abound, but in endurance racing, as in real life, the intensity of planning, preparing, overcoming, and participating can be considerably more rewarding than the final placing number. They were second in class.

The real winners of the 2015 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona were the Tudor United Sports Car Series, all the Class winners, particularly the Viper, which won the Daytona GT class, the Daytona International Speedway and, most importantly, the fans. This was a superb way to kick off the 2015 Endurance season and with the Sebring 12 Hours coming up next month, the competitors get another kick at it with cars that now have 24 hours + of testing in their databanks.

The Race

The gods have conspired to bring about the perfect endurance race. It is the first race of the season and the most important of the Tudor series. It is held in January in Florida, partly because many of the racing drivers in the world are available to participate as their own series haven’t yet begun. Most important, over the past year, the organizers working with the different entrants have successfully tweaked the rules for each class to make every car competitive. So, while all the ingredients are in place for an excellent race, only at Daytona are all the best drivers in the world available to participate.

The Overall Winners – Daytona Prototype

Ganassi Racing and Ford Eco-Boost. This is the sixth win for the Ganassi Team, and second for lead driver, Scott Dixon. His driving and leadership abilities have come to the fore in the past year since Dario Franchitti’s retirement. He took over Ganassi’s IndyCar effort, and in this race he eclipsed perennial DP team leader Scott Pruett. But the real surprise star of their team was the Ford Eco-Boost V-6 engine. Hardly spectacular at last year’s introduction, this year it beat the Corvette V-8 powered cars of last year’s winner Sebastien Bourdais and the similarly powered car driven by Wayne Taylor’s tots. Two weeks ago at the Detroit Auto Show the Ford folk introduced the beautiful Ford GT, powered by the V-6 Ford Eco-Boost engine to a chorus of “WHAT! NO V-8?”. It does prompt the question: if Ford has an engine that can win a 24 hour race does the Ford GT have a chassis to beat Corvette, Aston Martin, and Porsche?

GT Daytona Class

In 2014, in a hard fought battle against Corvette in the GT Daytona (GTD) Class, the Riley prepared Viper won the GTD Championship in the final race of the year. In a move that should make all Ferrari fans nervous, the winning team was dumped by Chrysler-Fiat. In 2015, Riley Motorsports, who developed and ran the car in 2014, with sponsorship from TI Automotive, a fuel tank and pump supplier to Chrysler, entered two of last year’s cars and won their class at the Rolex. Well done guys!

GTLM Class

The cars are recognizable and competitive and, because they are raced to Le Mans specs, manufacturers can build a car to race both in Europe in the Le Mans series and here in North America. For these reasons, this is the production car class that will survive the consolidation when the Tudor series finally conforms to Le Mans specs across the board. Perhaps it is because these cars are less fragile than prototypes but, whatever the reason, the most aggressive drivers in the field, Auberlen, Tandy, and Magnussen drive with an attitude that is very entertaining. The factories are heavily invested in these cars and they want drivers who will fight for the win. Corvette won, but it wasn’t easy or pretty and in the final stint, it was the BMW that took the fight to them. The factory Porsches, that at times led, also were very aggressive and actually took each other out. Ferraris were competitive and also led at one point. Aston Martin were not competitive but they showed promise and they certainly were handsome.

The Track

Daytona was in fine fettle this year. The infield seemed to be drier and the track seemed cleaner throughout the race. There seemed fewer delays and those were dealt with quickly.

Commentators

Commentators on the TV broadcasts were excellent and bringing Justin Bell into the booth was inspired. Tommy Kendall was as informative as ever. We learned that he is to be inducted into the Motorsport Hall of Fame and the MMR Community congratulate him on this worthy honor. The IMSA.com streamed portion was also very good and they had interesting guests. Overall this is the best broadcast of the event we have seen. While Fox deemed it necessary to interrupt the racing broadcast to give us a football press conference, switched us from Fox 1 to Fox 2 at their convenience, abandoned us for the middle and nighttime portions of the race, it was all saved by their commentary crew.