Rolex 24 Hour races at Daytona and LeMans
Building anticipation for 2012 50th Running
The 2012 edition will mark the 50th running of sports car racing at the Speedway, home of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. As a lead-up to this important anniversary, we will be presenting a once-a-month look back through the history, people and events that have made this race what it is today.
For this month, (June), we examine what it means to compete in endurance racing and take a look at what the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and the world’s other twice-around-the-clock challenge, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which just took place this month, have in common along with where they differ. Each may be unique, but together they make up two of the three peaks on the triple crown of endurance racing.
Endurance Racing: through the night, the ultimate test of man and machine
The main connection between the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona is clear: the race entails non-stop racing meant not only to test a car and driver’s ability to be quick, but also the team’s ability to last over a 24-hour period. In these races, the purpose is to determine which team of drivers can take their sports car the farthest in a fixed time period, as opposed to determining who can travel a fixed distance in the shortest time, as in most auto races. This sort of racing reveals both the reliability of the machines, as well as the physical and mental stamina of the drivers, as they push themselves and their vehicles to the limit.
In addition to the differences in track length (Le Mans is 13.629-kilometres vs. Daytona with 5.729-kilometres), the Le Mans race takes place on a combined course: part public roads and stretches of the Bugatti circuit, built in 1965 and also used for other competitions. The Daytona race is conducted entirely over a closed course within the speedway arena without the use of any public streets. Most parts of the steep banking are included, interrupted with a chicane on the back straight and a sweeping, fast infield section that includes two hairpins. Winning teams often cover over 700 laps in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 2010 winning Porsche team (Action Express Racing) completed 755 laps – that’s 4,325.395 kilometers – the second longest distance ever covered in the history of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. This year the winning Audi team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans completed 397 laps (5,410.713 kilometers), breaking the 1971 record of distance driven, originally set by Dr. Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep in the Porsche 917 (5,335.313 km).
While some races are limited to a specific class or type of car, these 24-hour races have several race categories that take to the track simultaneously. This means that drivers have to work with each other in order to avoid traffic or worse yet, accidents. Even a minor “fender-benders” can have devastating effects on final results so drivers must be extra cautious in their navigation of track traffic and when passing one another, both common occurrences in endurance racing. “When you come here it’s a motor racing festival,” said record eight-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen. “OK you tell me there are four different categories racing here in Le Mans, but that doesn’t matter: we are all fighting for the corners and we are all fighting to be first. This is the kind of action you want to see in motor sports.”
Although similar in that many classes race at the same time, an essential difference between these two long races is that the 24 Hours of Le Mans takes place in June, when the days are the longest and the nights the shortest, while for Daytona it’s just the opposite. “Because of its timing on the calendar,” continues Kristensen, “the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona does have another unique element to it: it’s the darkest 24-hour race of them all!” The January date of this race means that it gets dark, and stays dark, very early, whereas at the 24 Hours of Le Mans the darkest racing only lasts a couple of hours.
Racing at night is something distinctive to endurance racing, something many first-timers, or “rookies,” find themselves having to adapt to quickly. “Night racing is absolutely new to me, it’s something I’ve never done before,” said Rachel Frey, one of the Le Mans rookie drivers of Matech Competition’s all-women’s team (CHE) that raced this year in the 24-hour race. “The LM P1 cars pass so fast it’s unbelievable and during the night, all you see are some flashing lights coming up behind you and it’s really hard to judge the distance. But this is just something you have to learn to deal with when you come here.”
And before one even begins racing, there’s the unique starting procedure that was made famous at endurance races, something that became known as a “Le Mans start.” The drivers stood on one side of the track and their cars were parked at an angle on the opposite side. When the signal was given, they had to run across the track, jump into their cars and roar off. Accidents were frequent and the Daytona circuit only used a running start once, for the Daytona Continental in 1962. The running start was used in Le Mans for many years until in 1969, when driver Jacky Ickx, in his first 24 Hours of Le Mans, expressed his objection to this dangerous practice by walking slowly to his car. Despite starting in last place, he won the race in a spectacular finish, snatching victory with a mere 120-metre (130-yard) lead. In 1971, the organizers decided to change the start procedure and from then on, the drivers would begin the race from within their vehicles.
The 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans paid tribute to this old tradition by reviving the running start as a prelude to the conventional rolling start. Just after 14:00 on Saturday, 12 June, the 56 drivers ran across the track to be strapped into their cars that were facing them in herringbone formation just like in former times. Cars were then released one by one to take their places on the grid for the now regular rolling start at 15:00. This ceremonial start before the “real thing” was welcome on the track; it added additional anticipation, was a nod to improved track safety and at the same time, paid tribute to drivers past.
But while the start in this type of racing is important, it is truly the finish that makes the race. A lot can happen in 24 hours, and as Allan McNish said at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, “You've got to first finish, before you finish first.” Finishing a 24-hour race is a victory in of itself and many teams compete in the race with this “simple” goal in mind- only the best will actually win.
This season, German driver Mike Rockenfeller made history at the finish, as he and his Porsche team came in 1st at both the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona (#9 Action Express Racing with co-drivers, Borcheller (USA), Dalziel (GBR), Barbosa (POR)) and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (#9 Audi Sport North American team with co-drivers Bernhard (DEU), Dumas (FRA)). Rockenfeller is one of only four drivers in history who has achieved this double. “I am so excited about this win,” said Rockenfeller at Le Mans, “and after my Rolex 24 win earlier this year, I couldn’t be happier.”
All in all, these endurance races may be long, but they are as far from dreary as anything, and everything can happen in 24 hours. Where man and machine go to the limit and beyond, prepare to be surprised!
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona: for Champions
The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans are world-class races, rewarding its deserving winners with a place in motor sports history and a steel Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, named “the world’s rarest watch” by WatchTime magazine.
Winners receive their timepiece as a tribute to their great achievement in endurance racing, exclusively engraved with the event logo, year and, of course, the mythical word that any driver would cherish: “Winner.”
Top prize in European motor sport: free spot in Daytona 2011
Racers in several major European series have a unique opportunity to land a spot in the driver’s seat of a Daytona Prototype for the 2011 Daytona race through the Sunoco Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona Challenge.
This season-long competition pits racers from high-caliber race championships in Europe, such as the British GT Championship and the British F3 International, against one another for one spectacular prize: a race seat in a 500 bhp, 190 mph Daytona Prototype at the 2011 24-hour race.
The point system includes 100 points for a victory, 80 points for second, 75 for third, down through 15th place. In addition, 25 points is awarded to both the driver who wins the pole and the one with the fastest race lap. At the end of the season, the driver with the most points will win a fully-paid drive in a front-running Daytona Prototype in the 2011 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.
The number of points separating the drivers registered in the Challenge in just the Top 10 is widening. Top-placed Jean-Eric Vergne (F3) from France is on 98.13 average points, while 360 Racing’s Terrence Woodward (UK) at No 10 is on 51.25. That said, there are many laps yet to be raced and it is still too early to make predictions about the final outcome.
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