There were smiles all around at the marathon Rolex 24 this past weekend, even from those who were not on the receiving end of a brand new luxury watch. For many drivers, including NASCAR regular Clint Bowyer, it was their first time racing in a 24-hour Grand-Am series race, and as he described the experience pre-race, it was a “bucket list race.” Bowyer said it was an honor to be invited to participate on a team consisting of his two bosses, Rob Kaufmann and Michael Waltrip, and Rui Aguas, International GT Open driver about whom Bowyer tweeted during the race was “a driving machine.” The AF-Waltrip team, co-owned by AF Corse, ran the #56 Ferrari 458 to a strong eighth place in the GT division. Afterward, Bowyer noted via Twitter, “..all I can say is no wonder those things cost so much. I can’t believe the beatin’ that thing took for 24 hours without one failure.”
Internationally-known owner Chip Gnassi and his team won the overall as well as the faster Daytona Prototype division. Their team was anchored by Juan Pablo Montoya, current full-time NASCAR driver and previously successful Formula One and IndyCar driver. The Target BMW was much the best through most of the race and Montoya, along with teammates Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, and Charlie Kimball, turned in a flawless performance. Pruett himself tied the record for most Rolex 24 victories at five, tied with the legendary Hurley Haywood.
Defending 2012 Rolex 24 champion team Michael Shank Racing had bad luck early, breaking a tie rod in the first hour of the race with AJ Allmendinger behind the wheel and going seven laps down after pit road repairs. Following AJ’s Twitter mantra of #nevergiveup, the team battled, gaining laps thanks to the occasional full-course caution along with some determined driving. Even though they battled fuel issues late, and were put into the grass by Joao Barbosa in the #9 Starworks car, they were still able to finish a strong second. Said Shank, “I’m more proud of what my guys did this year, than I am of what we were able to do last year.”
Marcos Ambrose, ever-jovial between stints, seemed tireless in a rock-solid driving performance, teaming with Allmendinger, Ozz Negri, John Pew, and Justin Wilson. Appearing clean-shaven after the full beard he sported at Daytona testing a couple of weeks ago, Marcos spoke at length about what a great opportunity it was to drive in the Rolex 24.
Marcos also shared with Chocolate Myers and Rick Benjamin Monday on Tradin’ Paint (Sirius NASCAR Radio) that he will feel far more comfortable this year when they get to Daytona than he did last year from having raced there this past weekend.
Also representing the NASCAR ranks included Jamie McMurray, who along with his team drove Gnassi racing’s other entry, the 02 BMW. The car was competitive during most of the race but exited late with mechanical problems. Former NASCAR driver Andy Lally and team led the GT division for many laps in their Magnus Racing entry, but slowed considerably on the last lap while low on fuel and finished fifth in the GT, 13th in the overall.
The next race in the informal triple crown of automobile endurance racing will be the 12 Hours of Sebring, held on March 16th and is also in Florida, and the final race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, held in June at Le Mans, France. It is unlikely that any NASCAR drivers will participate in those races due to race conflicts.