THE RACE BEGINS
With the 51st Rolex 24 at Daytona only two and a half hours old, at just before 18:00 EST the sun dipped below the horizon at the Daytona International Speedway. Drivers and crew have settled in for the night stretch of just over thirteen hours, before the sun rises on Sunday at 07:15. 54 cars started the 2013 race, and leading overall after three hours of racing was the Daytona Prototype #01 of Chip Ganassi Racing. The GT class leader was Stevenson Motorsports #57, while #16 Napleton Racing led in the GX class.
With 21 hours left in the race, there is clearly plenty of competition to come. The air temperature is expected to cool during the night by some 10 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Fahrenheit) and drivers have already felt a change in handling, as Mexican driver Memo Gidley of Bob Stallings Racing #99 DP explained after his first stint: “Inside the car you don’t feel a whole lot different when the temperature drops because DPs are pretty warm inside, but it makes a big difference to the amount of grip.”
The race started under a blue sky and the day has been much hotter than the preceding few. Gidley found his car was sliding around a fair amount during the early laps and he had had to work hard. Sunset brought some relief, “As the sun went down the track cooled off and it is almost like the rubber that’s on the surface gets a little bit more stable and the car hooks up, rolls around the corner better and puts the power down.”
When the sun comes up tomorrow, the drivers can look forward to the temperatures rising again as both the air and action heat up.
Ahead of the race start, the atmosphere within the circuit was animated as spectators, supporters, pit crew and drivers rubbed shoulders effortlessly in the final hours before the off. Grand Marshal, Hurley Haywood, offered words of wisdom at the Drivers Meeting: “Have fun, be safe and remember the most important thing you can do out there this weekend is be ladies and gentlemen.” Given his so far unparalleled record of 5 wins at the Rolex 24 at Daytona this must be advice worth following.
With 30 minutes to go, APR Motorsport’s René Rast from Germany confessed to feeling a little bit nervous, but no more than he was used to. His team’s aim was to protect the car through the first hours and be ready to attack on Sunday morning. Shane Lewis from Napleton Racing was clear: “It’s time to go racing. I love all the fanfare that surrounds the Rolex 24, but I can’t wait to get in the race car and get going.”
After 3 hours the leading cars had completed some 98 laps, approximately 348 miles. The difference between the classes was apparent. The fastest DP lap to that point was 1:41.565, and in the GX class it was 1:56.319.