DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — For NASCAR’s Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series there was a lot to prove at this past weekend’s Daytona 24 Hour 2012 season opener.
On the 50th anniversary of the first professional road course event — the 1962 three-hour Daytona Continental — the Rolex 24 boasted a new look for its Daytona Prototype clan, and a huge 46-car GT entry that included not the return of Ferrari to its fold, but Audi’s new R8 production super car. However, although many considered the field the strongest in the history of the series, the question to be answered was whether or not, the Rolex would finally get the public respect it has long craved.
On that point, the Rolex tour faired well. While, it was a sweep for the Ford-powered cars in the DP fight, and a similar sweep for Porsche in GT, both contests went down to the final few minutes: a fact hat has become a tradition over the years for the Grand-Am, but one enhanced this by the contest lead changes by the contenders from the start to the end.
Ultimately, the underdog Michael Shank Racing quartet of A.J. Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri, John Pew and Justin Wilson took their Ford-Riley to a narrow victory over the similar pole sitting Starworks entry Ryan Dalziel, Lucas Luhr, Allan McNish, Enzo Potolicchio and Alex Popow.
For Shank, his first major triumph as a team owner was made even more special by the fact that his second entry, with Michael McDowell, Felipe Nasr, Jorge Goncalvez and Gustavo Yacaman with aboard, was third.
If the margin up front in the fight for the overall triumph was tight, so too was the contest among the production cars. There the Magnus. Racing Porsche GT3 of Andy Lally, John Potter, Richard Lietz and Rene Rast narrowly took first over the TRG GT3 of Steven Bertheau, Marc Goossens, Wolf Henzler, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Spencer Pompelly. Third, also in the mix to the finish was the polesitter Brumos GT3 of Leh Keen, Andrew Davis and Hurley Haywood, the trio hampered in the final hour by a damaged front splitter.
If there were any surprises in the results they were the fact that the Fords and the Porsches not only swept the top of the charts, but that for the most part they were dominant throughout, this despite the hype given the Corvette Daytona Prototypes and the GT Ferrari 458 Italias in the weeks leading up to the Rolex 24.
In the case of the Chevrolets the relative lack of success was more due to mechanical ill fortune, Wayne Taylor’s SunTrust and Bob Stalling’s Gainsco entries both retiring because of drivetrain woes.
Ultimately, the highest placed Corvette DP was the Action Express example of Darren Law, David Donohue and Christian Fittipaldi, which had its own problems throughout.
Despite the fact that the race was entertaining and that the third generation of Daytona Prototypes are greatly improved in their appearance, there will be some who still will consider the Rolex championship not quite up to par against the advanced technology cars found in the American Le Mans Series and its Eurocentric World Endurance Championship.
And, while that may be a true statement, they are improving. Moreover, they’re doing so without raising competitor costs, a key factor in troubled economic times.
All-in-all, on its 50th anniversary year, the 2012 Rolex was worth watching, a truism without which one can’t begin to build either interest or respect. If the rest of its schedule emulates the season opener, 2012 could be very good for the series.BREAKING NEWS: SPEED SPORT is back in print with a new monthly format! Subscribe for just $24.95. Special offer for former subscribers.