DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It was a long 24 hours, but in the end it was favorites that drove into the sunset in the 49th annual Rolex 24 At Daytona that concluded Sunday afternoon at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Defending Grand Am Rolex Series champions Chip Ganassi Racing with lead driver Scott Pruett captured the twice-around-the-clock classic with an impressive one-two-finish in the event at the 3.56-mile road course, despite a yellow flag with only nine minutes remaining and the green flag waving for a one-lap dash to the checkered flag with less than two minutes in the race.
Pruett shared the winning No. 01 Telmex BMW Riley with his regular co-driver Memo Rojas, road-racing veteran Joey Hand and IndyCar ace Graham Rahal.
“Our car ran and ran and ran. This is just truly awesome to have a one-two finish. It is just incredible,” Pruett said. “I can’t say enough about my Ganassi guys. The 01 car has finished every lap the last five years. That is just incredible.”
The team battled from behind multiple times during the event en route to winning by a mere 2.070 seconds over their teammates — Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray in the No. 02 Target Riley BMW.
“I couldn’t be happier for the team,” said Ganassi, whose teams have now won the Daytona 500, Indy 500, Brickyard 400 and Rolex 24 within a 12-month period. “This is what it is all about. I’m just happy to be part of it.”
While Pruett and Rojas won Daytona for the fourth time, Rahal and Hand were first-time winners in the event. Rahal’s victory came exactly 30 years after his father Bobby went to victory lane at Daytona.
Within the first hour of the race Pruett called for a gear change in the No. 01 and persuaded team manager Tom Keene to call for the change. The team lost only a few minutes on pit lane and rejoined the battle.
Then with the two Ganassi cars battling for the lead Sunday morning, Hand hit a tire lying on pit lane while exiting the pits and was called back to the pits for a 30-second penalty. Hand then pulled a triple stint behind the wheel and drove away from his leading teammates to put the car back into contention.
Keene then called for a pit stop under yellow with less than two hours remaining and that combined with Pruett’s hard-charging style propelled the No. 01 back to the lead and Pruett took the lead on lap 694 and held it until the checkered flag which waved after 720 circuits.
Placing third was the No. 9 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley, which won the race in 2010, shared by Joao Barbosa, Terry Borcheller, Christian Fittipaldi, Max Papis and J.C. France. The final car on the lead lap in fourth place was the United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley with drivers Martin Brundle, Mark Blundell, Marc Patterson and Zak Brown sharing the wheel.
Taking the victory in the GT class, completing 684 laps, was The Racers Group Porsche GT3 steered to the checkered flag by Andy Lally with Steve Bertheau, Spencer Pumpelly, Brendan Gaughan and Wolf Henzler also taking turns at the wheel.
“We have never rubber banded in a race like this. We were up two, down two and all around the board,” Lally said. “It all comes down to the quality of cars that the guys at TRG built. It’s a 24 hour race and it is a team race. You do not win this race without great teammates.”
Runner-up in the GT class was the Porsche GT3 racer of Paul Miller Racing for drivers Bryce Miller, Rob Bell, Bryan Sellers and Tim Sugden. Third was the Dempsey Racing Mazda handled by Joe Foster, Patrick Dempsey, Charles Espenlaub and Tom Long.
There were 23 yellow flags during the event, including a two-hour and 45-minute slowdown in the early hours of the morning because of fog.