Well, that’s the first 24-hour race of the year done and dusted but it’s by no means the last. While the Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette Daytona Prototype that I was racing at the Rolex 24 last weekend finished fifth – my best ever finish there – it wasn’t the win, or the Rolex watch, we were chasing. Let’s hope Le Mans yields a better result!
With the benefit of hindsight, I’d have to say it was a good result for us, especially as the car was suffering from a broken exhaust and was actually parked in the pit lane for the final couple of laps. If that was Le Mans we wouldn’t have been classified, as you have to be running for it to count.
The team knew from the outset that fighting for victory was always going to be a tall order, with the Corvette DPs suffering a marked speed deficit compared to the winning Ganassi Riley-BMW car and other similar entries. I was driving with my ALMS team-mates Richard Westbrook and Antonio Garcia, plus the brother of Corvette Racing’s Jordan Taylor, Ricky, who is Richard’s season-long SDR team-mate in the Grand-Am Series. We were challenging within the top six for most of the race, and had some great on-track battles, but we all had our fair share of struggles through the 24 hours, mostly associated with a fairly minor technical issue which snowballed into a major one. Add to that 16 caution periods, including one of almost two hours due to thick fog just before dawn, and you can imagine that we were quite glad to get to 3.30pm on Sunday.
There’s a couple of turns on the infield section of the Daytona International Speedway course that have quite punishing kerbs and the car was given a big bang over one of them early on. The long and short of it was that a bracket holding the exhaust worked loose and caused us to give fans a fairly impressive light show as we trailed a plume of sparks behind us.
The weight of the exhaust, without the bracket doing its full job, caused the muffler to drop and rub on the ground and the floor got pulled away on the left hand side of the car. All the exhaust heat that was usually ejected out of the back of the car was sent round the internals instead, and as it got worse it started to melt cable ties and the electrics. All the cooling elements in the car (blower, cool suit, drinks bottle) failed and the engine was seriously struggling. We were counting down the laps towards the end, praying it was going to make it. Richard, who drove the final couple of stints, said the heat inside the car was phenomenal plus there were fumes as well so it was quite an aggressive environment in which to try and get to the finish.
A Daytona tradition
Jakob Ebrey Photography
Daytona is big on its traditions, like most of the classic races around the world, and there is always a ‘Champions’ picture taken before the race. There’s also, following the drivers’ briefing, a picture taken of the not inconsiderable number of British drivers in the race. Being a competitive bunch, you can only imagine the jostling for position that goes on, even if it’s done in a light-hearted manner. Justin Wilson, Nick Tandy and I, however, have noticed a worrying trend whereby the Scottish drivers – of which there are plenty – always get into the middle of the pic and they push the English to the sides. We’ve decided that enough is enough, and we’re going to mix that up next year for sure. It could get messy.
A big month for Richard Westbrook
It was quite a month for Richard Westbrook and everyone within SDR as we’re all waiting for news on the birth of Richard and his wife Jess’s first baby. It was due on January 17 so he’s been flying out and back at the last minute and missed the recent Sebring Corvette test. At points during Daytona week he was getting anxious about things, as you would imagine, but managed to keep pretty calm most of the time and just spent a lot of time checking his phone. I was interviewed in the car during the race by SPEED TV and was asked how he was coping with it all. I mentioned the phone but said that his team-mates weren’t sure if he was checking the phone constantly to see if there were messages from his wife, or whether he was on Twitter and Facebook boosting his profile…
There was also a fair amount of ribbing to be done to South Africans Ricky and Jordan Taylor (sons of former racer Wayne) regarding an excellent music video they put together with a couple of other racing mates and released just before the race (search for Grand-Am Style on YouTube). It was very much tongue in cheek, a bit like the videos by the British Olympic divers or Adidas Olympic heroes, but many of their American friends and colleagues didn’t really get the irony of it all. Perhaps they’ve got unknown British blood in them somewhere. Good humour, good sport, good racing, Daytona had it all.