Vipers overturn form-book in closest-ever Daytona 24hr finish

The 38th Daytona 24-hour race has been won outright by the ORECA Chrysler Viper of Olivier Beretta, Karl Wendlinger and Dominque Dupuy. The much favoured and faster cars in the prototype category faded to give all three podium positions to the lesser GTO category. ORECA Vipers occupied three of the top five positions.

But it was no walkover for the winning car which only took the lead after 22 hours chasing the at first apparently invincible Riley & Scott Midhl prototype of James Weaver, Max Papis and Elliot Forbes-Robinson which had a colossal 13 lap lead by midnight. A cracked valve, however, allowed it to be overhauled, finally finishing fourth.

The real battle, however, was between the lead Viper and the number one Chevrolet Corvette of Justin Bell, Ron Fellows and Chris Kneifel which crossed the line a scant 30 sec after the Viper, making this the closest finish in the history of the race.

The much hyped debut of the Cadillac team showed signs of promise, with the car of Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger and Franck Lagorce actually leading the race only to retire in the closing stages with engine failure. Those looking for an early form guide to this year’s Le Mans will find much of interest in these results, particularly as Daytona is considered tougher on both car and driver than the Sarthe. Most noteworthy is the continuing reliability of the Vipers — the winning car experienced not a single fault from flag to flag — and the apparent fragility of the all-new Cadillac. Audi remains the joker in the pack; it was not present at Daytona and learned Le Mans the hard way in ’99. With no factory Toyota, BMW, Porsche, Nissan or Mercedes going to the Sarthe, now more than ever, it looks the team to beat. AF