GRAND-AM Road Racing: 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona a Race for the Ages
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona was heralded as the most anticipated sports car race in North American motorsports history.
If anything, the event even exceeded those lofty expectations. Daytona International Speedway looked to sports car racing in its bid to live up to “The World Center of Racing” when it ran the first event now known as the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 1962.
Spectators rubbed shoulders with competitors throughout the weekend in GRAND-AM’s fan-friendly environment. The Daytona International Speedway infield reached its spectator infield camping capacity at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. General consensus: It was the largest crowd in the history of the event, with various attendance estimates by media members on hand ranging from 60,000-80,000.
The event buzz included the 50 Years of Champions celebration, in which 29 of the winning cars from the past paraded through the streets of Daytona Beach to the speedway, where they were reunited with 50 champion drivers. The race field included stars from NASCAR, open wheel, Formula One and international sports car racing.
“It was gratifying to see all the famous cars and drivers from the past coming together with the exciting new cars and many of today’s top competitors,” said GRAND-AM President Tom Bledsoe. “It was fantastic to see the new Daytona Prototypes and GT cars mixing it up at such an intense level for the entire race. It was a pleasure to see all the international drivers and media coming up to support the Rolex 24, once again showcasing GRAND-AM racing to the entire world.”
More than 100 members of the international media reported on a field including drivers from 28 different countries and five continents. The race was covered and streamed live in the United States by SPEED and SPEED.com along with world-wide coverage from Motors TV. Motor Racing Network teamed with MotorRacingNetwork.com to expand its broadcast coverage to 18 hours, with the racing broadcast supplemented globally by Radio Le Mans.
The racing was outstanding – with both classes going right down to the final lap.
Ford scored an overall podium sweep reminiscent of its historic victory in the 1966 Rolex 24, while Porsche topped a record 44-car GT field that included nine manufacturers – including new exotics from Ferrari and Audi built specifically for Rolex Series competition.
Michael Shank Racing’s new-generation Liveon.Com Ford/Riley prevailed in a battle that featured 49 lead changes among 22 drivers. NASCAR’s AJ Allmendinger and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson joining DP regulars Ozz Negri and John Pew in accepting the trophies and coveted Rolex Daytona Cosmographs after the race. Andy Lally, the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year, celebrated his return to the Rolex Series by joining Magnus Racing teammate John Potter, Richard Lietz and Rene Rast in prevailing in the GT class.
“GRAND-AM was truly in the international motorsports spotlight with the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24, and it was fantastic to see our new Daytona Prototypes and diverse GT field live up to the buildup with an outstanding event,” Bledsoe said. “Now we look to continue to build on this momentum throughout the 2012 racing season.”
The Rolex 24’s star-studded history includes an A-List of celebrity drivers, including Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Tim Allen, Jason Priestley, Craig T. Nelson and Bruce Jenner. Racing in the 50th Anniversary event were actor Patrick Dempsey, making his fourth Rolex 24 start, and by AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson. Other celebrities included singer/actress Reba McEntire, who watched her son, Shelby Blackstock, win the pole for Friday’s BMW Performance 200. Garth Stein, author of “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” mingled with both competitors and fans. Sir Jackie Stewart, a three-time Formula One World Champion, was a guest at the event and filled in for Grand Marshal A.J. Foyt, who was recovering from recent surgery.
Orianthi, former lead guitarist for the late Michael Jackson and Alice Cooper, joined blues guitarist Davey Knowles in a series of free concerts in the Sprint Fanzone throughout the weekend, one of many activities for the fans. Spectators got to race on the actual Daytona road circuit in Saturday morning’s 5K run/walk, or they could get a bird’s eye view of the racing action from the East Coast’s tallest Ferris wheel in the infield carnival. A chili cook-off, wine and cheese party, slot car races, the Taste of the 24 and giant autograph session were among the other ways families could enjoy the weekend.
The Rolex 24 At Daytona also kicked off the inaugural North American Endurance Championship presented by VISITFLORIDA.com. This unique competition also showcases the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen on July 1 at Watkins Glen International. It concludes with the Super Weekend at the Brickyard on July 27, GRAND-AM’s first competition at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Next up on the 13-race GRAND-AM Rolex Series schedule will be the Porsche 250 on Saturday, March 31, at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. All Rolex Series races are televised on SPEED and Motors TV, and broadcast on the Motor Racing Network.
Source: GRAND-AM Road Racing