GRAND-AM Road Racing: The World Comes To Daytona – Rolex 24 Plays Central Role In Making Daytona the ‘World Center of Racing’
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - When Bill France Jr. built Daytona International Speedway in the late 1950s, part and parcel to his vision was ensuring the race track had an international reputation.
More than 50 years later, the Rolex 24 At Daytona continues to play an integral role in making Daytona the undisputed “World Center of Racing.” This weekend’s 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 will include drivers representing at least 28 different countries and five continents. It will be viewed on television all over the world, in many cases live. And it will also include five “international” manufacturers racing alongside vehicles representing the United States’ big three automakers. As a result, the event has attracted a worldwide media contingent.
Among those manufacturers will be Ferrari and Audi, which are both launching new, factory supported Rolex Series programs at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. In the lead-up to the race, the presence of Ferrari and Audi has been palpable.
“Ferraris bring Italians, Audis bring Germans, drivers and participants,” said GRAND-AM Managing Director of Racing Operations Mark Raffauf. “It’s bringing a huge number of people to Daytona that haven’t been here before.”
Audi and Ferrari add to an impressive manufacturer list that also includes Porsche, BMW, Mazda, Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge. Those eight manufacturers are all hungry for the bragging rights a Rolex 24 victory would bring. And it appears all eight have a real opportunity of doing just that.
“The number of manufacturers and teams that could win has never been as great as this,” Raffauf said. “There may have been fields with more cars and more prototypes and all that, but the competition was always between three or four cars.
“This year in GT, any one of 25 or 30 of the 45 cars can win the race. In DP, certainly the top 10 or 11 are winning cars.”
The increase in participation is due in large part to a concerted effort over the past several years by GRAND-AM to provide new opportunities for international manufacturers to get involved.
Those opportunities could expand even further in the near future if GRAND-AM’s efforts to bring a version of Europe’s popular DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, which translated means “German Touring Car Masters”) are successful. Another key step of that process will take place this weekend.
“Joining us throughout the weekend will be Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Philipp Berkessy, who are the two principals of a company called ITR, which manages and promotes DTM across Europe,” said GRAND-AM Managing Director of Manufacturer and Series Development, Dave Spitzer. “They are coming to the Rolex 24 to meet with us and members of the NASCAR board to further strengthen the relationships that we have built over the last two years. That’s a really key concept of getting to know each other, because what is being contemplated is an extraordinary relationship and investment on the part of the manufacturers.”
The manufacturers are only one piece of this weekend’s international puzzle. As mentioned earlier, drivers from all over the globe have descended upon Daytona for their shot at glory.
Among them is a strong contingent of drivers from Latin America, which is seeing resurgence this year.
“Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, 25 to 30 percent of the field for this race came from Latin America and South America,” Raffauf said. “For a long time, this was the race to go to in this hemisphere and now people are starting to come back to it from the south. That’s also a good thing, because there are a lot of good racers down there.”
International participants bring with them international media coverage and guests. Journalists from as far away as Japan, Brazil and the United Kingdom will be on hand to cover the Rolex 24, while thousands of international visitors are expected at the race.
The 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona will certainly have a huge international feel, perhaps larger than ever this year. But it’s had it to some degree dating all the way back to the first sports car race at Daytona International Speedway in 1962, and it’s what continues to make the Rolex 24 special.
“If you go back and look at all the great drivers who have been here to compete at this event, this truly is unique,” said GRAND-AM co-founder Jim France, Bill France Sr.’s son. “I don’t think you could find any race in the world that brings together the diverse, absolutely top talent from so many different types of motorsports in one race.
“We’ve done it consistently over the year, where we get the best endurance drivers, the best sports car drivers, the best open-wheel drivers, the best stock car drivers, and there’s always some group of those drivers all mixed up in that field. There’s just no event that I know of that matches it.”
Source: GRAND-AM Road Racing