Podium of Thoughts on 2019 24 Hours at Daytona
1. Rain, Rain, Go Away: Road racing has always prided itself as being able to run in all conditions, rain or shine. There have been examples in the past where races from Formula 1 down to Formula Vee and Prototypes down to sedans have gone on despite horrendous weather conditions.
However, as race cars have become more and more sophisticated with ultra stiff suspension and chassis, low ride heights which barely change, and aerodynamics that play havoc with water, it's becoming harder and harder to be able to race in the rain.
Even if the teams have time to set a car up for wet weather and excellent rain tires are available, there is only so much that be done before rain reaches the impossible to keep the car on the track stage. We see it in F1. We see it in Indy car. We see it in sports car.
Rare deluges and uncontrolled flooding is one thing, like the infamous 2002 Honda Indy 300 event or even this years Rolex 24 at Daytona. But, even before rain got to the flooding stage at Daytona, the full course yellow came out as cars were unable to navigate the track or see through the mist.
At times, the conditions turned the race into a crapshoot, added intrigue, and allowed us to witness some spectacular driving and passing. At other times, the conditions turned the track into a skating rink catching the best of drivers out, cars driving into other cars as drivers were blinded by the mist, making the race into a joke.
(Perhaps the quote of the year was by Richard Westbrook, when his Ford GT had to pit just before the red flag came out, going from winning GTLM to finishing fourth in class, "...to throw the red when they did is like a real kick in the nuts.")
The officials were in a no-win situation. Damned if they do and damned if they don't.
Ultimately, we race fans are just going to have to accept the fact that road racing as it exists today is no longer capable of running in all conditions, rain or shine.
It's now more like not too much rain or shine. Anything more, and we simply have to accept what oval racing fans have accepted forever.
2. Nice To Have Ringers: Wayne Taylor channeled George Steinbrenner when he went out and signed two of the fastest drivers in the world, forming a dream team for the Rolex 24.
Fernando Alonso was absolutely spectacular in the race. When he first took over the car as nightfall came, he moved from fifth to first in just 14 minutes. He took over the car again at night, and went from third to first in 35 minutes. Then, he was in the car in the worst of conditions, kept it on the track, eventually passing for the lead when the first place car slid wide in the first turn.
Then, there's Kamui Kobayashi, who is arguably the fastest of the two on the WEC Toyota team. When he took over the car already in the lead, he stretched the margin out to 35 seconds, turning in the fastest lap of the day for the Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R team.
Let's not forget the experience of Jordan Taylor, as he made a daring outbraking maneuver for the lead in torrential conditions. And Renger van der Zande's steady driving.
The experience of Wayne Taylor Racing also paid dividends. They understood endurance races are more often won by anticipating rather than reacting. Knowing the weather report and they didn't have the top speed in the dry due to the Balance of Performance, they set their car for when the rains came, and were clearly fastest at that point.
Sure, they just grabbed the lead when the red flag came out. But they can't be faulted for Felipe Nasr's mistake. Plus, seven laps before that, Alonso was heard on the radio saying the race should be stopped, which would have meant finishing second.
Quite frankly, in the morning hours, it was obvious Wayne Taylor Racing were the most deserving team. Thanks to experience, anticipation, and two ringers.
3. Don't Forget The Undercard: In the past, we have mostly ignored what was then called the Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge series. The races were okay, but nothing too thrilling.
Then, about halfway through the 2018 season, we started watching them on IMSA's Roku channel. Wow, have they changed. With the exception of Road Atlanta, they were all thrilling, entertaining, competitive races.
Now called the Michelin Pilot Challenge, the season opener at Daytona, one of only two four-hour events (the other will be Watkins Glen), was more of the same -- thrilling, entertaining, and competitive.
Not to say the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship isn't producing thrilling, entertaining, and competitive races. It is. But, you should also start paying attention to the Michelin Pilot Challenge series if you are not already.
After all, you could end up with a doubleheader of fun racing to watch.
Lobotomy of the Race Award: Rule number one in racing -- don't take out your teammate. The one rule that trumps that is don't take out your teammate on pit road!
Which is exactly what the Chevrolet Corvette Racing team did early in the race.
The rest of the race went downhill from there, ultimately ending in a sixth place GTLM finish for the No. 3 car, eight laps behind the class winner, and an eighth place finish for the No. 4 car, 16 laps down.
Special Mention: Alex Zanardi. How could it be anyone else? It's one thing to be as inspirational as he is. It's another thing to continuously top his inspiration by doing something even more inspirational. A truly remarkable man.
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