It has been a little over a month since this year’s Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona. Rather than recap the racing action, I thought I’d reflect on the event. It was my first time at a 24 hour race and my first time at the Daytona International Speedway. Neither was what I expected.
The speedway is both larger and smaller than you expect. Imagine a super-sized baseball stadium, with all of the modern amenities you’ve come to expect over the last 20 years. Cut that stadium in the middle of center field and unwind it so it’s just one long straight, and bend it slightly around the start-finish line. I guess you would describe it as a flat C or “(“. Add seating for 100,000+ people, but only fill it with 5,000. Take another 40-50,000 people and scatter them throughout the infield. That’s the Rolex 24 crowd.
You can move freely from Grandstands to Infield, but allow 20-30 minutes for the trip as you have to exit the Grandstands and take a trolly (or walk) through the tunnel to get there. Consider driving and parking in your favorite care corral (BMW, Porsche, or Corvette) or signing up for a luxury package from Audi to enhance your experience. Grassroots Motorsports offers some excellent packages (we had the Stadium Ticket Package), and their Sunday morning breakfast may be the best bargain going.
The hardest thing is figuring out where you want to be. From high in the Grandstands you can see the entire track above turn 1. With an optional garage pass you can walk among the cars and mechanics in the garages. Your best close up views are in the infield (turns 3, 4, 5). RVs and campfires fill the infield. Most of the car clubs have tents with refreshments in the infield that provide a respite from the weather. You can’t really escape the noise, but you don’t want to either.
You do want to think about your strategy for the 24 hour period. The race starts in the afternoon and runs about 4 hours before it starts to get dark. The transition into sunset provides some of the best action. We stayed into the early evening and then came back early morning. We were staying over an hour away from the track and would stay closer next time. This year was interesting for the lack of extended caution periods or weather delays, but because IMSA got the balance of performance wrong, also didn’t have very exciting racing. It did set a record for most laps and longest distance run.
It is interesting to note that the previous track record from 1970 of 724 laps (2,758 miles) on the old road course (without the bus-stop) by a Porsche 917 in the top class was beaten by the Ford GTs in the GTLM class (2,787 miles). The 6th place Porsche RSRs, missed that record by only 3 miles. This is truly the golden age of sports car racing.
(See this link on Flickr for my photo gallery.)