The 24 Hours of Daytona, currently known as the Rolex 24 At Daytona for sponsorship reasons, is a 24-hour sports car endurance race held annually at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is run on a 3.56-mile combined road course, utilizing portions of the NASCAR tri-oval and an infield road course. Since its inception, it has been held on the last weekend of January or first weekend of February as part of Speedweeks, and it is the first major automobile race of the year in the United States. It is also the first race of the season for the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Shortly after the track opened, on April 5, 1959, a six-hour/1000 kilometer USAC-FIA sports car race was held on the road course. Count Antonio Von Dory and Roberto Mieres won the race in a Porsche, shortened to 560.07 miles due to darkness. The race utilized a 3.81-mile layout, running counter-clockwise.
In 1962, a few years after the track was built, a 3-hour sports car race was introduced. Known as the Daytona Continental, it counted towards the FIA’s new International Championship for GT Manufacturers. The first Continental was won by Dan Gurney, driving a 2.7L Coventry Climax-powered Lotus 19. Gurney was a factory Porsche driver at the time, but the 1600-cc Porsche 718 was considered too small and slow for what amounted to a sprint race on a very fast course.
Unlike the Le Mans event, the Daytona race is conducted entirely over a closed course within the speedway arena without the use of any public streets. Most parts of the steep banking are included, interrupted with a chicane on the back straight and a sweeping, fast infield section which includes two hairpins. Unlike Le Mans, the race is held in wintertime, when nights are at their longest. There are lights installed around the circuit for night racing, although the infield section is still not as well-lit as the main oval.
The first 24 Hour event in 1966 was won by Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby driving a Ford Mk. II. Motor Sport reported: For their first 24-hour race the basic organization was good, but the various officials in many cases were out of touch, childish and lacked the professional touch which one now finds at Watkins Glen. After having lost in 1966 at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans to the Fords, the Ferrari P series prototypes staged a 1–2–3 side-by-side parade finish at the banked finish line in 1967. The Ferrari 365 GTB/4 road car was given the unofficial name Ferrari Daytona in celebration of this victory.
Lola finished 1–2 in the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona. The winning car was the Penske Lola T70-Chevrolet of Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons. Few spectators witnessed the achievement as Motor Sport reported: “The Daytona 24-Hour race draws a very small crowd, as can be seen from the empty stands in the background.
Grand American and Daytona Prototypes
After several ownership changes at IMSA which changed the direction the organization followed, it was decided by the 1990s that the Daytona event would align with the Grand-Am series, a competitor of the American Le Mans Series, which, as its name implies, uses the same regulations as the Le Mans Series and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Grand Am series, though, is instead closely linked to NASCAR and the original ideas of IMSA and focused on controlled costs and close competition.
In order to make sports car racing less expensive than elsewhere, new rules were introduced in 2002. The dedicated Daytona Prototypes use less expensive materials and technologies and the car’s simple aerodynamics reduce the development and testing costs. The DPs began racing in 2003 with six cars in the race.
The Gran Turismo class cars at Daytona are closer to the road versions, similar to the GT3 class elsewhere. For example, the more standard Cup version of the Porsche 996 is used, instead of the usual RS/RSR racing versions. Recent Daytona entries also include BMW M3s and M6s, Porsche 911s, Chevy Camaros and Corvettes, Mazda RX-8s, Pontiac GTO.Rs, and Ferrari F430 Challenges. The Audi R8 and the Ferrari 458 Italia debuted in the 50th anniversary of the race in 2012.
From the era of the IMSA GTO and GTU until the 2015 rule changes, spaceframe cars clad in lookalike body panels to compete in GT. These rules are similar to the old GTO specification, but with more restrictions. The intent of spaceframe cars is to allow teams to save money, especially after crashes, where teams can rebuild the cars for the next race at a much lower cost, or even redevelop cars, instead of having to write off an entire car after a crash or at the end of a year.
The 2013 race was the first and only year for the GX class. Six cars started in the event. The class consisted of purpose built production Porsche Cayman S and Mazda 6 racecars. Mazda debuted their first diesel racecar there which is the first time a diesel fuel racecar ever started at the Daytona 24. Throughout the race the Caymans were dominant, while all three Mazdas suffered premature engine failure and retired from the race. By a 9 lap lead, the 16 Napleton Porsche Cayman, driven by David Donohue, was the GX winner.
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