Race Profile – 24 Hours of Daytona

The 47th running of the 24 Hours of Daytona will take place January 24-25 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The 24 Hours of Daytona is a 24-hour sports car endurance race held annually on the 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 the last weekend of January or first weekend of February, and it is the first major automobile race of the year in the United States.

In 1962, a few years after Daytona International Speedway was built, a 3-hour sports car race was introduced, the Daytona Continental, which counted towards the World Sportscar Championship. The first Continental was won by Dan Gurney driving a Lotus 19.

In 1964, the event was expanded to 2000 km (1220 miles), doubling the classic 1000 km distance of races at Nürburgring, Spa and Monza. The distance amounted to roughly the half of the distance the 24 Hours of Le Mans winners covered at the time and was similar in length to the Sebring 12 hour race, which was also held in Florida a few weeks later in the year. Starting in 1966, the Daytona race was extended to the same 24 hour length as Le Mans.

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. Additionally, 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. However, the stadium lights are turned on only to a level of 20%, similar to the stadium lighting setup at Le Mans, with brighter lights around the pit straight and decent lighting similar to street lights around the circuit.

A car must cross the finish line after 24 hours to be classified, which leads to dramatic scenes where damaged cars wait in the pits or on the edge of the track close to the finish line for hours, then restart their engines and crawl across the finish line one last time in order to finish after the 24 hours and be listed with a finishing distance, rather than dismissed with DNF (Did Not Finish). This was the case in the initial 1962 Daytona Continental (then 3 hours), in which Dan Gurney’s Lotus had established a lengthy lead when the engine failed with just minutes remaining. Gurney stopped the car at the top of the banking, just short of the finish line. When the three hours had elapsed, Gurney simply cranked the steering wheel to the left (toward the bottom of the banking) and let gravity pull the car across the line, to not only salvage a finishing position, but actually win the race. This led to the international rule requiring a car to cross the line under its own power in order to be classified. Ironically, Gurney himself fell afoul of the new rule at the Sebring 12 Hours in 1966, when the engine in his race-leading Ford GT failed with two minutes remaining. Gurney, in his frustration, attempted to push his car across the line, leading to his disqualification.

Daytona Heritage Race
Another annual event is the Daytona Heritage vintage racing exhibition which takes place before the running of the modern 24 Hours of Daytona. Here is the 2009 Daytona Heritage Exhibition Entry List.

[Source: Wikipedia; photo credit Al Wolford]