The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona 2014 was held January 25-26 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. The 12-turn, 3.56-mile track is made up of portions of the NASCAR tri-oval and an infield road course.
The 52nd running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona maintained tension right to the finish as a yellow flag 20 minutes from the end shrank the gap between the leading cars. In a race of attrition that saw several top teams fall by the wayside in the closing hours, the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette Daytona Prototype snatched overall victory by a mere 1.461 seconds. In the Prototype Challenge class, the ORECA FLM 9 of CORE Autosport took the class victory, while in GT Le Mans and GT Datyona, it was #911 Porsche 911 RSR of Porsche North America and #555 Level 5 Motorsport’s Ferrari 458 Italia that topped the podium in their respective classes.
The race featured 52 lead changes, with the winning Action Express team leading 18 times for 313 laps, and the Wayne Taylor Racing team 12 times for 228 laps. The winning team completed 695 laps on the 3.56-mile circuit, covering 2,474.2 miles for the team owned by Daytona Beach businessman Bob Johnson.
This year’s race was marred in the early going by a horrific crash when Memo Gidley – driving the pole-winning No. 99 GAINSCO Corvette DP – rear-ended the disabled No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia driven by Matteo Malucelli. Both drivers were taken to nearby Halifax Hospital, where they are undergoing treatment. The race was red-flagged for 55:45 minutes after the incident.
As their opponents licked their wounds following an intense 24 hours, the Action Express driver line-up of Portuguese native Joao Barbosa, Brazilian Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastian Bourdais from France celebrated. A winner ten years ago, Fittipaldi hoped his third victory would not take so long. For Bourdais, born in Le Mans, this was his first 24-hour race win: “It’s one of those big races that you just want on your resume. The guys were prepared. Everybody knew exactly what to do and how to do it, and the execution was perfect. It’s a heck of a feeling and I couldn’t be any happier.”
Team principal Bob Johnson, celebrating his second overall win at the Rolex 24 At Daytona was quick to praise the efforts of second-placed Wayne Taylor Racing: “If we didn’t have competitors like the #10 car it wouldn’t be as much fun.”
For Johnson, though, overall victory and his second car finishing third was proof of a job well done: “It sounds arrogant to say I expected to win, but I knew the resources, talent and assets we had, how hard they had worked, how well our drivers had gelled. We had run every session of every test and for the most part were the fastest. That gave me every indication we had something going here.”
Joao Barbosa, member of the 2010 overall winning team, was clear too that this win did not happen overnight: “It took a lot of preparation.”
The enormity of the winner’s achievement may take a while to sink in, but the validation came as always at the final prize giving with the award of the Champion’s Trophy and the traditional Rolex Cosmograph Daytona.
In the Prototype Challenge class the battle was hard-fought even if the gap to the next car was over one lap. Three months after setting the all-time speed record on the 2.5-mile Daytona tri-oval, Colin Braun took his first Rolex 24 victory in Prototype Challenge. Braun swept to a one-lap triumph in the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA FLM09 with Jon Bennett, Mark Wilkins and James Gue.
Driver Braun felt the win was also down to the team’s preparation in the off-season: “We worked really hard to come up with a plan that we wanted to stick with. We came prepared and executed our plan. We were able to stay out of the pits and just stopping for tyres, gas and changing drivers.”
Enzo Potolicchio, Tom Kimber-Smith, Mike Marsal and Rob Huff took second in the No. 25 8Star Motorsports entry, followed by Ryan Booth, Raphael Matos, Tomy Drissi, Gabriel Casagrande and Julio Campos in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry.
Porsche factory pilots Richard Lietz (Austria), Nick Tandy (Great Britain) and Patrick Pilet (France) won the highly-competitive GT Le Mans class of the sports car classic in Florida with the Porsche 911 RSR run by the Porsche North America factory squad. With the 76th class win and the 40th for the Porsche 911, Porsche added to its record as the most successful manufacturer in the history of this race.
The margin of victory was under one second and British driver Nick Tandy seemed in shock at the post race press conference: “We were all strangers more or less when we came to the Test, but now at the end of this weekend we’re the champions. It just goes to show what a good job everybody has done within the team.”
The GT Daytona winning #555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia staked an early claim to their class title, hitting the front in the fifth hour of the race. The team looked relatively secure until dawn this morning when the challenge of #45 Flying Lizard Audi R8 LMS became a real threat.
For the next six hours the two cars traded places. Over the final two laps the pair raced side-by-side, neck and neck, culminating in a racing incident that saw the Audi R8 lose out in a tight battle for Turn 4 on the last lap. The race director imposed a time-penalty on the Level 5 Ferrari 458 Italia for ‘avoidable contact’, which enabled the #45 Audi R8 LMS of Audi customer team Flying Lizard Motorsports to take the checkered flag.
Upon further review, IMSA revised their original decision to impose a time-penalty on the #555 Ferrari 458 Italia. The #45 Audi R8 LMS, which had originally been declared as the winner of the race, was moved back to second place.
A full post-race review of the incident on the last lap of the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona was completed by IMSA Supervisory Officials. The decision has been made to reverse the decision by the race director, rescind the penalty against the No. 555 Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia team, and reinstate drivers Scott Tucker, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal and Alessandro Pier Giuidi as the GT Daytona class winners. We regret the confusion following the race, and appreciate the patience by our fans, drivers, teams and the media so we could properly review and subsequently report this decision.
While it was an unfortunate start to the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, most agree that race officials made the right call in the end. Romolo Liebchen, Head of Audi Sport customer racing: “It is unfortunate that the events after the race cast a shadow on a really great race in the Daytona GT class. Probably this race deserves two winners.”
David Hobbs served as Grand Marshal for 2014 edition of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Hobbs raced in the inaugural Daytona Continental, when the young British driver was among the drivers invited by Bill France Sr. to build an international field for the 1962 event. Within four years, that race grew to 24 hours, with Hobbs driving a Ford GT40 in two races. He won his class in 1981 in a BMW, and returned at the height of the IMSA GTP days to race Jaguar and Ford prototypes.
“I’ve always been a big sports car buff,” Hobbs said. “When I was a kid, the race I really wanted to win was the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The new TUDOR Championship and the unification is the best thing to happen to sports car racing in decades. This field is awesome. We have a fantastic field of drivers, and the cars are awesome. And the competition is unbelievably close! Coming here really brings me back to the days of the Ford GT40s vs. Ferraris, now we’re seeing those days again.”
Similar to 2013, photographer Mark Coughlin documented the racing action at the 2014 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, offering the following images that highlight the endurance race and the heritage racing exhibition.
Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona 2014 – Photo Gallery (click image for larger picture)