|The 2016 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona was a race for the ages. A new era of GT racing starts here. With all new cars from Corvette, Ferrari, BMW, and Ford, as well as an updated Porsche, the bar was set high and the competition delivered.|
In the off-season, the voices of fans and teams were heard. The BoP practices IMSA had been using were not working. As Doug Fehan explained at a Corvette owners meet and greet over the weekend, GM opened up their wind tunnel to IMSA and tests were run on every car (in 2014 trim). The information was shared with all the manufactures, and some not-so surprising results were found. IMSA, with the collaboration with the ACO, have now come up with a new balance of performance process. A new proprietary scrutineering data logger system, mandatory on all GTLM and GTD cars, that measures various things such as RPM, throttle position and airbox pressure. According to Fehan, these data loggers cost approximately $18,000 USD per car. All of the manufactures are extremely excited about this, and judging by the car to car performance from this race...it works very well.
Practice 1, 2, 3 and Qualifying were all in rain conditions. Corvettes qualified 6th and 8th, but never really tried to lay down a lap time due to the conditions.
Photo Credit: Marshall Pruett
The hype coming into the weekend was all about Ford's return to GT racing with the new GT. Chip Ganassi Racing has been testing the new car for months, and showed that they had the pace in the pre-race practice sessions, but there is no replacement for real race experience for new car development. Both Fords were out of contention within the first hour with mechanical and electrical issues. Both cars were repaired but continued to have problems throughout the 24hrs.
Throughout the afternoon, evening, and into the night, battles ensued up and down the GTLM field. Every manufacture lead the race multiple times.
At the 13 hour mark, the #3 Corvette was turned around by former team mate Olivier Beretta in the #62 Ferrari, pushing Jan Magnussen back to P8. The #3 team fought back through the night and eventually got back to the front of the field.
Photo Credit: Jamey Price
Hours 18, 19 and 20, both Corvettes lead the field 1-2 until in hour 20 Marcel Fassler in the #4 Corvette ran the red light at pit exit during a full course caution period, prompting a stop plus 60 second hold penalty. Fassler owner his mistake, took the penalty, and was pushed to the back of the GTLM field, but still on the end of the lead lap. Later a safety car came out, allowing the #4 to close the gap the the rest of the GTLM field, and it was game on.
Photo Credit: Sput Dodge - Sports Car Unleashed
With about an hour left, and final pit stops completed, the race was on between the #912 Porsche, #4 Corvette, and #3 Corvette. Oliver Gavin in the #4 Corvette pushed to the maximum. Earl Bamber in the #912 Porsche involuntarily conceded the position at the International Horseshoe after Gavin snuck the Corvettes nose in and bumped the Porsche wide.
"Earl and I were racing hard. There were a couple times were I slammed on the brakes and I just managed to miss him," Gavin said. "I knew that we were quicker, our car was better, and it was getting towards the end of the race. The gloves are off. I just left my braking a little too late and he opened the door a tiny bit and so I stuck my nose in there."
Antonio Garcia overtook the Porsche as well, putting Gavin in his cross-hairs. The question on everyone's mind wasn't whether or not Garcia could catch him, but would the team let them race when he does.
Photo Credit: Corvette Racing (Twitter)
"As soon as he passed the Porsche, I asked my engineer 'how this is going to work?' He tells me that Doug (Fehen) says we're clear to race, as long as we race clean and fair," explained Gavin.
Gavin and Garcia proceed to produce some of the most nail-biting entertainment ever seen on a race track.
"I knew if we had an incident, we’d be in really hot water. But racing Antonio is so much fun, he’s hard, he’s tough, but he’s fair. He’s a really good friend, so it’s really fun racing against him. It got really close a few times, but it was so much fun. A great race.”
Garcia scoped out Gavin for several laps, but was unable to make a pass until he made a bold move on the outside of the front stretch. Garcia made the pass, but overcooked the entry to turn 1 and Gavin slipped right back by. As the checkard flag came out and the Corvettes came around, Garcia made one more desperate attempt on the high side the the Daytona banking. Gavin crossed the finish line with a margin of victory of 0.034 seconds. The closest in class finish ever at Daytona.
“What you saw today was simply the two best road racers in the world with the two best cars in the world,” said Doug Fehan. “You’d be hard pressed to find a better race than this. You don’t spend 23.5 hours working this hard and not let those guys continue to race.”
VIDEO: Gavin & Garcia Battle for Victory at 2016 Daytona 24hr
Photo Credit: GM Media