The 2019 racing season is officially upon us, but unfortunately mother nature didn’t care about us gear heads who were getting antsy about seeing one of the greatest tests of man and machine that exists — the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
I get absolutely stoked by the twice-around-the-clock race at Daytona every January. I guess the obsession began with Speed Channel’s 24-hour coverage for the 2001 edition of the event. Sure at 13, I had heard about the Rolex 24 before, but I had never given myself an opportunity to be fully immersed in it.
As a kid getting to see my hero — Dale Earnhardt Sr. — drive in one of endurance racing’s most iconic events was all I needed to finally check out this incredible race. 24-hours of straight coverage was just the icing on the cake.
I sat there glued to my television watching every moment of that 2001 race, and it was incredible.
Sunday’s edition of the race, seemed to be heading to iconic status as well. Until, mother nature intervened.
Throughout the first half of the race, this race had it all.
There was the heart-string tugging story line of Alex Zanardi returning to race in America for the first time since he lost his legs in an IndyCar crash in 2001. Zanardi would run in the No. 24 BMW in the GTLM class.
Also, there was an all-female driver team in GTD. Led by Katherine Legge, the four-women were to drive the No. 57 Acura.
On top of these story lines — and numerous others — was an intense battle for the overall race victory.
It looked like the overall win would be a bitter battle between Wayne Taylor Racing’s Cadillac entry and Team Penske’s Acura cars. And for the most part, it was. When the two Mazda entries suffered their rough fates, it really put the Cadillac and Acura teams in a league of their own for a large portion of the event.
Along the way, Penske’s No. 6 team fell by the wayside, leaving the Taylor No. 10 and Penske No. 7 to wage war for the win.
However as the rain began to fall through the early portions of the morning, a new team emerged as a true contender for the win. The No. 31, another Cadillac DPI, Whelen Engineering’s lone entry.
I know, the No. 31 led a few laps in the first half of the event, but that team didn’t truly come on strong until the end of the event.
With less than three hours remaining in the race, the No. 31 — driven by Felipe Nasr at the time — held the lead. But in ultra-soggy conditions, that were leading to a ton of off course excursions by several in the field, Alonso was chasing down the lead.
Then, on lap 591 Nasr went way wide in turn one as a result of intense puddling from rain water. As he collected the car Alonso went by for the lead. Although there were a couple of hours left in the event, this would ultimately be the pass for the win.
Four laps later, the race was halted due to track conditions. The red flag was never relinquished.
It was awesome to see Alonso add a Rolex win to his resume, but it was such a let down for weather to ruin what had been an epic battle for the lead for nearly 20 hours. It was also a let down for the other battles for class wins as the GTLM and GTD classes were locked into battles where several cars in each were just seconds apart from each other.
As a guy who covers races all year long that last only three to five hours each, it’s weird to admit this but once the race was called, I felt empty. I wanted more. I wanted to watch Alonso attempt to keep Nasr at bay. I wanted to see if Alexander Rossi could reel the top-two in to add to his legacy as an Indy 500 champion.
I wanted to watch the vicious battles in GTLM and GTD for the wins in those classes. I wanted so much more.
But it wasn’t to meant to be as mother nature — as always — doesn’t care about race fan’s needs.
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