Rolex 24 Flashback: From the Record Book

Rolex 24

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As we head into this weekend’s 50th Anniversary Rolex 24, we’ve trawled the record books for a few records and superlatives (and whatever the opposite of “superlative” is) based on speeds, margins of victories and lead-lap finishers. Will any of these feats be matched or bettered this weekend? Better stay tuned and find out…

GREATEST MARGIN OF VICTORY – 49 LAPS (1979): A combination of their own uncontested pace, plus their rivals self-destructing around them, left Interscope Racing’s Porsche 935 and its drivers, Ted Field, Danny Ongais and Hurley Haywood, a full 49 laps clear of the field in 1979. Yet, despite their dominance, collective hearts skipped more than a few beats deep into the final hour. The 935’s turbocharger failed with 10 minutes remaining and Ongais, in a move reminiscent of Dan Gurney in the first three-hour Daytona Continental in 1962, parked it on the apron and only rolled across the flag once the countdown clock hit zeros. Honorable mention: The 1970 race had a 45-lap margin of victory, with three other years featuring 30 or more.

SMALLEST MARGIN OF VICTORY – 0.167 SEC (2009): In the first Daytona 24-hour contest that featured more than two cars on the lead lap at the checkered flag, David Donohue held off a tenacious charge from Chip Ganassi Racing’s Juan Pablo Montoya to secure the win for Brumos Racing – its first overall victory in the Rolex 24 since 1978. Honorable mention: Last year, the margin was the second closest at 2.426 seconds, but that was thanks to a final restart with less than five minutes remaining.

FASTEST ROLEX – 114.794 MPH AVERAGE (1982): Also the distance record, of course, the 1982 race won by John Paul Sr. and Jr. and Rolf Stommelen in a Porsche 935, covered 2,760.86 miles over the then-3.84-mile circuit, to average that record-breaking 114.794mph. In terms of race average speed, the 110mph barrier has only been eclipsed eight times, and only the 111.930mph mark set in 2010 has done so in the last 20 years. Last year’s average race speed was 106.877mph, compared to a pole speed of 128.033mph. The reduction in average pace from qualifying to the race mostly comes down to cautions and the weather. If it stays dry this weekend and the talent-packed DP starting field stays out of trouble and avoids getting intimate with the GT traffic (hey, that might be a big ask – see below…), could the 1982 mark finally be eclipsed?

CAUTIONARY TALES: Since the Daytona Prototypes made their Rolex 24 debut in 2003, there have been a total of 143 cautions for 955 laps in the race, which averages out at 16 cautions for 106 laps over the course of a typical (is there such a thing?) Rolex 24. However, the rain-drenched 2004 running contributed to 308 of those laps during nine caution periods. Exclude that from the total and the average number of cautions is still 16.75, but for only 80.8 laps. In the last four years, the race has had 24, 25, 16 and 23 cautions – roughly one per hour and loose change. As always, anticipating the number of yellows and doing the best to avoid being caught up in them will pay dividends in this year’s running. 

SLOWEST ROLEX 24 – 77.927 MPH (2004): Yes, you read it correctly, and it happened in one of the wettest Daytona race weekends on record. When an average speed is this slow (a full 15mph less than the next slowest, which was also rain affected), some pretty extreme and extenuating circumstances have to be in play. Rain fell for 18 of the 24 hours and led to an extended caution and red flag stoppage (nearly three hours, or 172 minutes to be more precise) that halted the race. Sunday morning, though, still saw a close finish as the leading Howard/Boss Motorsports Crawford-Chevrolet’s left-rear wheel broke with less than 20 minutes remaining. Slowly but surely, the Kodak/Bell Motorsports team picked up the scraps for the first DP overall win at the Rolex 24.

MOST WINS – HURLEY HAYWOOD, FIVE: Haywood signs off at this year’s Rolex 24 for his 40th start having set the benchmark with five overall victories. Four of those came in alternating odd years in the 1970s, with a fifth for good measure in 1991. All came in Porsches, with three in a 911 Carrera RSR, the 935 in 1979, and a 962 in ’91. He goes for another win with Brumos Racing in the GT class on this occasion. Honorable mentions: Pedro Rodriguez, Bob Wollek, Peter Gregg, Rolf Stommelen and Scott Pruett have four. Of that storied quintet, Pruett is sadly the lone guy still with us, and the Ganassi team’s enduring benchmark will be putting in his usual 100 percent effort to try and equal Haywood’s haul this weekend.

MOST CARS ON THE LEAD LAP – 4 (2009, 2011): Ganassi’s No. 01 car has been involved in both events, winning the 2011 edition and losing the 2009 one by that microscopic margin of 0.167sec. Ganassi’s second car also made it home on the lead lap a year ago, equaling the feat Brumos Racing pulled off in 2009 of getting two cars home and unlapped. SunTrust’s DP completed the 2009 quartet on the lead lap while, last year, Action Express and the jointly entered Michael Shank/United Autosports car also finished on the lead lap.

RACES WITH MULTIPLE CARS FINISHING ON THE LEAD LAP – 11: The first two runnings of a major international sports car race at Daytona featured three and two cars on the lead lap, respectively, but those were only three-hour events. It took until 1986 for the first 24-hour race where two cars finished on the lead lap, with the late Al Holbert taking the victory in the Lowenbrau Porsche 962, along with Derek Bell and Al Unser Jr. Five of the next 22 Rolex 24s saw a second car on the lead lap. The last three years have seen four, two and four cars on the lead lap at the end of 24 hours, a testament not only to the competitiveness, but also the durability of the current breed of DPs.

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