Rolex 24 Flashback: Andy Wallace's Daytona Memories
Andy Wallace navigating the challenging road course at Daytona International Speedway.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Andy Wallace has done it all at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The stalwart sports car pro has won the race no fewer than three times, he's been on the overall podium on a further two occasions and notched up a class win to boot. And, like all long-distance regulars, he's also experienced the heartache of the near-miss.
Wallace famously won the 24 Hours at Le Mans at his first attempt in 1988. Remarkably, the victory he took for Jaguar together with Jan Lammers and Johnny Dumfries was only his third sports car start. He finished in the runner-up position in next 24-hour appearance six months later at Daytona and went on to win the U.S. endurance classic at his second attempt a year later.
Jaguar dominated Daytona 1990. The V12-engined XJR-12 wasn't the fastest car over one lap of the Speedway, but in the race, it outperformed and outlasted its rivals. Just.
The Nissans and Porsches that had qualified ahead of the TWR-run Jaguars all ran into problems early in the race, so much so that two Jags were at the top of the leaderboard as early as the second hour. That year's Rolex 24 turned into a two-horse race between the Jaguars driven by Wallace, Lammers and Davy Jones and its sister car shared by Martin Brundle, John Nielsen and Price Cobb. Only, the British cars were facing a problem of their own: their production-based V12 engines were overheating.
"All the sand and track debris that you get at Daytona was bending the little fins in the radiator; in later years we had a tea-strainer affair fitted ahead of the rad," remembers Wallace. "We were doing all the normal things like spraying water on the radiator during pit stops and recharging the system, but it didn't really work.
"We even tried running without the tail section, but that didn't lose us as much heat as we'd hoped. I'm sure the only reason that both cars got to the end was their massive oil tanks. I think the quantity of oil was enough to prevent the engines going pop."
One memory that stands out from that first victory is running in tandem with teammate Brundle, who had just stepped down from Formula 1 for a full year with the TWR-Jaguar sports car team.
"We had been racing and switching places regularly when we came upon a wall of Porsches between NASCAR Turns 3 and 4. There was no way through, but Martin thought we were not having that, so he dived down onto the apron. There's a massive transition from the 31-degree banking onto a flat surface.
"There were sparks everywhere and then he smashed back up onto the banking. That, I remember thinking, wasn't a good idea in a 24-hour race.
"Another 500 or 600 yards down the road, he had to lift and I had the momentum to pass him. I had a chat with him afterward, and he said, "I don't know what I was thinking; I reckon I was still in F1 mode."
Wallace might have followed up on his first Daytona triumph within a couple of years. He was part of Dan Gurney's All American Racers squad that scored back-to-back victories in 1992-93. The Brit, however, was in the wrong car each time. His Eagle-Toyota started from the front row in both years, but failed to make the finish on either occasion.
"I know everyone says this, but if you are in the winning team you are part of the victory," he says. "You probably have some involvement in the set-up of the winning car and if you are delayed, you might find yourself scrubbing in tires for your teammates. Anyway, the victories were shared around – we won at Sebring in 1992 and '93".
One squad where Wallace was very much part of a team was Dyson Racing. He played a part in its two Daytona victories, perhaps most famously in 1997 when he was one of seven drivers who climbed aboard Dyson's winning Ford-powered Riley & Scott over the course of the race.
"We'd lost our car [with engine problems], and after a shower back at the hotel, we [Wallace and co-drivers James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger] went back to the track to see if we could cheer the boys on. They were being hounded by a Ferrari, and the cool thing was that we could throw in three fresh drivers."
The Riley & Scott MkIII, in which Wallace would also triumph at Daytona in 1999 with Leitzinger and Elliott Forbes-Robinson, stands as one of Wallace's all-time favorite race cars.
"That car was designed for U.S.tracks and it was brilliant everywhere, but its Achilles heel was that it only really worked with one downforce and drag level. It didn't work if you trimmed it out for some reason.
"That meant you went to Daytona pretty much knowing that you were going to have a 10mph deficit to your rivals up on the banking. When we were racing against the Ferrari 333SP that was a killer. When you saw one coming, you knew it was coming past no matter where you put the car.
"They didn't have the downforce we had and that was a killer in the night when it was cold and slippery. All the Ferrari driver used to make mistakes, but you could put the R&S anywhere. It didn't matter how sideways you got it, you could always get it back."
One that got away was the 2004 race. Wallace was paired with NASCAR stars Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr in a works-run Crawford-Chevrolet DP03 under the Howard-BOSS Motorsports banner and came within 16 minutes of victory.
The trio had led from the seventh hour and were still ahead in the closing minutes despite a series of unscheduled stops after Stewart complained of a vibration. Then, the left rear suspension broke, sending a wheel flying down the track and the car into the wall.
Wallace is one of a select band of drivers to have triumphed the 24-hour classics at both Daytona and Le Mans, and he's one of only 10 to have completed the unofficial Triple Crown of endurance racing by winning outright at Daytona, Le Mans and the Sebring 12 Hours. The challenges presented by the twice around the clock races on either side of the Atlantic couldn't be more different, he says.
"They are demanding in different ways," says Wallace, who has 42 24-hour starts to his name at Daytona and Le Mans. "Daytona is physically harder, but Le Mans is more mentally challenging.
"Daytona is all about full on wheel-to-wheel racing. With so many cars on a circuit measuring three and a half miles, you are in and out of traffic all the time. You don't have that at Le Mans, but what you have are very high speeds. If you make a slight miscalculation on your speeds, the consequences can be disastrous."
Wallace hasn't contested the 24 Hours at Daytona since 2009 and he hasn't got a ride for the 50th anniversary event, but he's aiming to make his 22nd appearance in the great race on Jan. 28-29.
"A few possibilities have fallen through," he says, "but I haven't given up yet."
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