Text and Photography by Bryce Womeldurf
It all started as a quick decision. The Wednesday before the annual 24 hour race in Daytona, I decided to attend the Rolex24. This year’s race would be the racing debut of the new Ford GT supercar, and there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to capture some photographs of it. Little did I know it would be such an exciting and unusual race.
My aging camera is soon to be due for replacement and I didn’t want a lack of low light performance to ruin any shots, which is especially vital in a 24 hour race. However, there was no time to order something new before the race. I was just fortunate enough that a newer and higher quality Nikon D800 was available locally to rent for the weekend. I picked up the D800 with a Sigma 150-500mm lens and off we went.
The race began with a pleasantly cool and overcast Saturday. I was struck by the massiveness of Daytona International Speedway. The colossal stands, recently renovated, offered an excellent view from which to capture images. My wife and I arrived at the track shortly before the race was to begin. This wasn’t our first endurance race, but it was our first 24 hour and our first time at Daytona International Speedway. Optimistically thinking I’d just be able to stay up all night watching and photographing everything, I didn’t bother to make arrangements to camp. How hard could it be? Twenty four hours, it turns out, is a lot of time… time for things to not go as planned, but we’ll get to that later.
Nearly Two Dozen Ford GTs on Display
Reflections of a Gulf-liveried past
Some of the close to two dozen Ford GTs in attendance with the GTX1 on the left
As the sun was beginning to set on Saturday, the parking lot was buzzing with excitement with a showing of nearly two dozen 2005-2006 Ford GTs including a very rare aftermarket targa variant known as the GTX1. If you follow HoonArt, you may have seen this car before when I spotted it at the duPont Registry in St Pete. Of course the popular Gulf livery was on display as well. You forget after not seeing the GT for a while just how exotic they look. It was a sight to behold and definitely the largest collection of Ford GTs I’ve ever seen. It was an honor and a privilege to be there to see them.
It had rained the Friday before the race, so qualifying laps had been tricky for all of the teams. This had led some cars, such as the DeltaWing and the new Ford GTs, to play things safe. The DeltaWing didn’t even really risk qualifying, choosing to start from the back to ensure they’d have a viable car on Saturday.
DeltaWing Flies to the Front but is Taken Out All Too Soon
This image was captured just moments before the DeltaWing had its race-ending collision with the stalled #8 Starworks Motorsports Prototype Challenge car.
Ah, the DeltaWing. A unique concept that most either love or hate. I root for them but they’ve unfortunately had some bad luck with mechanical issues in the past. Not so at the Rolex24, at least not in the usual way. Early in the race, the #0 Panoz DeltaWing was running so well with Katherine Legge at the wheel that it went from the back of the field to the leaders at the front. Unfortunately, disaster would soon strike as it too often does for the DeltaWing, when the #8 Starworks Motorsports Prototype Challenge car stalled out in a dark section of track in turn 1. Andy Meyrick, in his stint of driving in the DeltaWing, was unable able to see the stalled prototype in time to avoid a collision and plowed right into the back of the #8 prototype.
This was just as I was up in the stands focused in on turn 6, just to the right of turn 1. Both drivers fortunately survived and the #8 would be repaired and go on to finish 4th, but the DeltaWing’s race was done.
“When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.”
– Steve McQueen
Later on I would spot another Starworks prototype in the garage area; the #88 with Sean Johnston sitting in it, seeming to be waiting while repairs were made. The old Steve McQueen Le Mans quote came to mind, that “When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.” Judging by the time this was taken, this was to repair the car after a spin due to cold tires. That car would return to the race but would not end up finishing, due to damage from hitting a wall a few hours later.
Ford GT Makes a Valiant Effort but Falls Short
When you’re at a race like this, there is so much noise, even with ear plugs in, that it can be difficult to hear what the announcers are saying. Concentrating on getting the best images I could, it was hard to tell who was where for much of the time, but it seemed as though the two new Ford GTs were in and out of the garage for much of the night. I later learned that they had both suffered some mechanical setbacks in this first race, taking them out of contention early. Between the two of them, they suffered through a brake problem, transmission trouble, and a flat tire.
During one of these mishaps, I happened to be photographing from up above the garages. I caught a photo looking down on the #67 Ford GT just as it was leaving to go back out on track. It seemed to suffer the most out of the two. But with this being their first time out, just finishing the 24 hours in one piece is a good start.
About That Staying Up All Night Idea…
Check out that smoke over the crowd. This was taken from above the garages.
The night wore on and as we were in the infield, the fireworks show began. The infield was quite smoky already, with many folks camping out, cooking food, and burning wood to stay warm. With the fireworks, the smoke got more dense. Around 11pm, we had to leave the track for a few hours. With the combination of smoke and possibly an over-indulgence of salty track food, my night of endurance racing photography had come to a sudden halt with the arrival of a screaming migraine headache. It was possibly the worst headache I’d had in years. A few hours sleep did little to cure it, but with enough water, coffee, and over the counter pain killers, it eventually subsided and we returned to the track.
New Cars and Classics on Display
The smell of fireworks still hung thick in the air as we returned to the infield. Right off the bat there was a heritage display of vintage cars that I wanted to return to in the Sprint Fan Zone. It was too dark to shoot there the night before, but then all of a sudden, they began to roar to life. While I would not get the photos in the way I’d planned, this was actually more interesting. We’d get to see them actually move under their own power. There was a BMW 3.0 CSL, Shelby Daytona Coupe (possibly a replica) and GT350, the Jägermeister Porsche 935 K3, Lotus Cortina and Elan, among other legends, and all I could do was shoot, shoot, shoot, to try and capture it all while trying not to get run over. You know, the usual?
Moving along through the midway, I was able to see a display of the new high performance Fords including the Ford GT, Mustang GT350, and the long awaited Focus RS. The Lamborghini area featured the new Aventador SV.
It wasn’t all new vehicles either. Over at BMW was another Lamborghini-involved vehicle (they designed it), the classic M1. You could also spot rare and exciting classics parked or idling through traffic as we made our way back to the stands. Some of these included a number of Volkswagen Microbuses, a very track-prepared Porsche 911, and a good old Ferrari 308GTS.
A Rough Morning
As the sun rose, the cars were really beginning to show how damaging it was to run all night. Some had dropped out at this point with damage too significant to repair while others continued on with pieces of the car body flapping loose from the sides or taped back together.
A Great Race to the Very End
After some initial trouble in the bus stop, early on in the race, the #2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Honda Performance Development Ligier JS P2 was driven to overall victory and first place among the Prototype class with much of the charge to the front credited to the quick Brazilian driver Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani.
A few of the 911s had kept it together pretty well throughout the night, but towards the end, the #44 Audi Tire Center Magnus Racing Audi R8 won the GTD class on fumes. It was being towed into pits after the race, so it likely ran out of gas right after winning.
The Prototype Challenge race was fairly free of drama, at the front at least, with the #85 Hi-Tide Boat Lifts/Red Line Oil JDC-Miller Motorsports Chevrolet Oreca FLM09 winning by 4 laps.
The real action and the moment that I will always remember about my first visit to the Rolex 24 at Daytona is the GTLM finish. Both of the Corvette C7.Rs were on the hunt for the 911s, which I had been rooting for. They passed the 912 and the best thing was that they didn’t just stop racing and play it safe from then on. Despite being on the same team, they kept racing right up through the checkered flag! Crossing over the finish line together, the margin of victory was less than a car length at a mere .034 seconds.
What an exciting end to a great race. I really enjoyed the Rolex 24 and can’t wait until next year, or for that matter, the 12 Hours of Sebring, which is coming up soon. Keep an eye on HoonArt for coverage of that race as well. Until then, congratulations to all of the winners of the Rolex 24!
Images © 2016 HOONART/Bryce Womeldurf. Want to see these images at a larger size? Check out the full Flickr album and watch my 500px feed.
Additionally, I got to meet another fellow hoon, Greg Kachadurian, from Hooniverse. Check his article out on the Rolex 24 over at Hooniverse.