Following 24 of the most closely contested hours in race history, and with one of the deepest fields ever, Magnus Racing took their historic first victory in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series by taking the checkered flag at the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
As the signature event of the series, and featuring 45 cars in the GT category, the hype behind the 50th Anniversary was shaping the twice-around-the-clock classic to possibly be the best ever. As the event unfolded, the race definitely exceeded expectations, as the race saw three different cars finish on the lead lap in the DP category, and a narrow margin of victory in GT. Following an amazing three-way battle between the Brumos Racing no. 59 and TRG no. 67 Porsches, the Magnus Racing no. 44 of John Potter, Andy Lally, Richard Lietz and Rene Rast emerged victorious, as part of a three-way Porsche sweep of the podium.
“I’ve never been here, and I don’t know what to say,” stated a stunned John Potter. “We’ve come so close to winning, to do it here is just so unbelievable. Rene and Richard drove incredibly, and proved once again why Porsche brings such great drivers. What can I say about Andy? He drove incredibly, and I think he proved yet again why he’s got the reputation he does. Ultimately, however, I really need to thank everyone around me. The crew of men and women behind this team are what make it so special. They deserve to be on the podium with us, and it’s just amazing to be here.”
Qualifying in third place, Andy Lally was off to a great start in the no. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3 Cup. Getting away cleanly as the field spread, it was clear that Porsche had the upper hand, as the Brumos no. 59 of Andrew Davis and no. 44 of Lally drove away from the rest of the field, establishing themselves as the pace of the field.
As the next hours unfolded, it was clear that the Brumos Racing no. 59 was going to be a very strong competitor. Beyond winning the pole position for the race, the no. 59 featured a strong drive line-up, including reigning GT series champions Leh Keen and Andrew Davis, as well as multi-time Daytona 24 winner Hurley Haywood and Porsche ace Marc Lieb. Between off setting pit strategies and occasional caution periods, the lead would shift several times throughout the afternoon and early evening between the Magnus no. 44 and Brumos no. 59, and the TRG no. 67 Porsche eventually fitting themselves in to the mix as well.
With the midnight hour striking and the calendars officially moving to the 29th, the Magnus no. 44 encountered their first heavy challenge of the race, as Richard Lietz was served a stop and go penalty for passing on a re-start. Not happy with the decision, Lietz was cited for passing a car in front of him before crossing the start-finish line, though Lietz and the team contested that he made the pass prior to coming out of turn six, which was allowed by GRAND-AM rule.
Regardless, the team would fall towards the tail end of the lead lap as a result of the incident, thus settling in to a solid third place behind the no. 59 and 67. With Andy Lally taking the wheel followed by John Potter, the no. 44 would slowly gain ground on the cars in front as the night wore on. Then, at approximately 5AM, Daytona newbie Rene Rast got in the car… and that’s when things got interesting. Rast, the two-time reigning Porsche Supercup Champion, truly put in a blinding double-stint as the sun went up. Fighting with the no. 67 of old rival Jeroen Bleekemolen for second place, Rast would slowly gain on the Dutchman for lap after lap, making a bold pass on the outside in to turn one and pulling off the impossible.
Turning his attentions to the no. 59 ahead of him, Rast then put on a charge for Marc Lieb. Slowly chipping away on the gap, Rast would close tightly in on Lieb as his double-stint came to a close. Headed out of NASCAR turn 2, Rast would grab a draft on Lieb moving toward the bus-stop chicane, not only out-braking him to take the lead, but also causing Lieb to run wide and run straight across through the bus-stop chicane.
As the sun came up, the no. 44 was now the clear leader. With Rast out and Lietz in, the team would enjoy the lead for the next hour before being handed their second challenge of the day. As Lietz came in for his second stop of the stint, the team made a crucial error during re-fueling. By GRAND-AM rule, no team member may be do anything perceived as working “under the car”; and when a crew member dipped his head in a wheel well to look at brake wear, the team was penalized another stop and go for the action. However, for this particular violation, it wasn’t just a stop and go, but a stop and go requiring the car to be held for one minute while in the pit. Facing the most excruciating one minute of the race, the team fell back by a lap and a half as this all unfolded, putting the team in third.
This would start a four hour process of fighting back for top honors. With Lietz, Lally, and Rast all trading duties through the morning, the team would slowly gain ground on the 59 and 67 cars ahead of them, fighting to return to the lead lap by lunch-time, until an opportune yellow would finally bring the 44 right back in to contention.
With only three hours remaining, it was time to race. Putting Andy Lally behind the wheel, and having caught the 59 and 67 cars thanks to caution periods, it was time for Lally to go to work. Making easy work of Wolf Henzler in the 67, Lally would set his sights on Leh Keen in the Brumos no. 59 in the closing hours. With off-setting pit strategies starting to come to light, it was clear that every team would likely need to make at least two more stops, and as the laps continued, it was clear Lally would need to make work of Keen on the track.
With just under two and a half hours to go, Lally was able to make good use of the draft through NASCAR Turn Three, passing Keen down the front stretch and re-assuming the lead. Almost equally important, in his efforts to get back around Lally, Keen’s aggression would get the better of him as he made slight contact with Lally’s bumper in the International Horseshoe, slightly damaging his front splitter and effecting the car’s speed.
With under two hours to go, the leading Magnus no. 44 of Andy Lally would pit, with Richard Lietz taking the reigns until the end. With Wolf Henzler driving hard in the no. 67 and now Marc Lieb in the no. 59, Lietz needed to keep pace in order to keep everyone behind, and he did so with great aplomb. Making their final stop with 40 minutes remaining, Lietz never looked back and gave the team their first victory on the biggest of stages.
For Andy Lally, now a four-time Rolex 24 winner, a similar series of sentiments exists.
“Unreal.” Stated Lally. “John drove incredibly today, and was a huge part of our win. Richard was the professional you’d expect him to be, and Rene just really came on strong. We were lucky to have the line-up we did, and even luckier to have such an incredible crew. Magnus Racing is an incredible team, this is going to be a special year.”
For the no. 4 eBay Motors/Children’s Tumor Foundation/QuickenLoans/Racing4Research.org car, an early incident would lead to a compounding series of difficulties for the day.
Qualifying 17th, Ryan Eversley proved his mettle early on, climbing quickly through the field to get the no. 4 car in the top-10 by the end of his stint. Driving a double stint, the no. 4 car was an early contender, with lap-times on par with the leaders. Full of optimism, Eversley got out of the car, and in came former LeMans winner and SPEED in-race reporter Justin Bell.
Fast and on the pace, Bell was in the thick of the race when trouble would strike. Driving in to the International Horseshoe corner, Bell was fighting strong with the no. 94 of Boris Said when hard contact from Said would send the no. 4 car backwards, coming to a stall on the inside of the track.
With the contact not seeming too heavy, Bell tried to re-fire the car to resume on track, however the car failed to start. Following a number of interchanges over the radio, it became clear the problem was that the car’s starter motor took damage from the incident, meaning the car wouldn’t be able to start on its own. Receiving a bump-start from track workers, the no. 4 car resumed, and following a pit inspection, seemed OK.
With Bell out, Daniel Graeff would get in the car, and continued on. Now four laps down, it was early enough in the race that the team still had a good shot at top results, and in such the team continued at a steady pace. Driving consistently strong laps, Graeff would step out and hand the reigns over to Ron Yarab, who drove his usual consistent pace as well.
With all four of the team’s drivers continuing an incident free series of stints, one small nagging problem remained. With the starter motor’s damage, the team had to “bump start” the engine nearly every time they would pit. Every time the car needed to get rolling, the team would push the car down the pit road, drop the clutch, and force the engine to turn over and resume speed. As time wore on, this stress on the engine’s pully system eventually led it to fail, forcing the no. 4 car back to the garage.
Luckily, the pieces that failed on the engine were replaceable, and after a short visit to the Porsche Motorsport parts trailer, the engine was back up and running, and the no. 4 would manage to see the checkered flag, taking a final finish of 38th.
For Ryan Eversley, the race was a day of mixed fortunes.
“I’m very happy with opening stint, but obviously the finish is disappointing. The team did a great job of preparing the car, but you simply can’t do much about the problem they had. It’s most disappointing for the Children’s Tumor Foundation, but I think we still did a great job of raising awareness and bring donations to the cause.”
Jill Beck, Program Director for Racing4Research had similar feelings.
“We definitely hoped for better results, but what can you do?” stated Beck. “We still had a great experience with the Magnus Racing organization, and I believe very strongly we have a great foundation to move forward. Today’s result was tough, but we still worked hard to achieve our goal.”
Beyond the results of the no. 44 and 4 car, Magnus Racing had a number of other accomplishments to be proud of. After pushing very hard via web and social media, Magnus Racing launched a series of interactive fan contests leading up to the race, in which dozens of fans received everything from apparel to hero cards and more. Additionally, the team had a series of on-going videos and other content that, leading up to the race, had hit a cumulative 50,000+ hits between all videos and mediums.
During the race, the team launched a widely popular “Rolex Wars” poster, which aside from getting track-wide recognition for its ingenuity, also received several mentions on SPEED during broadcast.
Finally, the team launched a webcast from the pit, “Live at Daytona.” Interacting with fans for all 24 hours, the broadcast boasted an impressive 140,000 hits and even more impressive 105,000 unique viewers. These are numbers that compete with many cable TV shows!
All in all, Magnus Racing had a near-perfect weekend, and looks forward to the challenge of the coming season.
“This was definitely a great start,” stated Potter. “Now our focus is on the championship. We’re now the points leaders, so we’re headed in the right direction!”
The second round of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series will take place on Saturday, March 31 as the Rolex Sports Car Series joins the Indy Racing Leage at the scenic Barber Motorsorts Park near Birmingham, Alabama.
- Magnus Racing | All Photos: © 2012 Corey Beaman