Fast Eddie’s Excellent Adventure

Apprentice French TV photographer - me. [Eddie LePine photo]

Apprentice French TV photographer – me. [Eddie LePine photo]

I have been going to the Rolex 24 at Daytona for a long time, a very long time. Everyone calls me Fast Eddie, and this year I had to live up to my name just to keep up with everything that was going on!

This year’s race, without doubt, was one of the finest races I have ever seen. It had everything – drama, close racing, an exciting finish – it had it all. After putting up with some liquid Florida sunshine on Wednesday and Thursday, the weather cleared and was picture perfect for the rest of the week.

On top of all of that, this event took place at the reborn Daytona International Speedway with the just completed four hundred million dollar improvement program called Daytona Rising.

Hats off to Joie Chitwood and his crew for doing an outstanding job with the renovations. This facility was great before, but is now one of the best in the world and the fans responded by showing up in droves. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember a time when I have seen more fans attend a Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Also, hats off to IMSA, who seem to have the formula for sports car racing in the US just right. I can’t recall a year when so many cars in so many classes had a real shot at winning. They even had the BoP pretty much right on as well (perhaps the Lambos were a bit quicker than they should have been); as the competition in each class was close all race long.

A P2 class car won the race overall, but the outcome wasn’t certain until the checkered flag fell. The winning Ligier Honda marked the first time a French built chassis has won the 24 Hours of Daytona, so there will be celebrations both in Japan (Honda) and France (Ligier). This Rolex 24 marked the last for the Daytona Prototypes, which will be replaced next year by the new Dpi prototypes and the P2 cars. The Daytona Prototypes were in the hunt all the way and who can dismiss the stirring drive turned in by Katherine Legge in the Deltawing, who led for a time – and not under yellow – under green at full race speeds. Who knows what would have happened had the car not crashed out early in the evening?

The GTLM battle was one for the ages, with Corvette taking a 1-2 finish in dramatic style in the closest class win in the history of the 24 Hour race at Daytona. Doug Fehan of Corvette Racing had the guts to let his drivers race each other to the line and they did so cleanly and without incident and I am sure Fehan let out a big sigh of relief once the checkered flag fell! New cars from Ford and BMW certainly added excitement to the race and they were fast. The Porsche factory cars were in the hunt until the very end and the Ford GT will surely recover from its first race woes (a gutsy move to debut an all new car at the Rolex 24), and is sure to be competitive all season long.

Audi won the GTD class also in dramatic fashion with their new R8 LMS GT3, having just a bit more fuel than the Lamborghini Huracan, which ran out of gas with just over one lap left. It was a great showing for Audi with their new car. Audi continues to build winners and Audi’s Brad Kettler has to be very pleased with the debut win.

Speaking of Audi, how about the performance of the two Audi factory drivers on loan to Corvette? Marcel Fassler and Mike Rockenfeller did a stellar job for Corvette Racing, with Fassler in the class winning car and Rocky in the second place finisher. It was quite the debut Daytona race for Fassler, who goes home with a new Rolex on his wrist! I wonder how you handle that on the customs form?

Also on hand from Audi was the legendary Tom Kristensen, who was the Grand Marshall for the race. Tom has won Le Mans 9 times and Sebring 6 times, but amazingly, has never raced at Daytona. He even hinted that he might come out of retirement someday to give the race a shot. That would be fantastic!

In the LMPC class, the JDC-Miller Motorsport car was the class of the field and won by over 4 laps and as such didn’t get as much TV coverage as the other classes. However, I was most pleased to see Kenton Koch in victory lane in his Rolex 24 debut. He was literally in tears following the win and the moment was made even more special by the fact that his mother was there with him. She had a heart transplant one year ago and watched the race on TV with her son. Little could they realize that they would be in victory lane together one year later. What a story!

I had the pleasure of working with the French TV program “Direct Auto”, which was on hand with a film crew to do feature segments on the Rolex 24 and I arranged interviews for them with several drivers at the circuit. Special thanks to Gary Pratt and Dan Binks for inviting us into the Corvette garage for some behind the scenes filming! Also a big thanks to Jan Wurgler who arranged for Tom Kristensen to take some time from his very busy schedule to do an interview, it was most appreciated! Sebastien Bourdais was also gracious in doing an interview, and in French no less! They tell me that I have a future in television – we will have to wait and see on that one. However, many thanks to Gregory Galiffi, Nicolas Schumacher and Gael Chatelus of Direct Auto for allowing me to show them around on their first trip to Daytona. I hope to see them at Sebring! Also, a special shout out to my friend Justin Bell of Fox Sports for posing for an awesome selfie on the starting grid!

All in all, it was a fantastic event and now I have a little time to recover and reload for the next race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh From Florida.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona will be a tough act to follow.

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