I was off to Daytona, again. I’ve been there a number of times over the years for everything from Rennsport Reunion, to test days and the Rolex 24. I’ve been to the Rolex 24 as a fan, as a vendor and as a car sponsor. This time would be different as I was working for a team that was competing in the twice around the clock race. In case you are wondering, no, they don’t let me drive. I am the PR guy for Mitchum Motorsports. I also shoot photos for the team. This year we were entering a Porsche 997 in the Rolex 24 along with our two Camaros we run full time in the GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.
Our weekend started strong, with both of our Camaros finishing in the top ten in the season opener. The entire Mitchum team was feeling good about our results Friday afternoon. Both Camaros had struggled in qualifying yet finished with good championship points. No one said it, but I think everyone was hoping the same would hold true for the #86 Porsche in the 24.
Mitchum’s driver lineup for the 24 included two-time class winner Randy Pobst and three rookie drivers – Joey Atterbury, Cooper MacNeil and Derek Whitis. While rookie drivers in the Rolex series, all three have plenty of experience racing. Atterbury competed in the Continental Challenge in 2010, Cooper placed second in the SCCA National Runoffs last fall and Derek runs Freedom Autosport, another Continental Tire team where he races Mazda MX5’s regularly. Our plan was to start our veteran driver, keep the nose clean and see where things shook out when the sun came up. Sounded pretty simple to me.
Randy took the green flag at 3:30pm . By about 3:31pm, as I watched from the photographers’ coral in the international horseshoe, the #86 car was into the outside wall. James Gue in the #41 Dempsey Racing Mazda RX8 made contact with our car and pushed Randy off into the grass and ultimately into the wall. I can’t express in words how gut wrenching it is to see your team car go off track and into a wall on lap one of a 24 hour race. It was almost surreal. The amount of time and effort, not to mention money, that goes into a Rolex 24 entry is mind boggling, and to see your hopes dashed on lap one is a feeling I don’t wish on my worst enemy.
Over the team radio I hear Randy report he is in the wall and then a calm and collected Chris Mitchum (team principal) responds with directions to the driver and crew. We went straight to the garage to assess the damage and affect repairs. The team did an outstanding job of fixing what they could and getting the car back on track.
Randy finished his stint, albeit with a less than perfect car, and turned the reigns over to Cooper who drove exceptionally well for his first Rolex race. Joey was next in the car for a double stint and he too kept the car out of trouble before turning it over to Derek just after the sun went down. Unfortunately another RX8 would cause problems for us. Heading into the infield portion of the circuit, the offending RX8 dropped fluid all over the racing line. Derek found the fluid before the flagmen did and he was into the wall, further damaging the left side of the car.
After another trip to the garage Derek was back on track and keeping a good pace. We weren’t going to get our laps back but if you follow endurance racing you know that just by clicking off laps you can often improve your position – lots of cars have problems over the course of the race.
Sometime during Derek’s stint, while I was once again shooting pictures in the international horseshoe, I got to experience the impact of a car first hand. As I stood against the blue guardrail I was panning my camera to capture an image of a car rounding the corner, I heard the crowd behind me get really loud all of sudden (keep in mind I was wearing a crew headset and cars were racing at speed so it is hard to hear much of anything). It suddenly registered with me that something was happening near me so I spun to look back down the track toward pit out. Just as I turned my head another RX8 slammed in the guardrail exactly where I was standing and abruptly came to a stop. Water from the tire barrier splashed on me just as I felt the impact. Wow, that was close! After the car was pulled out and taken to the garage I did notice a few of my fellow photographers giving me nods and smiles – signally they had all been there before and they knew the feeling I had just experienced. No harm, no foul, right? Once my heart rate returned to normal I started snapping pictures once again. I also swore that I wouldn’t tell my wife Laura this story, oh well.
Back to the race. Derek would find himself in the garage again after a big spin in the bus stop. The car was towed back slowly as we were concerned we had lost the engine. After a thorough checking out of the car, including a visit by a Porsche Motorsports engineer, it was determined we were ok. Cooper would head back out on track for his second stint of the race.
After just a couple of more laps I heard the call on the radio that we were off in the bus stop again. This time there was contact with the wall which would put an end to our Rolex 24. The entire crew worked so hard leading up to the race and especially during, in order to keep the car racing. It was definitely a huge disappointment to not finish but a great experience none-the-less.
If you have never been to the Rolex 24, I highly recommend it. There really is nothing else like it in this country. The Sebring race is only 12 hours and the six hours at the Glen is, well, just six hours. To put this race length into perspective, we raced for about nine hours before we had to retire. I found a hotel room at about 2am Sunday morning after packing up my gear at the track, slept for a few hours, hopped on an earlier flight which touched down in Manchester at 3:15 in the afternoon. As I was walking down the jet way it occurred to me that the race wasn’t even over yet.
It’s time for the Roar before the 24 again. Three final days to get the cars, drivers and crews ready for America’s premier sports car race – the Rolex 24 at Daytona. I am headed to Daytona with Mitchum Motorsports to support their two car effort – the #6.2 Camaro in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and the #86 Porsche in the Rolex Series. This isn’t my first trip to the twice around the clock race, but it is the first time as truly part of a team.
Last year I was there as a sponsor of the #99 Gainsco car as well as a Mustang in the Continental Tire series. Prior years I was there in a vendor role, showing off iRacing.com to the teams and fans. I am really looking forward the opportunity to document this historic race for Mitchum Motorsports in both words and images.
The Roar Before the 24 will serve as a warm-up for the team. We’ll find the right setups, practice pit stops and get comfortable with everything. I’ll do the same and find some spots to shoot the cars on track as well as work the media center to get the word out about Mitchum’s two cars.
Daytona here we come!
Is it really over? I can’t believe it’s that time of year again. My least favorite season – it’s fall here in New England, but past the time when foliage is up. It’s getting colder. Leaves are covering my yard. It’s too early for any real snow. It’s dark when I leave the office in the evening. What’s not to like??? What really gets me down this time of year is the fact that the racing season is essentially over. Formula One crowned the youngest world champion ever just a few short weeks ago and Jimmie Johnson is king in the NASCAR world, again. GRAND-AM, ALMS and pretty much everything else we have TV coverage for has finished as well.
Upon reflection, I can’t remember a year where more titles went down to the last race of the season (F1, Indy Car, NASCAR Sprint Cup) or one with more surprise victories(Rolex 24, Daytona 500, Brickyard 400). For me, it was truly a great season for motorsports. My wife will tell you I watched far too many hours of racing on my DVR, but it was worth it. Racing is such an exciting sport, I just can’t get enough of it. Some of the highlights for me are below:
- The unknown team with the unsponsored car, Action Express Racing, winning the Rolex 24, beating the dominant Ganassi team along the way
- Jamie McMurray winning the Daytona 500
- Sebastian Vettel winning the World Championship in the last race of the year, having never lead the points at any point in the season
- Jimmie Johnson winning his fifth consecutive championship
- Peugeot winning the Sebring 12 hour race
- Audi winning Le Mans, again
- Chip Ganassi winning the Daytona 500, Indy 500, Brickyard 400, Indy Car Championship and GRAND-AM Rolex Series championship
- Greger Huttu winning 15 out of 16 iRacing Drivers World Championship Road races on his way to winning the crown of best road racing sim racer
- Richard Towler winning the NASCAR iRacing Series World Championship and being runner up in the iRacing World Championship Road Racing
There were many more exciting moments in racing this year. What’s your most memorable?
What’s mine? It’s a tie for me – JJ’ 5th and Vettel’s 1st.
What a weekend for iRacing! The RACC runoffs, the Rolex 2.4 and our involvement in the Rolex 24. Sean Siff and I were in Daytona this past weekend supporting our teams and many drivers who were competing for the coveted Rolex watch.
Our weekend in Daytona started-off a bit ominously as it appeared the iRacing curse had struck again. The curse is not really a curse but more of a string of bad racing luck. The two cars we sponsored last year both were wrecked on track – Marcos Ambrose’s Camry at Pocono and the Daytona Prototype shared by Ambrose and Carl Edwards didn’t even make the green flag at Montreal. I had hoped we were starting with a clean slate this year but just as we arrived at the track on Thursday I received an e-mail from the office informing me that Jimmie Johnson had just wrecked the GAINSCO car. Yes, the very car we had partnered with for the Rolex 24! At first I thought the e-mail was a joke but I quickly realized it was not.
As soon as we got to the infield of the track we headed straight to the 99 car’s garage to survey the damage. Initial reports were not good as the team was planning to go back to Texas to get the backup car. They were hopeful they would be ready with a new car in time for the race-no guarantees though. This was not good but there was nothing we could do at this point so we moved on to meet with our other driver, Andrew Caddell. Andrew was driving for Rehegan Racing in a Mustang, competing in the Fresh From Florida 200 in the Continental Challenge Series. This is the support race that will be aired on SPEED on February 13 at 7 p.m. eastern time.
Andrew is an iRacer and an accomplished racer in the real-world having won the Mustang Challenge series for the past two years. iRacing was sponsoring Andrew for this race in his orange Mustang. Our logos were featured on the doors and the roof. Andrew and his co-driver Kenny Wilden were struggling in practice, only managing to post a top 15 time. Eventually the team sorted out the setup and Andrew was able to qualify third. After Andrew provided his blog update we called it a day and planned to regroup Friday morning.
An early wake-up and straight to the track to check on our cars and get some interviews for 3 Wide Life, a racing show for which iRacing is the primary sponsor. We were pleasantly surprised to learn the 99 team was able to repair the car over the night after Jimmie Johnson used his personal helicopter and jet to shuttle parts to the track. In fact, the car was already on track when we arrived! Things were looking up for iRacing!
A few more driver interviews were completed including Jimmie Johnson and Alex Gurney, and then it was time for the Continental Challenge race. We were lucky enough to get to the grid in time to wish Andrew luck and then watched the race from the pit stall with the rest of the team. What a great place to watch a race! Caddell made a clean start and the race was going well until the first caution. Upon the restart the car developed a problem, it was down on power. It turns out it was due to a cracked header. The car was still handling well and Andrew managed to hold onto a top ten finish, which is a testament to his driving ability.
After the Continental Race, we headed to the Gainsco corporate party where we were demoing our software to Gainsco employees and the drivers of the 99 car – Jimmie Johnson, Alex Gurney (a long-time iRacer), Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser. After some brief words by Bob Stallings (team owner) and a Q&A session with the drivers the driving competition began. Obviously we were running the DP at Daytona. Bob Stallings posted a time of 1:59.802. Jimmie went next laid down a really quick time right off the bat, he posted a 1:43.703 on his first flying lap. Jon Fogarty went third and put up a time of 1:54.122. Alex then posted the fast lap of the driver competition, a 1:42.537 and the crowd went wild. It was a lot of fun coaching these world class drivers and all of them noted how great the software was.
Saturday morning was another early day to the track. Our mission was to track down another iRacer competing in the Rolex 24, Justin Wilson. We wanted to get a quick interview for 3 Wide Life and managed to meet up with Justin at his RV. The interview took place on the walk from the RV lot to the drivers meeting. It was sheer madness fighting through the crowded infield while trying to keep the camera and mic focused on Justin. Kudos to the crew from 3 Wide Life!
At 3:30 pm the race got underway and the 99 car was running well. The team settled into a comfortable fifth place. Positions changed as cars adopted different pit stop strategies but the car was in a good spot when we left for the evening. I wasn’t about to attempt the all nighter! In the middle of the night the car did head to the garage for some minor work which put it down a couple of laps but, when we arrived at the track in the morning, things were still looking good for a possible podium finish for the Red Dragon. Unfortunately that all changed around noon, when there was less than 4 hours to go. Jimmy Vasser reported on the team radio that he was showing zero oil pressure. He pulled it off the track and it was towed back the garage where the team ultimately diagnosed an oil pump belt failure. The race was over for the 99 team.
While we were certainly hoping for a victory in the Rolex 24 (I was secretly hoping for a new watch) the entire event was a huge success for iRacing regardless of the finish. We got tons of exposure to racing fans both at the track and around the world, and three of the top four finishing cars had iRacers on their driving teams (P1 – Joao Barbosa/Action Express, P2 -Justin Wilson/Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, P-4 Colin Braun/Krohn Racing). Being part of the race weekend was a fantastic way to connect to motorsport fans. Daytona really is the place to be this time of year!
Living in the northeast US I am used to cold, snowy winters, I actually enjoy them. What I don’t like about winter is that it is the off-season of motorsports. Sure there is still some racing going on around the world but none of it is covered on US television so essentially motorsports is on winter break. Now winter is still here but it is the end of January which means racing is about to start again!
Anything is possible at this point in the season. Whomever you root for – the championship is still a possibility. New rules and new teams add questions and intrigue. How will the new COT spoiler work, who will be behind the wheel when USF1 debuts their cars? How will Danica fair in a stock car and will she win the Indy 500? The questions only increase the anticipation. The racing gods have yet to bestow any victories or take away any dreams. It really is the best time of year for race fans.
This year I am even more excited about the start of the racing season than usual. So much is going on at iRacing – the official NASCAR series are about to start, we just signed a deal with Williams F1 to bring the FW32 to the sim, the iRacing Rolex 2.4 is this weekend, we have partnered with the #99 Gainsco car for the Rolex 24 (you’ll see our logo on the rear wing) and we sponsored Andrew Caddell’s Mustang in the Continental Challenge race at Daytona. As a diehard motorsports fan I have always anticipated this time of year, but always as a fan. Now I actually feel as if I am part of the world wide racing community.
This weekend’s iRacing Rolex 2.4 is sure to be a great event; unfortunately I’ll miss it as I will be in Daytona for the Rolex 24. I’ll be tweeting live updates from the track and garages though. Keep tabs on the iRacing cars by following iRacing on Twitter and becoming a fan on Facebook. I ‘m disappointed to miss the iRacing Rolex 2.4 but thrilled to be part of the official opening of the 2010 racing season.
What has you most energized about the upcoming season? NASCAR, F1, sports cars, iRacing? Will the drama in the paddock be more interesting than the battles on the track? Let me know what excites you about 2010 motorsports.
iRacers to watch at the Rolex 24:
Alex Gurney #99 Gainsco Riley DP
Justin Wilson #01 BMW Riley DP
AJ Allmendinger #6 Ford Riley DP
Colin Braun #75 Ford Lola DP
Derek Johnston #77 Ford Dallara
Jordan Taylor #30 Mazda RX8
Spencer Pumpelly #71 Porsche GT3
Barry Waddell #99 BMW M3
Andrew Caddell #59 Ford Mustang
Trevor Hopwood #12 Kia Forte Coupe
Adam Burrows #12 Kia Forte Coupe
Josh Hurley #181 VW GTI
Danica goes NASCAR. Schumacher returns to Formula One. Coincidence? Both NASCAR and F1 will benefit from such high profile names joining (or rejoining). The fans will eat it up. TV ratings, ticket sales and merchandise sales will be up. And let’s not forget about ad revenue. I ‘m not saying that NASCAR or F1 are responsible for Danica and Michael becoming the stars of their sports but I am sure they both hand their hands in it – at the very least making it as easy as possible for them to go racing. Why else would they make these moves – money or ego perhaps?
How about Danica and Michael’s competitive drive. Neither racer needs the money but they both seem to crave the limelight and the thrill of racing, who can blame them really. Racing is an adrenalin filled sport and to have the opportunity to race at the highest levels of motorsport is every racers dream. For Michael and Danica living the dream is what racing is all about.
Who do you think will have the larger impact on their series?