By Patrick Reynolds
Daytona Beach, FL- â€œKeep it together until the morning. Wait for sunrise, see where you are, and then make a charge for the win.â€
Or maybe not so much anymore.
The above quote is paraphrased and some version of it can be attributed to many Rolex 24 at Daytona veterans. Drivers and crew members alike know that in order the finish first, one must first finish.
However the manner in which the teams get to the finish has changed over the years. What once was a field logging laps overnight until morning before charging for the win, no longer exists. Drivers are extremely conscious of the eventâ€™s endurance length, but there is plenty of hard racing happening from the drop of the green flag.
Five-time event winner Scott Pruett said, â€œFor me, I always approach this race being overcautious at the start.â€
With the wave of the green flag 53 cars began the twice around the clock challenge on Saturday. Observing the field click off one lap the drivers were racing hard. They repeated the hard charge on lap two and again on lap three. There did not appear to be any pacing happening.
After their first respective stints in the Rolex 24, a trio of Ganassi Racing team drivers that took turns leading laps shared their thoughts of the early race action.
â€œI think whenever we started having someone catching us, weâ€™d definitely turned up the pace a little bit and see if they could respond,â€ said Indycar and Indianapolis 500 champ Scott Dixon. â€œItâ€™s a 24-hour race. Thereâ€™s different protocols for different manufacturers in the way you run. Obviously this early on, you just want to stay clean and obviously not destroy the car, keep it intact, keep it clean for tomorrow. I think the last hour is obviously getting to that point and keeping it clean and putting yourself in contentionâ€¦ hopefully on the lead lap and having a shot at it is what is important. The night hours are the tough ones and the ones where the mistakes generally come after a while. Weâ€™ll just try to hang on and hopefully have a clean runâ€
Making his twenty-fifth Rolex 24 start, Pruett said, â€œWeâ€™re just kind of pacing ourselves (and) running a smart race.
â€œThere were some crazy antics out there and I had to take some evasive maneuvers just to miss guys just doing stupid things. You just canâ€™t get caught up in someone elseâ€™s mistake and if anything youâ€™re overcautious right now and letting the hours click by,â€ said Pruett.
â€œIâ€™ve done this race so many times, Iâ€™ve seen so many drivers who really want to make a statement in the first couple of hours,â€ said Pruett. â€œReally try to work their way to the front, be real aggressive, drive over curbs, other cars. Itâ€™s going to be interesting to see how everything unfolds.â€
Pruett said, â€œThereâ€™s always a bit of cat and mouse. Let me tell you, if youâ€™re in those closing hours and youâ€™re either trying to run somebody down, youâ€™ll be doing qualifying laps right on the edge. Right now youâ€™re running about 90%, just not want to take any chances, but those last couple of hoursâ€¦ itâ€™s qualifying as long as you can drive that hard.â€
Sage Karam spoke after about five hours into the race. â€œSo far, I donâ€™t think the thing (his car) has a scratch on it.â€
â€œThe car is really, really good right now. I was pushing (hard) but at the same time I was cruising. I set that (fast) lap on fresh tires, open track. It was probably the perfect lap I could get and timed everything right. Then after that I was still pushing but cruising.â€ Karam jokingly said, â€œI wasnâ€™t at 110% I was at 109 I would say, so just cruising around.â€
Pruett and Dixon are major championship drivers with proven credentials. Karam is a young driver who elaborated on his reason for driving so hard.
â€œIâ€™m fighting right now to get a full-season drive in something. Hopefully in a Ganassi Indycar. Iâ€™m doing everything I can and if that means leading my stint and bringing the car home in one piece, (then) thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m going to do. Iâ€™m driving pretty hard out there.â€
At the six-hour mark of the 53rd annual Rolex 24, the Ganassi 01 car of Pruett, Karam, Joey Hand, and Charlie Kimball led. The second Ganassi entry of Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson, and Jamie McMurray held second. Third was defending race-winning team Action Express with Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastian Bourdais. Michael Shank Racingâ€™s pole sitting car of Ozz Negri, John Pew, A.J. Allmendinger and Matt McMurry was fourth. Fifth was Max Angelelli paired with Jordan and Ricky Taylor.
The racing in the first six hours was not what is stereotypical of an endurance race. Eighteen hours remained and drivers were racing hard thinking about the checkered flag. However, several certainly had different ideas on how to get there first.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Motor Week LIVE! Mondays 7pm ET/ 4pm PT on www.racersreunionradio.com