- As its name suggests, the Rolex 24 at Daytona is a 24-hour IMSA endurance race at its namesake circuit.
- The motorsport spectacle began as a 3-hour race in 1962, evolving into its famous 24-hour period four years later.
- This year’s LMDh prototypes ran as the Grand Touring Prototypes (GTP), a classification name resurrected from the ‘80s.
- Acura’s strong top-class running continued as it claimed its third straight against its rivals — now Cadillac, Porsche, and BMW.
- The weather proved steady, but on-track nail-biting action still ensued across classes until the checkered flag.
Fangio may have said it best, “to finish the race first, you must first finish the race.” It’s a guiding principle that applies to every motorsport event, but perhaps none more so than the 24 Hours of Daytona. IMSA may not have the crowd of NASCAR, the pristine sheen of a parking lot car show, or the theater of a drift event, but the iconic enduro at Daytona International Speedway tests the human capacity for discipline, risk, and intelligence unlike any other. It’s one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with motorsport, and if it isn’t on your bucket list already, there are about a million reasons why it should be now.
TRIAL BY FIRE
To put it bluntly, there is no easing into the IMSA racing calendar. The 24 Hours of Daytona is the grueling opening round of the twelve-race WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where teams will get their first proper gauge of how well their cars (and drivers) stack up against their competitors. As such, this race has a certain aura that differs from all others. Despite the propensity for what would normally be considered a race-ending failure, that aforementioned “never die attitude” persists, and every team will do everything in their power to get back out there to finish.
Indeed, the entire ordeal is an exercise in mechanical, mental, and physical fortitude. The survivors of which are bestowed one of the most cherished trophies in motorsport: the Rolex Daytona watch.
While most Daytona experiences are unpredictable enough for the teams and drivers, spectators are also endurance tested. The weather proves just as temperamental as the track, and 40-degree swings between sun, wind, and rain are commonplace. My last visit to the famed circuit in 2017 was exactly that. As much as I wanted to commit to watching all 24 hours, I had to resign to a two-hour nap in my rental out of sheer exhaustion before trudging back to the track to rifle off more shots during sunrise.
As luck would have it, we had a much sunnier experience this time around. The weather held surprisingly steady throughout the event, and we, courtesy of BMW and Akrapovič, were granted access to the Daytona 500 Club. There, BMW’s hospitality treated us to a generous helping of world-class cuisine, refreshments, and viewing opportunities. The rooftop offered a panoramic vantage point to the horseshoe and the front straight, which are some of the most popular passing areas on the track. It contrasted sharply with surviving off granola bars and offloading memory cards in the wet grandstands. It’ll be hard to experience the race any other way after this.
IN THE GARAGE
Access is what sets IMSA apart from most professional race series. Spectators are invited to cruise through each team’s garage area to further appreciate the sights, sounds, and grueling work required to prepare (and maintain) each car before and throughout the event. Given the rare opportunity, you ignore the inconvenience of fighting through crowds and simply allow your eyes to wander and take in every available morsel. Here, you begin to appreciate the scale of each team’s operations.
We spent most of our time checking out BMW’s Akrapovič-equipped Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) entry (more on this in a bit). Having been here before, I spent equal energy admiring the machinery as I did watching the mechanics, engineers, and strategists. While the drivers had to put on their best PR face to interact with the throngs of automotive media during Daytona’s track walk, the crew was decidedly more straight-lipped. Focus would be an understatement here. It was a deeper discipline than that — each of them with an innate understanding that their decisions and actions could be the difference between the coveted crown or not finishing at all. Knowing this, it’s no wonder they retained their composure while thousands of doe-eyed onlookers with cameras (like me) constantly got in their way.
BMW M HYBRID V8
Although it’s no surprise to see BMW battling for positions in motorsport, they have been missing from IMSA’s prototype category for over 20 years. Indeed, its last victory came in 1999 — the BMW V12 LMR took the checkered flag at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The marque’s return had ulterior motives; regulations state that the GTP cars must supplement their combustion engine with electric power. This hybrid stepping stone will hopefully provide valuable data for BMW M’s own production car development.
“The BMW M Hybrid V8 is more than just a race car, it is paving the way for an electric future for BMW M by emphatically demonstrating how dynamic and emotional electrified M Power can be,” said Franciscus van Reel, CEO of BMW M GmbH.
By the numbers, this hybrid powerplant — the P66/3 — is a twin-turbo, direct injection 4.0-liter V8 at the core. It puts out a (regulated) 640hp, 650Nm of torque, and revs to 8,200rpm. This workhorse propels the Dallara chassis — one of the most successful motorsport specialists in the game — throughout this year’s IMSA season under the familiar Rahal Letterman Lanigan (Team RLL) flag.
Despite Dallara’s accolades, BMW’s entry into the IMSA field was a last-minute one (the Italian firm and BMW committed to the 2023 race season in September of 2021). Nevertheless, both sides were committed to developing a championship-caliber car over time.
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
Attrition is all part of the game in endurance racing. While the #24 car finished relatively unscathed, its sister car, #25, suffered problems within the opening hour. After a two-and-a-half-hour garage visit to replace the entire spec hybrid system, it heroically returned to battle the field through the night and passed the checkered flag the following day. Despite its truncated development timeline and challenges during testing, Team RLL was pleased with its result.
As the “Euro guy” of Pit+Paddock and a long-time BMW owner, it was an emotional experience to finally see BMW back at it again. It felt like running into your best friend after not seeing them for years. Behind the viewfinder, I felt the hair on the back of my neck raise every time the GTP cars passed by me lap after lap.
Reports confirm that BMW will continue its re-entry onto the world stage and take on the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2024.
DOWN TO THE WIRE
In total, there were 783 laps completed at the 3.56-mile circuit, virtually the equivalent of driving from New York to California. While there weren’t any weather theatrics, a late safety car set the stage for an epic finish. I downed an espresso more out of sheer routine than necessity as the green flag dropped with 32 minutes to go. At the checker, four of the top-tier GTP cars were separated by just 11 seconds. The LMP2 battle came down to inches. There were more race highlights to mention, but the takeaways aren’t just about the results.
The 24 Hours of Daytona was, as it always is, an endurance race of the human spirit. As a collective, each team left everything on the table here. As individuals, nobody leaves the 24 as the same person that they were before it. Because of that, the Rolex watch that the winners take home is so much more than a timepiece. It’s a medal of honor.