Motorsport

At Daytona Beach, the Motor Racing Season Starts

Daytona International Speedway celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 24-hour race (though it wasn’t always that long).

For European motorsport fans, the international motorsport season was launched last week. The Monte Carlo Rally was held on the mountains overlooking Monaco and the Cote-d'Azure (and ended with another victory for the 8-time rally world champion, Sebastian Loeb). During the same weekend, North American racing fans enjoyed another free weekend before their season will kick-start this weekend when the 24-Hours of Daytona.

The traditional season opener will take place at the Daytona Beach racing circuit in Florida. Cars from all over the globe will gather for the event, though one of them, of the Peugeot team, will be absent after the French car manufacturer dramatically announced last week of their withdrawal from motorsport due to the economic climate. European car manufacturers, however, will be represented in the race. Their presence will be felt with cars from Audi, Ferrari and Porsche participating in the race.

The circuit owners are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the event though it hasn't started in its current format, but rather as a 3-hour sports car race. Dan Gurney, the American F1 legend, won the inaugural event. He accomplished this even though his engine expired more than 10 minutes before the 3-hour mark passed. He parked his Lotus-19B-Coventry Climax at the top of the banking section, above the start-finish line and when the time had come he let the car roll to the finish line for a famous victory.

The 24 hours race format was launched in 1966 as the event established its reputation and became one of the highlights of the American racing season. At the end of the Sixties, Daytona became the battleground for one of the most publicized clashes in motorsport history as Ferrari, Ford and Porsche fought each other for dominance in sports car racing. A Ford GT40 won the first 24 hours race, Ferrari won the second one with a P car; to celebrate the occasion a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 was given the nickname Daytona. Porsche was the winner of the third 24 hours with a 907, one of the predecessors of the mighty 917.

Since then Porsche has gathered another 21 victories in the event with various cars during different eras. In the last seven years the leading car constructor has been Riley, who produces Grand-Am cars for the Rolex Grand Am Series. The DP category (Daytona Prototype) is the event's premier category, from which comes the overall winner. Those cars are similar in appearance to the prototypes from Le Mans, though they are built to lesser technical regulations. About 14 cars will line up on the grid in the DP category, many of them using Riley chassis with engines from various manufacturers, among them Ford and BMW.

Another prominent chassis is the Chevy Corvette prototype. Commercially, the GT category (which is prepared according to Grand-Am technical regulations) has dozens of entries, is of much more interest. Porsche GT3 Cup racers, Ferrari 458s, Audi R8s, Chevrolet Camaros, BMW M3s and even Mazda RX-8 have all adopted the Grand-Am technical menu and will fight and slug each other to the last drop of fuel.

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