By: Ashley McCubbin
Each race no matter the discipline, series, or track comes with it’s own unique challenges from the drop of the green flag to the checkered. So to think the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona would be any different is a strange theory.
Several drivers who have been part of the event through it’s history offered their thoughts on the biggest challenges to POPULAR SPEED.
1. It’s the only 24-Hour event on the IMSA WeatherTech Championship Schedule
While many people group the 24 Hours of LeMans and 24 Hours of Daytona in the same group, that’s not necessarily the right assumption as only one of those is partaken by all the drivers in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship.
“The fact that it’s so long, it’s really challenging for everyone – the team, the mechanics, the drivers,” Pipo Derani. “Once you don’t have everything going smoothly, it can beat you even more so I think the biggest challenge is the duration of the race.”
2. Getting Sleep
While you would like to be part of the action for all 24 hours, that is not exactly feasible as you naturally get tired and when you are sleepy, your reflexes go down – which is not good while racing around a track.
“When you get out of the car, you have to step away,” Zach Veach said. “You want to stay involved and watch all the sectors, and really see how the race is progressing for the guy you handed the car off too. But you got to get back, got to get some sleep and turn it off for a little bit. That’s one thing to keep in mind.”
However, trying to snag in a nap isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“The fact that here in Daytona that you’re basically sitting inside a stadium for 24 Hours so the noise, you can’t relax,” Derani said. “You feel like you’re in a rush for 24 hours; so it’s very challenging. When I’m in my motorhome, I try to have noise canceling headphones or something to relax, but you realize how tired you are when you finish the race.
“It’s very demanding, and it’s a race that everyone wants to win, but in this championship at a high level grid, it’s flat out from the very beginning to the end.”
3. Beware of Traffic
While you are involved in a battle for the victory amongst those in your class, you cannot forget about the other divisions that are competing around the speedway at the same time.
“I think this year with a few more cars, traffic may play into it a bit more, epically with the LMP2 and LMP3 being similar in speed in some areas,” Scott Dixon said. “So it’s going to be learning where you can and can’t take risks and things like that.”
It’s not just something the Daytona Prototype drivers worry about, either, as the thought trickles down through the divisions.
“It is 24 hours long so a lot of things get thrown at you that you don’t have a lot of control over,” Cooper MacNeil said. “It only takes one prototype or a GT car to come across your nose and your race is over.”
4. Going Day to Night, Back to Day
With the event taking place over a 24 hour period, it means that you are bound to watch the sunset, as well as the sunrise throughout. As a result, you have to deal with the conditions that presents.
“It’s actually very pretty well lit up for a road course at night,” Dixon admitted. “I think the biggest things are track temp and getting off pit road. That can be pretty challenging, and getting through turn three that first lap once things are cold before they get going. I don’t know.
“I love the night time. I think everything is a lot more vibrant at night with the car, and typically at night the car performs really well just because it’s cooler temperatures. That’s what’s fun about a 24 Hour race – you get to witness the changing effects from day to night, and night to day.”
5. Be Prepared for All Weather
As with any road course event, they have the ability to run in the rain, which played a big factor in the ending of the 2020 edition of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. So knowing what the conditions are, and being ready is important.
“Some years we’ve seen beautiful weather, and some years we’ve seen 40 degrees and pouring rain,” MacNeil said. “So you have to take it as it comes, but it’s an extremely challenging race. Luckily, I have a really good team supporting me so I’m expecting to hopefully not have too many issues, but it’s going to take all the stars aligning.”
6. Be there for the end.
Just because you sit on the pole and lead the first lap does not mean you will be the race winner, as a lot can happen through the 24 hours – as we’ve seen in the past several times. Hence Felipe Nasr emphasizing the final two hours of race and “having a full car that is ready, fast, and reliable” so you can contend for the victory.
Thankfully, drivers from other disciplines can relate to this, as Veach thought over his strategy from the Indianapolis 500.
“That race (the Indy 500), you’re not really pushing until the second to last stop,” he commented. “So the first four or five pit stops, you’re just trying to stay on the lead lap, protect the car, manage which decisions are high risk, which decisions make sense in the moment, and then right towards the end, that’s when you turn the wick up and it makes sense.
“Now with Daytona, it’s much different and much longer wait; now you’re waiting till hour 21, 22 for that decision. But I’m assuming it’s the same kind of mentality, so that’s what I’m going to take into it in doing what I can to make sure we can attack towards the late hours of the race, and then once we’re there – gloves off, we can go for it.”
7. “It’s never one thing; it’s more things.”
Being able to get part of the puzzle right and follow at least a couple things on this list may be nice, but that will not get you in victory lane. To be able to wear one of the Rolex watches at the end, you have to put everything together.
“It’s like when you’re trying to go fast – it’s never one thing; it’s more things, and I think for us, it’s doing the obvious things right,” Dixon said. “That’s what Chip (Ganassi) always says in the pre-race meeting and just trying to eliminate any mistakes, and running the race through your mind.”