Practice Makes Perfect : Rolex 24

Two final on-track sessions at Daytona International Speedway closed out the third and final day of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 – the last test event leading into the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 28-29, 2012. For the 14 Daytona Prototypes and 43 GT cars, working out the bugs during this three-day testing weekend came down somewhere between pushing the car as hard as possible to see what it can handle, or hold back a little to peak for the main event at the end of the month.  

Two of the drivers to make their mark during the test event share at least one thing in common, both are nationals of Brazil: Felipe Nasr, the young driver who is in only his fourth season of racing, won a seat for the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona by virtue of winning the Sunoco Daytona Challenge; and Christian Fittipaldi, son of former Grand Prix driver and team owner Wilson Fittipaldi, who won the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2004 with Terry Borcheller, Forest Barber and Andy Pilgrim.

The 19-year-old Nasr (Brasilia, Brazil), captured the 2012 Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge by having the top average point score (out of 100 racers) in that season-long competition. While acknowledging that his aspiration is to find his way into Formula 1, the current Formula 3 champion commented “after my experience here at the Rolex 24 At Daytona I am sure I will do more sports car racing when the time is right for that.”

“Driving a Daytona Prototype car is totally different from what I am used to,” said Nasr. “Firstly, in an open wheel car you can see the front wheels so you more or less know where you are going and you feel more confident seeing the tires on the road.  In a closed wheel car there is not much to see because of the fenders, it’s a lot different. Also because these cars are heavier than a formula car you have to be very fluid. There is three times the power from the engine of a DP car compared to an F3 car so you have to adopt a different driving style and be a lot smoother.”

“I am enjoying my Rolex 24 At Daytona experience a lot,” continued Nasr. “The car is fantastic! I could never imagine the car would be so nice to drive. This track is such a historic place, the car is so amazing and everything here is just wonderful.  Brazilians love this race [the Rolex 24 At Daytona], they know it is one of the most important races in the world. In fact, it is aired live on television in Brazil. There are other Brazilians in the race this year and Brazilians love to watch these guys race here and I think the popularity of the Rolex 24 At Daytona and endurance racing in general is only going to get bigger and bigger. When Brazilians do well in a race like this it opens the door for others to come as well. For me this is a fantastic experience, one I have never experienced before and I am amazed by everything here.

With a third-place finish in DP, the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona marked the return of Christian Fittipaldi (Sao Paulo, Brazil) to the podium after winning in 2004.

“There is so much history with this race,” said Fittipaldi. “With the significant role that Rolex plays in the sport of motor racing around the world the Rolex 24 At Daytona has become as important to fans in Brazil as Le Mans and people there will be following this race with great interest. The two races that Brazilians check on religiously each year are Le Mans and the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The other endurance races are interesting, but Le Mans and the Rolex 24 At Daytona are the ones that everyone follows because of the intrigue of 24 hours of racing. This race is especially difficult because from the drop of the green flag to the checkered flag it is dicing all the way.”

“We have an all-new car which is great,” continued Fittipaldi. “But for the Roar Before the 24 we started out with a little bit of a set back since we have all new components to deal with and with so many changes it is not the easiest task on the face of the earth. However, our team as a group is a lot stronger than last year, the engine is stronger and although we are still working on the car we fully expect that when we come back for the race at the end of the month the car too will be very competitive.”

With five cars in the GT field, TRG team owner Kevin Buckler has a unique perspective on the test event. 

“Friday was one of the best first days we have ever had,” said Buckler. “These first days can be a little rough but the guys have been working really hard back at the shop. All the drivers cycled through the cars and were usually at the top of the time charts with one of the Porsches.” We have a whole group of international drivers as well as some buddies of mine in the #65 car and they all did a good job.” 

Buckler explained that he starts the preparation process early in November: “I put my heart and soul into the preparation for this event, and I know how hard it is to make a good showing here. There’s quite a lineup of cars this year for the Rolex 24 At Daytona and possibly 15 of the cars are capable of winning the race which is the first time we’ve seen that in a while. We all want to do our best and as the General and team leader I want to be in there with the guys. So I’m in there with my lists and checking everything that’s going on because there are so many details to keep on top of such as pit stops, how we’re doing our brake pad changes at night and dealing with all the what ifs. There are a lot of teams who come here for the first time that don’t realize how much preparation is required to compete but they learn fast for the next year.”

“To win the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona would be huge for us,” said Buckler who has won the race twice in the last four years. “After all, there can be only one of those. Some of our drivers have been with me since TRG started. My crew chief has been with me since 1996 and the team has all stuck together for a long time so it would be really, really special if we could win this race.”

And Buckler is excited to have the new competition in the GT class from Ferrari and Audi. “As a team owner it’s great to have the diversity and see the marque branding on the cars. It adds a lot to the image of the race but as far as I am concerned, I’ve got them all covered.”

The historic 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona gets underway on Saturday, January 28 at 3:30 p.m. when Grand Marshal A.J. Foyt issues the command “Drivers, start your engines.”  A number of special events are planned to celebrate the 50th Anniversary, including the Rolex 50 Years of Champions display which will feature over 30 of the championship winners at a charity gala to benefit the Halifax Health Foundation on the evening of Thursday, 26 January at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach; a procession of the championship cars to Daytona International Speedway on at 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning, January 27, after which the cars will be on display throughout the weekend.

About Rolex Motorsports - Rolex’s presence in motorsports began in the 1930s with Malcolm Campbell. While wearing a Rolex Oyster in 1935, he was the first person to drive an automobile over 300 miles per hour, setting a new land speed record. Rolex truly solidified its position in the sport in 1959 when it began an association with the Daytona International Speedway in Florida and later became the title sponsor of its pre-eminent endurance race, the Rolex 24 At Daytona, in 1992. It was shortly after its initial affiliation with the race track that Rolex introduced a watch designed for lovers of speed, the Cosmograph Daytona, which allowed its wearer to clock elapsed times and calculate average speeds.

Goodwood Revival (UK), the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion (USA), the Pebble Beach Tour D’Elegance presented by Rolex (USA) and Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance (USA), and The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering (USA).

Rolex is involved in sponsorships of some of the most prestigious events in the motorsport industry. Endurance races such as the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Les 24 Heures du Mans, along with the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, are critical pieces of the Rolex portfolio. In addition, Rolex supports the traditions of auto racing through events that celebrate design, speed and passion including the Goodwood Revival, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Pebble Beach Tour D’Elegance presented by Rolex, and The Quail, a Motorsport Gathering.

Rolex affiliation also extends to two key figures in the sport: Sir Jackie Stewart from Scotland, one of the greatest drivers of his generation, and Danish driver Tom Kristensen, record eight-time winner of Les 24 Heures du Mans.