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Going All Night at the 24 Hours of Daytona


Going All Night at the 24 Hours of Daytona

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Going All Night at the 24 Hours of Daytona

The Rolex 24 at Daytona blends European sports-car racing with a little Florida grit, and it has become one of the premier motorsports events on the racing calendar. Endurance racing, like it sounds, is a motorsports marathon, testing the cars and the teams’ abilities to go hard all through the night. It’s also a multi-class format, which means different kinds of cars all run at the same time, ostensibly each in its own category’s competition, but in reality often blocking, crashing, or causing cautions that can change the race for everyone.

The Daytona 24 isn’t just a challenge for the racers; it’s also both exciting and maddening to cover as a fan or reporter. The rules are opaque, and watching multiple classes on the same track can feel like watching a football, soccer, and basketball game all played at once, without knowing the rules of any. It doesn’t help that some cars race in European races that have different class names for the same kind of build, so you end up with LMDh (Le Mans Daytona hybrid) running in a class called GTP (Grand Touring Prototype), and the slightly more production-appearing sports cars you might think of as GT3-spec machines race Daytona as GTD or GTD Pro. So if you’re confused now, imagine doing this without any sleep.

the porsche 963 gtp car

The Porsche 963 GTP car.

Car and Driver

And 2023 has been especially interesting because the top class now is GTP, which used be Dpi. GTP is a now a new category, spaceshippy purpose-built race cars that must include a hybrid component and bear some tiny resemblance to their street brands. The goal is to keep racing tech evolving ahead of, or at least along with, production car technology. At Daytona, there are nine GTP cars, backed by four big brands: Acura, BMW, Porsche, and Cadillac. Their gas engines are unique, but all the hybrid systems come from the same supplier. How they are implemented during the race is up to the teams, but the biggest concern going in was reliability of the finicky new electronics. It would take more than 24 hours to lay out the tech in detail, but we can recommend this explainer by our friend Marshall Pruett over at Racer magazine.

This year’s race brought several of us out to the track. Associate editors Frankie Cruz and Caleb Miller were covering Acura and the Lamborghini GTD team, respectively. Buyer’s Guide director Rich Ceppos was hanging with the big dogs at Cadillac and reminiscing about C/Ds old racing days at Daytona (which will be a separate story), while Features editor Elana Scherr spent time with BMW looking at both their new GT3 car and their LMDh car. Cruz, Miller, and Scherr decided to run their own challenge: Who could do the most in 24 hours at the track? Ceppos, as a veteran, was too smart to participate. Here’s how it played out.

a porsche 963 on the grid before the start of the race

Caleb Miller|Car and Driver

11:40 a.m., Elana

There’s a pit walk ahead of the race, and it’s the only time that the massive Daytona Speedway seems truly crowded at the Daytona 24. While the spectator turnout is a fraction of what the NASCAR Daytona 500 brings, 2023 was a good year as far as sports-car fandom goes, and the funnel of people waiting to get out on the track is a proper crush. As I try to avoid having my face smushed into the back of a man wearing a satin jacket embroidered with Shelby Cobras, I overhear a security guard shouting as he opens the gate. “If you have an alcoholic beverage, chug it now!” A good half the crowd pauses and chugs. It’s not even noon.

Welcome to Daytona.

12:00 p.m., Elana

Bottles of nitrogen gas taller than me line the outside of the hot pit walkway. On the inside of the fence, stacks of glossy slicks look like licorice and smell like pencil erasers. The pits are all clean and organized, stocked with cleaning supplies, tools, and snacks. Later it’ll seem like a hurricane ripped through, browning bananas next to half-cans of degreaser, but that is yet to come. My personal pre-race strategy is to make friends in as many pits and hospitality areas as I can find, with an eye on their coffee makers. Usually the Italian makes have the best coffee, but I find BMW to be the winner this year. By lunchtime I’m on my third doubleshot.

12:00 p.m., Frankie

I head down to walk the grid. It’s an absolute mosh pit, but I don’t mind. I’m too excited to be bothered by crowds. Met up with the lovely and talented Elana Scherr [Flatterer—ES]. The Acura NSX pace car looks good, even in a sea of full-blown race cars.

someone in an inflatable flamingo costume at the 24 hours of daytona

Elana Scherr|Car and Driver

12:40 p.m., Elana

The track walk is utterly surreal. The cars pull into their grid spots, parting the crowd like Moses at the edge of the Red Sea. Children roll down the banking (18 degrees at the start finish, 31 degrees in the turns, but they don’t let us go walk those). There’s a person in an inflatable Michelin Bibendum costume who is probably there in an official capacity, as Michelin is the tire provider of the race. There’s also someone in an inflatable flamingo costume, who almost certainly isn’t. A marching band goes by, flags waving over the high wings of the GTD Porsches and Aston Martins. A group of kindergarteners, all buddy-system in a line, walk in formation past the pit wall, high-fiving the crews. Somehow the officials eventually clear us from the track, even the flamingo, and play the National Anthem.

1:40 p.m., Caleb

After a long morning—I got to the track at 8:30 a.m. for a hot lap ride in a Lamborghini Huracán STO, then spoke with driver Romain Grosjean about his adaptation from open wheel to endurance racing—the Rolex 24 is finally underway. The massive pack of cars rips past the green flag, but the Tower LMP2 car, driven by my two favorite drivers (Newgarden and McLaughlin), comes to a stop on the first lap, briefly dampening my mood. Probably theirs too.

1:40 p.m., Elana

Drivers, start your engines! The old days of thunder are no more. There’s some rumble from the Cadillacs, a little accented snarl from the Lamborghinis, but at idle, you don’t even need your earplugs in. Will it eventually change to “Drivers, start your motors”? “Power up your energy storage systems”?

1:40 p.m., Frankie

Green flag! I capture the critical Instagram story. A lunch of chicken, risotto, and kale salad proves disappointing, but sausage and peppers save the day. More important, on the racetrack, pole position proves to be valuable for Acura as the No. 60 car extends its lead with each lap.

2:16 p.m., Elana

It doesn’t take long before the fast GTP and prototype cars are whipping by the more production-like GTD racers. The blue passing flag gets a lot of action on the starter’s stand over the start/finish line.

a lexus rc gtd car going into turn 1

Caleb Miller|Car and Driver

2:31 p.m., Caleb

Even up in the Lamborghini suite at the top of the grandstands, the noise is deafening. I reluctantly put in ear plugs to preserve my hearing and sanity over the next 23 hours. The speed difference between the GTP and GTD cars is stunning, especially as they barrel into Turn 1. The sense of speed is heightened further when there’s contact—I let out an audible gasp as the No. 31 Cadillac gives the No. 6 Porsche a little nudge into the first corner, sending the Porsche skittering off track.

2:55 p.m., Elana

There’s already been some on-track action, but the first big groaner for the GTP class happens to BMW, when the No. 25 car comes to a halt on the track, sort of half in, half out of the exit. One of the interesting elements of hybridization has to do with the dangerous high voltage in the battery packs. All the hybrid cars have red/green light warnings to tell the crew and the driver when it’s safe to touch the car. Over the course of the weekend, several drivers will express minor frustration with having to learn new safety protocols and being unsure what to do when the cars misbehave. After about 15 minutes, which must feel like an eternity to driver Nick Yelloly, the No. 25 goes to the garage, and although it does return hours later, it’s too far behind to expect a win. It’s always a bummer when a big problem happens so early. I guess it’s a bummer when it happens anytime during the race, but one always feels extra sympathy for a team that still has 23 hours of work ahead of them but little hope of victory.

3:30 p.m., Caleb

We had a chance to talk with Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann and CTO Rouven Mohr about what motorsport means to Lamborghini and how racing will inform their future products. It’s hard to take a break from watching the action, but my ears definitely appreciate the time inside. I notice Winkelmann keeps an eye on the TV during the entire interview, keeping track of his Huracán GTD cars as they battle on track.

3:30 p.m., Elana

It’s windy, and I do Buster Keaton proud as I lose my hat to the breeze, bend over to grab it and drop my sunglasses, and then fling a ring off trying to scoop those up. The one good thing about humiliating yourself at Daytona is that the track is big enough to never see the same people again.

a lamborghini huracan gtd car in a tire barrier

Caleb Miller|Car and Driver

3:46 p.m., Caleb

The No. 42 Lamborghini locks up, spins off, and plows into the tire barrier. I had been starting to zone out a bit, just mindlessly letting the cars zip past, and the Lamborghini’s screech-and-thud misfortune instantly snaps me out of it.

4:00 p.m., Frankie

Feeling a slight tinge of tiredness and the beginning of a headache—but this is no time for weakness . . . IT’S THE ROLEX 24! We’re “only” three hours in—which is already as long as your average NASCAR race.

4:29 p.m., Caleb

Part of what I love about endurance racing is that there is so much going on and so many different cars on track. It’s overwhelming and hard to follow everything. At this point I’m basically just focusing on the GTP battle. But I love that everywhere I look, I see wheel-to-wheel racing.

4:40 p.m., Caleb

I’m having my first espresso of the afternoon—not because I am tired yet, but as preparation for the long night ahead.

5:15 p.m., Caleb

We’re in Race Control, surrounded by more screens than Times Square. There are about 50 different camera views on display, while other screens show timing, scoring, and other crucial information. This is the nucleus of the whole operation, and the team seems surprisingly relaxed given how much is going on and the weight their decisions hold. They’re chatting and cracking jokes but still always at attention. Someone tells me that this year has set an all-time attendance record for the 24, which checks out with the throngs of people I had to squeeze myself through on the grid earlier.

painting at the rolex suite

Elana Scherr|Car and Driver

5:44 p.m., Elana

From the back, the GTP cars look like partially surfaced whales, all dorsal fin and tail. They aren’t particularly pretty, but they do look intense. In the Rolex suite, there’s a painter making one of the Porsches into art on a canvas in real time. In the Acura suite, they are out of canned wine.

5:53 p.m., Caleb

It’s starting to get chilly as the sun begins its descent. The view is spectacular from the roof of the grandstands, allowing you to see every inch of the track and the LED lights of the cars dancing around the corners. This is where the spotters live, guiding the drivers as they navigate through the traffic.

a spotter at the 24 hours of daytona

Caleb Miller|Car and Driver

6:09 p.m., Elana

Acura and Cadillac have shown themselves strong in the GTP class from the get-go. Porsche is mixing it up, but the lead is mostly swapping between the No. 01 Cadillac and the No. 60 Acura, which makes it especially startling when Scott Dixon in the Caddy checks up to avoid a spin in front of his car and gets rear-ended hard. He saves it, and he stays on track with what looks like half his diffuser dangling behind him. “That is a rather large piece of carbon,” says the announcer, in the understatement of the race so far.

6:53 p.m., Caleb

In the infield, and my feet are starting to hurt. My phone says I walked about three miles so far, and I definitely should have worn more supportive shoes. Perhaps a Corona will help.

7:02 p.m., Elana

In the infield, there are dueling pianos, which is not a thing I have said at a race before. They play “Johnny B. Goode” with a ragtime swing. I put my earplugs back in. One of the Porsche GTP cars goes into the garage with a battery issue. The hybrids have a strange smell when things go wrong, the usual burnt oil and hot lining tang of unhappy mechanicals with an unusual sour note, like chardonnay spilled in an electrical outlet. Maybe it’s the cooling fluid?

7:20 p.m., Elana

In the Cadillac hot pit, Chip Ganassi has his hands in his jacket pockets, headset on, as he moves from screen to screen staring at the data and occasionally asking a brusque question to the race engineers. Scott Dixon is done with his stint, his white fire suit smudgy with tire dust and what appears to be a red fruit punch spill down the front. “It’s from the grease marker on the seatbelt,” he says, looking down in mock chagrin. “My junk isn’t bleeding.”

He’s headed to the press room, where he hints that the new cars are challenging to the drivers not just because of the safety concerns of the electrical systems, but because there are so many different settings, and so many of them need to be run by the engineers rather than done by the driver’s gut instinct. “Old school, you could adjust the power, play around a little more. Here it’s in this very automated box. They are very technical cars, lots of different parts that weren’t made to work together, but you have to make them work together.” This echoes an earlier interview with BMW drivers Connor De Phillippi and Augusto Farfus. “There could be 20 different settings being adjusted,” Farfus told me. “It’s F1-esque in a sense. We rely a lot on the engineers looking at the data and telling us what to change.”

a porsche 911 gtd car in the pit lane

Caleb Miller|Car and Driver

7:26 p.m., Caleb

Wow, it is so so so much louder in pit lane, and being closer to the cars really illustrates the insane speeds they travel at, especially with the GTP cars topping out around 200 mph. I’m trying to stay out of the mechanics’ way, dodging tires and spare parts. Being this low down on the track also shows just how colossal the grandstands are. They’re mostly emptied out, with only the most die-hard fans left.

8:00 p.m., Caleb

Dinner time! Gnocchi, potatoes, and steamed carrots.

8:04 p.m., Frankie

Just got back to the suite from the pits…wow. The smells, intense sounds, the palpable tension, it’s intense down there. In my notes, I wrote the word intense twice because it seriously is that intense. I forgot my ear plugs at the suite and might’ve suffered some hearing loss, but it was worth it. Seeing the BMW pull away just on the electric motor, all silent but for tire noise was weird. Over in the Gradient Racing No. 66 NSX pit the tire changer’s air hammer “socket” seized to the wheel hub stud. Detaching it required a vice grip, blow torch, hammer, brake clean, and more folks than you might expect.

filipe albuquerque and romain grosjean at a media briefing

Caleb Miller|Car and Driver

8:50 p.m., Caleb

I accompany Romain Grosjean to a media briefing. He is his usual chipper, positive self while remaining realistic about the team’s chances given their pace disadvantage, saying it’s been “pretty fun” even though the “car was not that easy to drive.” It’s quiet in the media center, a nice respite from the constant noise of the past several hours.

9:46 p.m., Elana

I’ve lost track of how many coffees I’ve had. I need another. I’ve walked almost 8 miles so far. This is a workout routine I could get into. The track is settling down, clearing out. The garages are mostly empty, a few techs folding shop rags or checking their Instagram accounts. In the BMW No. 24 garage, a battery pack sits on a roller cart, blocked off by stanchions like it’s an exclusive club you can’t get into. In one of the Lambo garages, four individual tubs of brake discs sit at the ready. It speaks to the reliability of all the classes that there’s so little action off-track.

9:50 p.m., Caleb

I’ve spent the last hour or so chilling inside, resting and preparing for the night ahead. Occasionally one of the drivers comes in for a bite to eat or to debrief with an engineer, looking weary and, unfortunately, disappointed with the race so far. But there are many hours to go to recover positions.

9:54 p.m., Frankie

Wow, the No. 60, with Tom Blomqvist driving, fought back up to fourth. This guy is an absolute beast behind the wheel.

fireworks show at the 24 hours of daytona

Elana Scherr|Car and Driver

10:02 p.m., Elana

Fireworks! They look amazing over the Ferris wheel with the cars on the banking behind them. In the infield, fire pits blaze merrily and someone has set up a seven-foot tall decorative tree, festooned with beer cans.

10:01 p.m., Frankie

Fireworks! I feel like an overstimulated cat.

10:05 p.m., Caleb

The fireworks show just happened and it was spectacular. It was the first time in my life where the sound of the fireworks was being drowned out by something louder: the pops from the exhausts of the entire field downshifting into turn one behind me.

11:15 p.m., Caleb

I spent the last 40 minutes on the roof trying to take panning photos of the cars going past. Panning is already incredibly hard but it’s even more challenging at night, and my respect for motorsports photographers has grown even more.

a team member sleeping at the 24 hours of daytona

Elana Scherr|Car and Driver

11:16 p.m., Elana

The BMW barista cut me off after 10, so everything is getting blurry. All I’ve eaten today was a hot dog. Was that today? On pit lane there’s a sleeping mechanic tucked in every possible place large enough to fit a sleeping mechanic. Top of a tire rack, inside of a tire, draped over a generator, all snoozing away, helmet in hand.

12:00 a.m, Frankie

Game time decision. I’m going to get some sleep at the hotel and return for sunrise.

12:00 a.m., Caleb

I’ve yawned a couple of times. Time for an espresso.

12:01 a.m., Elana

I cry uncle and head back to the hotel. Caleb wins.

12:40 a.m., Caleb

I’m off to explore the infield. Luckily, the weather is still quite nice. The chain-link fence by the International Horseshoe is lined with amateur photographers with step ladders trying to perfect their shot as the cars whizz by.

1:54 a.m., Caleb

I meet up with a friend who is an open wheel racer in the IndyCar junior ladder. He gives me the inside scoop on the business of motorsport and, unfortunately, just how much of a role money plays in finding opportunities. Wandering around the track, past parking lots full of semi trucks, I’m realizing how huge this operation is and how many resources are needed to make this work.

chevrolet corvette gtd race car

Caleb Miller|Car and Driver

2:40 a.m., Caleb

In the grandstand opposite the International Horseshoe–the best overtaking spot on the circuit. I’ve been trying my best to snap photos of the cars entering the corner side by side in a fierce battle. I’ve given up on actively following the race at this point—I’ll start paying attention more closely come morning but for now I’m just soaking up the atmosphere. Losing positions right now is not super detrimental, as long as you can keep the car in one piece for the end of the race.

2:59 a.m., Caleb

I just noticed that some of the Mercedes-AMG GTs have a glowing orange light tucked in behind the grille, a little glowing ember in a fireplace grille.

3:10 a.m., Caleb

It’s a perfect night, cool but not cold. I’ve been watching cars go in circles for well over 12 hours and I’m not even close to bored. The grandstands are fairly empty, save for scattered beer cans and a small contingent of dedicated fans.

3:45 a.m., Caleb

Snack time. I’m getting tired. More coffee or try to take a quick nap somewhere? Watching the cars on the banked turn, I’m reminded of what it felt like in my hot lap ride this morning. The g-forces pulled at my face, melting it like a clock in Dalí’s Persistence of Memory. I can’t imagine putting up with that for hours on end.

4:05 a.m., Caleb

I’m honestly not sure how tired I am at this point. I feel fine right now but I also feel like if I sit down I might just pass out. There’s still another 9 hours.

4:30 a.m., Caleb

I’m going to let myself close my eyes.

5:00 a.m, Elana

Wake up maybe? No.

5:25 a.m., Caleb

I definitely drifted off. I’m going to sleep a little more.

5:53 a.m., Caleb

I fell asleep again. I’m going to try to stay awake now though, even though I feel really groggy at the moment.

sunrise at the 24 hours of daytona

Caleb Miller|Car and Driver

6:30 a.m., Elana

The sunrise looks incredible over the grandstands. It also looks really nice over the Atlantic ocean, which I can see from my bed.

6:30 a.m., Frankie

Existence is pain – I decide to sleep another hour or so.

7:08 a.m., Caleb

The sun is starting to rise, casting an orange glow across the sky, and I’m beginning to wake up. The nonstop parade of race cars continues. It’s hard to believe that this is the same race that started yesterday afternoon—that feels like eons ago. Unfortunately most of my favorite drivers, as well as the Lamborghini teams, are out of contention for overall or class wins, but I’m still having a blast watching the on track action.

9:45 a.m., Elana

Reunited with my barista and catching up on the race. The cars are spread all over the track. Every corner contains a battle. Even from the grandstands you can see how dirty the machines are, the noses grey like grubby gym shoes. If anyone looks glossy, you can assume they wrecked it during the night and had to replace it.

a well worn race car

Car and Driver

10:00 a.m., Caleb

Back into the pits. I always get nervous in the pit lane, hoping I don’t get make it harder for the mechanics to get their work done.

10:02 a.m., Elana

The No. 20 LMP2 car takes a hard hit, and there’s a long caution. I get a chance to go up on the flag stand overlooking the start/finish line. It’s a vertical climb up a slippery metal ladder—I wouldn’t want to do it in the rain—but once atop, the view is one few people ever see. The cars run directly beneath, sending vibrations up through the floor. The race goes green while we’re up there. “Hold on to your hat,” says one of the flaggers. Too late man, I lost it 12 hours ago.

10:25 a.m., Frankie

WE WATCH A RESTART FROM THE FRIGGIN’ FLAG STAND!! After climbing down, I pick up a couple of pieces of tire as keepsakes. Elana and I stand on the finish line stripe and I wonder if this is what it feels like to have your own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

11:21 a.m., Caleb

My feet hurt and my legs ache, so at this point I’m just sitting on a couch and watching the race on the TV. A couple of late yellows have made the battle for overall lead exciting again.

11:30 a.m., Frankie

The pressure is building in the Acura suite. We attempt to diffuse it with mimosas and a competitive game of Uno. For some reason, only folks from NYC seem know the rules to Uno.

repairs in the porsche penske gtp garage

Elana Scherr|Car and Driver

11:46 a.m., Elana

Even with a few hours of sleep, my second-day notes aren’t as legible as yesterday’s so the entry here just says, “Porsh ohNO.” Porsche had another issue, this one looking more serious from a repair perspective. In the BMW pits they joke about being up to sixth position via attrition. “Now we just need that to happen to five other cars.”

12:10 p.m., Elana

There seem to be a lot of slow speed spins.

12:38 p.m., Elana

The pit stalls are full of the night crew sleeping while the day crew moves tires around their crumpled forms. I watch a driver finish his stint and attempt to get in four different golf carts before someone helps him identify his own.

12:53 p.m., Caleb

The battle in GTP is getting close and the No. 10 (the car I’m personally rooting for) is closing in on the No. 60. Further back, there’s an epic duel between four GTD cars. A yellow just came out, setting it up for a nail-biting finale.

1:00 p.m., Frankie

Back in the infield I find a little nook in the No. 60 Meyer Shank pits. It’s the best seat in the house but I see an older woman there and offer her my seat—it turns out she’s there with her husband for their 57th anniversary. Two of their daughters are there, and her son-in-law works for Liberty, which is a co-owner of the race team. They’ve been Florida residents since the ‘70s, moved there from Michigan. I wonder about doing the same since it is 75 degrees in Daytona and about 25 back in Ann Arbor.

In a few moments the entire team is standing along the wall, waiting for Blomqvist to come ‘round the corner and cross the finish line. The checkered flag waves, the crowd roars, the team explodes onto pit road and after the field clears they rush towards the fence, some of them even climbing it. Vice President of Acura, Jon Ikeda, comes running like a kid on Christmas morning. It was truly a sight to behold, and I’m beyond grateful to have experienced it first-hand.

the no 60 acura team celebrates their victory

Caleb Miller|Car and Driver

1:40 p.m., Caleb

The battle between the No. 10 and No. 60 failed to materialize, with Tom Blomqvist in the Acura pulling away like he had a rocket rather than an electric motor at the rear axle. He, and the entire MSR team, have been in excellent form over the past 24 hours and are certainly deserving of the win. It’s not a boring finish though, LMP2 pulls me back with can’t-look-away drama, as the No. 55 Proton makes a last gasp effort on the tri oval to snatch the class victory by just 0.016 seconds. A thrilling end to an action-packed weekend. Now time to sleep.

1:43 p.m., Elana

And just like that, it’s over. The No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura takes the GTP win and the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura gets second place. Cadillac rounds out the podium. The No. 55 Proton Competition LMP2 car gets the class win, just barely ahead of the second place runner. LMP3 was less fraught, the No. 17 led for several hours before the checkered flag. Mercedes-AMG claimed the GTD Pro victory with Corvette close behind, and Aston Martin nabbed the first two spots for GTD. The track goes quiet after not just the 24 hours of racing, but all the days of practice and qualifying beforehand. The teams will head on to other tracks and other races, but for now, it’s safe to say almost everyone is headed to bed.

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