DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A Chevrolet C-5 Corvette erased a
26-lap deficit Sunday and won the Rolex 24-hours sports car
endurance race, as the favored Dyson Racing entry ran into engine
problems for the second straight year.
The winning car, shared by Americans Chris Kneifel and Johnny
O'Connell, Canadian Ron Fellows and Frenchman Franck Freon, gave
Corvette its biggest sports car win ever.
It also was the first time Chevy has won the overall title in
America's most prestigious road race since Roger Penske's
Chevrolet-powered Lola won in 1969 with Mark Donohue and Chuck
The pole-winning Riley & Scott Ford, co-driven by Butch
Leitzinger and Englishmen James Weaver and Andy Wallace, held off a
strong challenge from a Ferrari 333SP prototype and was racing
toward what would have been team owner Rob Dyson's third Daytona
victory in five years.
At 9:30 a.m., just 3½ hours from the end of the grueling event,
three-time race winner Leitzinger was at the wheel of the car when
booming sounds erupted from the engine compartment and a puff of
gray smoke signaled the end of its race.
"It looks like it threw a rod on the front straight,"
Leitzinger said. "It just decided it was done and it blew up. No
warning at all. It was a very major explosion."
That sound, loud enough to be heard in the pits, gave the
rain-drenched and attrition-filled race a new complexion.
"We knew all we had to do was keep going, keep our pace and
stay lucky," Fellows said.
It wasn't that easy.
The Canadian driver got into the yellow No. 2 Corvette for the
final time just after the Dyson car was sidelined. It took Fellows
65 minutes to erase the big deficit and take the lead. He stayed in
the car and was cruising until the gearbox began to overheat in the
With less than 30 minutes remaining and a 19-lap lead, Fellows
pulled the car onto pit lane and Team Corvette officials decided to
play it safe and keep it parked until the final moments of the
Fellows finally went out with less than 10 minutes left and ran
three slow laps before taking the checkered flag for an eight-lap
victory over the GT class Porsche driven by Mike Fitzgerald, Randy
Pobst, Christian Menzel of Germany and Lucas Luhr of Monaco.
Fellows pounded on the hood of the winning car after scrambling
from the cockpit.
"This is the culmination of a lot of people's vision," said
Fellows, who finished a close second last year in a Corvette, along
with Kneifel and Justin Bell. "This is a tremendous, tremendous
end to three years of effort."
It is the second straight year in which the Grand American Road
Racing series' featured Sports Racing prototypes have come up short
because of mechanical ills and accidents, giving the victory to GTS
A year ago, an engine problem cost the same Dyson car a win,
slowing it in the final hours of the race and relegating the team
to fourth place and best in class. A Dodge Viper came up with the
win, with the runner-up Corvette finishing on the same lap.
This time it was the Corvette that was able to take advantage of
the situation, covering 656 laps and 2,335.360 miles on the
3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road circuit at an average
of 97.306 mph.
The runner-up Porsche, one of a record 34 that started in the
80-car field -- and the German make's 53rd class winner here -- also
had to overcome problems. Fitzgerald, winner of the worldwide
Porsche Cup last year, said he and his co-driver often couldn't see
because "the windshield wipers weren't even touching the glass."
Radio communication with the pits also was cut off because of wet
wires, he said.
The Ferrari of Ralf Kelleners of Germany, Allan McNish of
Scotland, Eric van de Poole of Belgium and Australia's David
Brabham -- the winner's most serious challenger -- quit with an
overheating problem in the early morning hours while trailing by
This apparently was the last race for the technically obsolete
333SP, a model that has won 36 races since its introduction in
1994 and was run one more time in this event because of its
reliability. The Risi Competizione car is the last of its kind made
by the Italian car manufacturer.
"I believe this is the third time somebody has woken me up at
an endurance race to tell me we were out," van de Poole said.
"It's not a very pleasant experience."
A lot of the attention before and during the race was focused on
Team Corvette's second entry, co-driven by road racing veterans
Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins and NASCAR stars Dale Earnhardt and
son Dale Jr., both making their first sports car start.
The No. 3 'Vette hung in gamely, overcoming transmission
problems and a series of spins on the wet track to finish fourth,
two laps behind the GT class Porsche GT3RS of Wolfgang Kaufmann of
Germany, Ciril Chateau of France and Lance Stewart and 14 laps
behind the winners.
"It's an awesome car," the elder Earnhardt said of the
Corvette. "If we hadn't had that trouble at the start with the
transmission, we'd have been really good. I felt really good out
there in the rain. ... It's been a fun experience."
Jim Downing's Mazda Kudzu, co-driven by Howard Katz, A.J. Smith
and Chris Ronson, led the Sports Racer class, finishing 11th
overall, 32 laps behind the winner.
A Nissan Lola driven by Andy Lally, Paul Macey of Canada and the
English duo of Peter Seldon and Martin Henderson won the SRPII
class, finishing 13th -- just ahead of the Dyson car.
The American GT class win went to the Chevy Camaro of Kenny
Bupp, Doug Mills, Dick Greer and Simon Gregg -- son of four-time
Daytona winner Peter Gregg. That car finished 28th overall.
|Earnhardt had not participated in a sports car race before the Rolex 24-Hours.||
Rolex 24 at Daytona final standings