[Ed. Note – This post ran yesterday… well, part of it did. The rats got into the server room and ate the rest. So, we went in with wrenches and beat the rats away. Now, we present the full story today. –JG]
While we have already covered the Daytona Prototype victory with our post yesterday, the untold story of the race is the Grand Touring class battle. Following one of the tightest class victory battles in race history, and with a field that can be compared favorably to nearly any other in the history of the event, Magnus Racing took their historic first victory in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series by taking the checkered flag at the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. If you are going to have a first win, there is no better place to take it.
John Potter, for those unfamiliar with him, is the proprietor of the Magnus Racing team. Having been a Porsche enthusiast for several years, Potter is the only team leader to stick with Porsche’s 997 generation GT3 Cup Grand-Am spec car for competition in the GT class. While Grand Am penalized Porsche for being too quick in comparison to the competition, larger teams either exited the series unceremoniously, or jumped ship to a different brand, however, the Magnus team stayed true to the brand. This choice may not have been good for immediate results, as the specifications were angled to the detriment of Porsche, but it did allow the team to develop into a well rounded and well oiled machine. Potter himself has become quite quick over the last few years, and with the hire of Andy Lally as his teammate for the 2012 season, they are a pair to keep an eye out for.
As the premier event of the series, as well as the season premier, the Daytona 24 featured a supporting cast of 45 cars in the GT category. As the event unfolded, the race definitely exceeded expectations, seeing three different cars finish on the lead lap in the DP category, and a hardly believable slim victory in GT. When the dust settled on the Porsche-on-Porsche-on-Porsche battle between the Brumos Racing no. 59, TRG no. 67, and the Magnus Racing no. 44, it was the latter grey and white GT3 of John Potter, Andy Lally, Richard Lietz and René Rast which emerged victorious, as the rear engine trio swept the podium for the Zuffenhausen brand.
Placing the car on the second row, just aft of the Brumos pole sitter, Andy Lally was off to a great start in the no. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3 Cup. Getting away cleanly as the field spread, it was clear that Porsche had the upper hand, as the Brumos no. 59 of Andrew Davis and no. 44 of Lally drove away from the rest of the field, setting the pace for the GT car class.
As the afternoon turned into night, it was immediately evident that Brumos Racing was prepared to fight, and to win with an extremely strong line-up of drivers, including reigning GT series champions Leh Keen and Andrew Davis, as well as multi-time Daytona 24 winner Hurley Haywood and Porsche factory driver Marc Lieb with 8 previous 24 hour race victories in Porsches. Between off setting pit strategies and occasional caution periods, the lead would shift several times throughout the afternoon and early evening between the Magnus no. 44 and Brumos no. 59, and the TRG no. 67 Porsche pulling themselves into the kerfuffle as well.
By midnight, the Magnus no. 44 encountered their first heavy challenge of the race, as Richard Lietz was served a stop and go penalty for passing on a re-start. Lietz was given a citation for passing a car in front of him before crossing the start-finish line, though Lietz and the team contested that he made the pass prior to coming out of turn six, which was allowed by GRAND-AM rule.
Regardless, the team would fall towards the tail end of the lead lap as a result of the incident, thus settling in to a solid third place behind the no. 59 and 67. With Andy Lally taking the wheel followed by John Potter, the no. 44 would slowly gain ground on the cars in front as the night wore on. Then, at approximately 5AM, Daytona newbie René Rast got in the car… and that’s when things got interesting. Rast, the two-time reigning Porsche Supercup Champion, truly put in a blinding double-stint as the sun went up. Fighting with the 67 TRG steed of long time rival Jeroen Bleekemolen for the second position, Rast gained gradually on the flying Dutchman, leading to an exciting outside pass in to turn one and miraculously making it stick.
Turning his focus on the red, white, and blue Brumos 59 ahead of him, Rast then put on the afterburners, mounting a charge for the lead and Marc Lieb. Gradually eating away the delta, Rast had made up much ground on Lieb as his double-stint came to a close. Headed out of NASCAR turn 2, Rast would grab a draft on Lieb moving toward the bus-stop chicane, not only out-braking him to take the lead, but also causing Lieb to run wide and run straight through the bus-stop chicane.
As the sun came up, the no. 44 was now the clear leader. With Lietz taking over for the exhausted Rast, the team would keep the lead for the next hour before suffering the second challenge of the event. As Lietz came in for his second stop of the stint, the team made a near-fatal error. By Grand Am rule, to promote safety, no team member may be allowed to work “under the car”; and when a crew member reached under the car to remove debris, the team was penalized again for the infraction. However, this time, it would be more than just a stop and go, requiring the car to be held for one minute while in the pit stall without doing any additional work. Facing the most excruciating one minute of the race, the team fell back by a lap and a half as this all unfolded, relegating them from a distant lead to a distant third.
This would start a four hour process of fighting back for top honors. With Lietz, Lally, and Rast all trading duties through the morning, the team would slowly gain ground on the 59 and 67 cars ahead of them, fighting to return to the lead lap by lunch-time, until an opportune yellow would finally bring the 44 right back in to contention.
With only three hours remaining, it was time to race. Putting Andy Lally behind the wheel, and having caught the 59 and 67 cars thanks to caution periods, it was time for Lally to go to work. Making easy work of Wolf Henzler in the 67, Lally would set his sights on Leh Keen in the Brumos no. 59 in the closing hours. With off-setting pit strategies starting to come to light, it was clear that every team would likely need to make at least two more stops, and as the laps continued, it was clear Lally would be required to dispatch with Keen on the track.
With just under two and a half hours to go, Lally was able to make good use of the draft through NASCAR Turn Three, passing Keen down the front stretch and re-assuming the lead. Almost equally important, in his efforts to get back around Lally, Keen’s aggression would get the better of him as he made slight contact with Lally’s bumper in the International Horseshoe, slightly damaging his front splitter and effecting the car’s speed dramatically. Hurley Haywood would later say that the damaged splitter was costing the team as much as 3 seconds per lap.
With fewer than two hours remaining, the Magnus 44 would pit, with Richard Lietz taking the reins until the end. With Wolf Henzler driving hard in the no. 67 and now Marc Lieb back in the no. 59, Lietz needed to keep pace in order to maintain the gap to everyone behind. Keeping pace is exactly what Lietz did, making the final pit stop with 40 minutes to go, Lietz never looked back and delivered the team to their first victory.
Andy Lally, now a four-time Rolex 24 winner had this to say: “Unreal…. John drove incredibly today, and was a huge part of our win. Richard was the professional you’d expect him to be, and René just really came on strong. We were lucky to have the line-up we did, and even luckier to have such an incredible crew. Magnus Racing is an incredible team, this is going to be a special year.”