2018 Bathurst 12 hours

Seems odd that this blog has been on hiatus since the 2017 Bathurst 12 hours, but the 2018 edition seems like as good an excuse as any to put a few shots up on the interwebs.  If you’re interested in more frequent updates, please follow @rennphoto on Twitter and Instagram.

20180204-IMG_945620180203-076A8638The 2018 race was another memorable event.  Whether you call the venue the “Blue Hell” (coined by Maro Engel) or the “Monaco of the Outback” (coined by Tim Pappas) or just “the Mountain” as a shorthand for Mount Panorama, there is no question that the Bathurst 12 hour race is now a mandatory fixture on the global sportscar racing scene.


The quality of teams and drivers, the support of manufacturers, and the amount of global attention are tangible signs of the event’s prominence.  After all, an event three hours west of Sydney is not nearby or on the way to anything else, so there is a serious commitment of time, energy and resources to make it happen.

20180203-076A8329The story of the race has been told in media and print elsewhere, but a few points of note here…

20180203-076A8533First, two Pro-Am Porsches outran many full factory driver squads and came within a hair of a 1-2 overall win.  If not for an early race stoppage, the Audi and Mercedes that finished at the top would have needed another pit stop for fuel and would have surrendered the lead.  The shiny green Black Swan Racing Porsche made its first visit to the Mountain and impressively claimed third overall and first in the Pro-Am class.  The #12 Competition Motorsports Ice Break/Virgin Australia car shares Southern California was right behind, following their class win and second overall in 2017.  Both cars sport Southern California connections which is a great sign of international support.

20180202-076A778720180202-076A8010Second, safety cars played a major part in the first half of the race before the race was ended early due to a major crash.   The early safety cars allowed amateurs to get their drive times in early and turn the wheel over to their professional co-drivers.  The interruptions also allowed cars to stay on the lead lap or catch up when they fall behind.

20180204-IMG_9142Third, Bathurst is a great spectator track.  Plenty of different views and angles and viewpoints.  Rewards if you’re willing to do some walking.  Easy to get around.  Spectator friendly areas atop the pit lane complex.  Shuttle buses.  Seats, seats with shade, places to bring a lawnchair or spread a blanket, places to set up a picnic area under a tent.  Camping trackside.  To be fair, lodging is sparse near Bathurst, food is relatively expensive, and mid-summer weather can include blazing sunshine to rain.   Same could be said about most race tracks in some form though…

20180203-IMG_8431The unique format of starting in the early morning darkness is wonderful.  The dark running doesn’t last long before the sunrise claims the day, but it is wonderful.

20180204-076A8762Make your plans to join the fun trackside or follow along via the web in 2019.  In the meantime, enjoy this gallery of a few selected shots…





Dirty BMW M6 Pit Stop

076a4599The #25 BMW M6 GTLM entry is a very, very dirty car.  Perfect.  With its giant hood nostrils, historic white, blue and red color scheme and accents of tire debris, bugs and evidence of contact, the BMW is the very picture of an endurance race car.  Sadly, the car would retire soon after this pit stop with a steering rack problem – illustrating the mechanical reliability challenge of the endurance race car.

Camera Settings – 1/250 shutter speed, f/2.8, ISO 640, 102mm.

Magnus Audi on Pit Lane in the Darkness

076a4585The best racing of the day could be found in the GTD class.  The late race joust between Andy Lally in the Magnus Audi and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the Viper was epic stuff.  A rule violation for the Audi on minimum driver times meant that the Audi crossed the line first, but was moved to the back of the class in the official results.  The team made a mistake interpreting the rules and that story has been written.

The photo is interesting for another reason – the distinctive lighting scheme which makes the car easy to spot in the darkness.  The two rails of green light running from front to back along the sides of the roof are bright.   The yellow outline of the front grille and the green accent, however, with the angular headlights gives the car an aggressive posture.  This pit stop came with just less than 2 hours remaining in the race.

Camera Settings – 1/250 shutter speed, f/2.8, ISO 640, 175mm.  Panning shots with low light can be a challenge.  The wide aperture and the higher ISO help to offset the diminished light.

Farewell Audi

20140611-11161445Much has already been written and said about the withdrawal of Audi from the FIA WEC series and top-tier LMP racing.

Among others, Marshall Pruett has observations at Racer.com and Gary Watkins has his own analysis on Racer.com here.

Graham Goodwin says thank you to Audi on Dailysportscar.com and Stephen Kibley has an excellent historical retrospective.

20140615-15061050John Dagys talks about Audi’s Gift to the Endurance Racing World on Sportscar365.com.  Tony DiZinno credits Audi for making Le Mans great again and offers some personal reflections about what Audi did for his personal sportscar passion.

The gang at Radio LeMans talked about the news during the Midweek Motorsport Edition on the day of the announcement.  That podcast is available here.


Like NASCAR struggled in the years after RJ Reynolds Winston sponsorship ended, the FIA WEC will struggle in the absence of Audi.  The amount of “activation” resources spent by Audi has been enormous.  For every Euro of engineering or staff investment for the product on the race track, Audi must have spent a Euro (or more) to make sure everyone knew they owned the track.

20140615-15151542Banners alongside the track have been a very visible means of grabbing eyeballs and making sure you remember Audi’s presence even when the four rings aren’t in the television frame or spectator’s sight line.


20140615-15063128The quantity of staff and guests at LeMans alone was staggering.  Multi-story temporary hospitality structures?  Yes – several of them.  Audi didn’t just bring guests to LeMans – they took over an exhibition hall to build hundreds of pods for guests within a 10 minute walk from the Le Mans track – and kept a fleet of cars and vans to ferry guests around the facility.

Building a structure just before the Dunlop bridge solely for all spectators – not just invited VIPs – to get a great look at cars launching up the hill at the end of the front straight?  Yes.

20140612-12153859Those things barely scratch the surface of the Audi approach to making the most of their investment.  The logistics are incredible.  The impact for service providers, caterers, local temporary staff, airlines, construction crews, transporter drivers, electricians, and more will be material.  While the loss will be felt inside the FIA WEC offices.  The tracks that sell advertising space and hospitality spaces and the surrounding communities will also feel the impact.

20140612-1210355320140612-12123913-2The high standard on the race track is abstract in some ways, but certainly operated as a bar for others to meet.  We know that Audi staff had to make the case each year to continue their program, but imagine the poor person tasked with making the business case to a Board of Directors or Chief Financial Officer at another manufacturer to spend the cubic Euros that it would take to be competitive.

“We should be able to win so that we get good publicity, right?”

“Maybe here and there, but Audi has pretty much dominated Le Mans and most other race tracks so we shouldn’t count on winning anything.  They sometimes run 3 cars which gives them a few chances at a win.  If one stumbles, we might get on the podium.”

“What about if we spend $100m Euros?  We should be able to win with a budget of $100m Euros, right?”

“Not likely.  Audi spends north of $200m each year.”

“We should be able to at least be competitive, right?”

“Not really.  Audi has a deep bench of very experienced engineers who have perfected their craft, they constantly develop new cars and new technology and have some of the best drivers in the world.”

“Why would we do this, let alone spend $100m Euros for the privilege?”


As the philosopher Tommy Kendall says, there may be no right or wrong, but there are consequences.

20140612-12111853The rear-end change during the 2000 LeMans race is still discussed today.  Think about that for a second.  We are in 2016 and a mechanical fix done 16 years ago during one race still is discussed in hushed tones of reverence among sportscar fans.  It is memorable amidst all of the all of the other memorable Audi moments on the track and when the trophies were handed out.  In fact, the switch was so remarkable that it inspired a change in the regulations to ensure that such a thing could never happen again.


There wasn’t anything cutting edge about the technology.  No unobtainium materials were employed, hybrid harvesting systems in operation, or crazy budgets involved.  It didn’t even test the rules or seek to operate in the gray areas of nebulous interpretations.  It was merely very clever engineering and preparation.   It was the brains of the people involved.  The regulation change was ostensibly made in the name of cost, but it was a tangible sign of the ever-present push to be better, faster, more reliable, and more competitive.  It was also a signal to the rest of the field and any potential challengers.

20140615-15062351-2As easy as it might be to blandly attribute Audi’s success to a faceless German automated machine, the Audi effort was populated by colorful characters.  Dr. Woflgang Ullrich always had a twinkle in his eye as he fielded questions from pit reporters during the race.  He also generously stopped what he was doing briefly in pit lane on the morning of Le Mans to say hello – and did it with a big smile.  Brit Howden “H” Haynes played the central figure in the Truth in 24 and made himself a celebrity in the sportscar world.  Like Dr. Ullrich, he is the same person with the same affect as the person seen on screen and he easily made time to briefly chat about the misfortunes in practice for the 2014 race and subsequent repairs.  Howden’s protoge, fellow Brit Leena Gade, not only calmly stepped into his place when he departed Audi, but claimed victory on her own terms.   When is the last time you saw a spectator banner at the racetrack that featured the name of an ENGINEER?  Drivers, teams, countries – yes.  But, an engineer?  The power of the personalities at Audi, Audi’s willingness to let them be the focus of attention, and their relentless desire to do no more than play their part in the team.



Ulrich Baretzky, the Head of Audi-Sport Engine Development and mad scientist of the engine department, has designed powerplants for almost every type of race car since starting at Audi in 1986 (and did quite a bit before that point as well).  Like changes such as Diesel or not, Audi was at the forefront of hybrid and diesel technology along with a host of other technological developments. Another one with a twinkle in his eye, one wonders what ideas were tried in the lab but never made it to see the light of day.  One can debate the beauty of the Audis – brutish in some years rather that beautiful – but the car clearly was always designed around the engine.

Reinhold Joest was well accomplished long before getting together with Audi.  He was a successful driver, winning at daunting places like the Nurburging and the 24 Hours of Daytona.  He never won LeMans as a driver, but drove the famous (infamous?) Porsche 917 Pink Pig at LeMans in 1971 so his name still adorns the flanks of the car as it sits on display in the Porsche museum.  In total, Herr Joest has won the 24 Hours of LeMans a total of 15 times.  That does not happen by accident.  The purposeful, methodical, and logical approach to race preparation and execution is the product of experienced and wise leadership.

20140615-15150829Americans could always look to Brad Kettler, a fixture in so many different roles in the Audi racing program over many years.   Tom Kristensen – Mr. LeMans – is likely the sole reason for the Danish invasion at Le Mans each year.  Allan McNish always proudly ran with the Scottish Hunting MacInnes tartan banner on his helmet.  There is no question that the program always was for a German manufacturer with deep German roots, but the best and the brightest were sought regardless of the flag on their uniform.

20140614-14130753-2In 2011, Audi endured two enormous crashes.  Allan McNish’s unsuccessful attempt to slice down the inside of a Ferrari GT car just after the Dunlop bridge rained Audi parts down on photographers and bystanders.  A full wheel assembly bounced behind the barrier with suspension pieces still attached.  Later in the same race, Mike Rockenfeller crashed at night in a big way and littered the track with debris in the fast run towards Indianapolis corner (ironically, also trying to pass a Ferrari GT car).  There wasn’t great video of the incident, but the magnitude was clear.

The looks of concern in the pit box and dampness in Dr. Ullrich’s eyes betrayed the emotion of the moments.  The emotion was palpable.  Despite crashes that comprehensively destroyed both cars, both drivers walked away – an amazing testament both to the design of the cars and to the investment the team had in the men behind the wheel.

Even down two of their three bullets in the gun, Audi won the 2011 race in front of three Peugeots.

20140612-12201933While we’re talking about drivers, consider the roster of drivers that have worn the Audi rings in the prototype program.  Yes, names like Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish come to mind easily.  But think about names like Frank Biela, Didier Theys, Emanuele Pirro, Rinaldo Capelo and Michele Alboreto.  Alboreto, the Italian former Ferrari F1 driver , sadly died in a 2011 testing crash at Lausitzring in an Audi R8.

20140615-15154402Christian Abt, Laurent Aiello, and Stephane Ortelli ran in the early days of the program.  Mike Rockenfeller, Timo Bernard, Romain Dumas, Loic Duval, Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer, Lucas Di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis, Marc Gene, and Lucas Luhr came later.

20140614-14122616The drivers individually were impressive and the Audi success helped them to establish their place in history, but the driver combinations were magic.  Biela, Pirro, and Kristensen won three Le Mans races in a row.  McNish, Capello and Kristensen won Le Mans, Sebring and others.  Having fast drivers is one thing, but getting the combinations right and balancing the desire to be fast but to be a productive team-mate is an art.  Somehow Audi did that consistently.20140614-14110323

While customer cars weren’t numerous, the factory team stepped aside in support of customer cars from teams like the American Champion team.  Champion not only provided exposure in the United States, but it gave opportunities to drivers like Johnny Herbert, JJ Lehto, and Marco Werner who won LeMans overall in 2005.  Stefan Johansson had several drives for Champion as well.  Japan’s Team Goh claimed their own LeMans title in 2004.

20140614-14121630Audi’s engineering behind the scenes (and drivers and other support) gave Bentley it’s 1-2 finish in 2003 while customer teams followed in third and fourth.  While it may have been a Bentley badging exercise, arguably the win and publicity gave Bentley road cars a strong push in its resurgence as a player on the luxury car market.

20140615-15061119With so many moments and angles to choose from, it can be easy to overlook even those that attracted global attention at the time.  Think back to 2014 when Porsche made its return to top-tier sportscar racing.  Just before the race, Audi published a one minute Youtube video showing an Audi LMP prototype making its way from Ingolstadt, through the German countryside (passing a gentleman on a Porsche tractor – cheeky and subtle), into Stuttgart and stopping in front of the Porsche factory.  Spinning tires created a haze of tire smoke but instead of circular donuts, the prototype spelled out “Welcome Back” on the pavement.  Very classy.  Excellent concept and choreography.  Very clever use of social media.  Interestingly, the message was also scrawled on the pavement in English rather than German, a clear acknowledgement of the global target for the message.

Of course, Audi had already learned the power of media multiplication through their support for Radio LeMans, and the twin Truth in 24 documentaries.  The documentaries were spearheaded by Audi USA and gave birth to one of the iconic lines of the sport – “It always rains at Le Mans.”  John Hindaugh’s commentary to millions of radio and internet listeners brought fans much closer to the sport and to the Audi story.  His soundtrack for the movies told the story of the races.  Just as Audi helped to support Radio LeMans, Radio LeMans helped to spread the word for Audi.  A rising tide lifts all boats…

Books can be (and will be) written about the Audi era of prototype sportscar racing.  Audi’s place in history is unique and ought to be recognized.  Should Audi be compared with Porsche?  They both racked up overall wins, adapted with changes in technology, pushed the limits of development and sustained over a long period of time.  Porsche perhaps wove a broader thread of influence throughout the grid by virtue of its more extensive customer program and its support of both prototype and GT classes at the same time.

20140611-11161248-2Sadly, the complex nature of the modern-day prototype means that most Audi prototypes will never find there way into private ownership and historics racing.  Some of the earlier Audi R8 models have indeed been sold and make periodic appearances, but like the Porsche RS Spyder, that was very likely the last model that will do so.

201527003351130Arguably, Porsche’s place in sportscar racing history is continually cemented and enhanced by vintage races and events like the Rennsport Reunion that celebrate the marque.  Porsche has wisely supported such events as well.  So many fans have been drawn to models like the 956 and 962 who never saw the models race in period.  Audi is unlikely to have this kind of exposure for its racing heritage and its place in history will likely suffer for it.

250247372 So what’s next for Audi?  DTM and Formula E.

DTM is in shrinkage mode with the 2017 field paring back to 6 cars per manufacturer.  DTM racing is popular and high tech (and has some crazy history), but is relatively focused on the German and European market.  The races are sprint races for one driver rather than endurance races with multiple drivers.

Formula E is clearly the current favorite of European manufacturers given the focus on electric power as the future instead of internal combustion.  The rules give some latitude for development, but the races are open wheel sprints on mostly tight street courses.  It may be an unkind and biased assessment coming from an endurance sportscar fan, but it is difficult to see how Formula E has the potential to write history for Audi in a similar magnitude as sportscar racing.  Audi will undoubtedly attack the series with its methodical way of doing business and may score success, so there is no reason think that they won’t claim their share of headlines.

Does the R8 LMS platform continue?  The GT3 customer program has certainly brought success on the track and for Audi’s profit statement.  Arguably, Porsche has always set the standard for customer GT racing, but Audi gave customers more choices and proved that a business case can be made.  Mercedes sold over 100 SLS GT3 models and expects to sell a lot of AMG GT3 models further the point.  Chatter of an R8 GT3 successor has been suspiciously quiet, so one wonders whether the customer Audi GT program is coming to an end (whether due to the VW emissions fines or otherwise).  It would be a shame and diminish Audi’s ability to make a more permanent mark in sportscar history.

20160528-280751514 20160528-2808162357We honor the results.  We respect the effort, approach, dedication and passion.  We respect the pace of technological development.  We appreciate the exposure that Audi brought to the sport globally – not just at Le Mans.  We enjoyed the interaction with the personalities and additional layers they added to the story on the track.  We always feared the escalating budgets and the small number of players in the LMP class.  We knew maintaining both the Porsche and Audi programs within the same corporate family was borrowing time.   To invoke the cliche, we’re thankful for the experience but sad that it is over.  By any measure, Audi and all of the staff and drivers that wore the four rings as a part of the motorsports family should be proud of themselves.

Farewell Audi.  20140615-1515102420140615-15151041-2



GTLM leads GTD leads PC through Turn 10

076a1274Multi-class racing is a hallmark of endurance sportscar racing and IMSA’s version in the United States involves four classes.  The 10 hour Petit LeMans race at Road Atlanta was the season finale and involved a field of 38 cars.  Much electronic virtual ink has been spilled debating the merits or drawbacks of each class on its own and the relationship between the classes, but the mixture can make for exciting moments.

This shot was taken during first practice on Thursday and shows one of the GTLM Corvettes leading the #44 GTD Magnus Audi R8 and the #85 JDC Miller Motorsports Prototype Challenge entry.  The lens likely compresses the distance between the cars, but the actual margins between them were likely very tight given that the shot shows the trio having already turned in for the corner but nowhere near the Turn 10b exit.

For what its worth, the fan support for the Corvette program at the track was immense.  The Corvette car corral was huge.  Many of them participated in a parade lap.  The number was so large that the lead car was coming around at the end of their lap when the last cars were just pulling on the track to begin their lap.  Full credit to the fans and to Corvette for such great involvement and support.

Camera settings – 1/500 shutter speed, f/7.1, ISO 100, 420mm.  The key to the shot clearly was looking through the group to focus on the rear of the Corvette.

#31 Action Express Corvette Daytona Prototype Brushes the Gravel


In the opening minutes of first practice on Thursday, the driver of the #31 Action Express Corvette Daytona Prototype misjudged his braking point coming up on the #70 Mazda.  The car didn’t spin, but the car got sideways and missed the corner apex.  Correcting required putting two wheels into the fringe of the gravel trap and kicking up some gravel, but the car carried on with no obvious damage.  The moment of excitement illustrates by spectators gather at Turn 10a.  It is also an example of a near-miss early in practice that might have been much more costly to two teams.

Camera Settings – 1/200 shutter speed, f/10, ISO 100, 420mm.  The shot clearly isn’t perfect.  A better pan might have resulted in a crisper car or gravel being scattered.  However, it is an example of being in the right place at the right time and quick enough to get a workable shot of the action.  These are the lessons that (hopefully) make for a better shot next time.

The #31 Action Express Corvette Daytona Prototype was driven by season regulars Eric Curran and Dane Cameron and joined for the race by very recently crowned Indycar champion Simon Pageneaud.  They finished fourth overall, just off the podium.

Turner BMW Climbs to Turn 11

IMSA Petit Le Mans Retrospective – 2 of 40

076a1020The uphill climb to Turn 11 under the bridge puts a premium on corner exit to set up the downhill run through Turn 12, across start/finish and to another passing opportunity into Turn 1.  The exit from Turn 10 (called 10b) is also relatively slower than many other corners on the track, giving spectators a good look.

The (relatively) slower speed, also creates a good opportunity for a panning shot.  If the photographer can move the camera and match the movement of the car, the car will be in focus while the background and foreground will be blurred.  This effect creates the sensation of the car’s movement.

Along with a steady hand, the key is shutter speed and choice of background.  Too fast, and the car is frozen on the track and looking like it was placed there as a static display and showing no signs of speed.  Too slow, and the odds of getting the shot diminish considerable.   In addition, a background with variation makes the most of the blurring effect.

The #97 Turner Motorsports BMW was driven by Markus Palttala and Michael Marsal with Cameron Lawrence joining for the endurance event (Lawrence’s name was added on roof near the windshield at some point before the race).  Unfortunately, contact with the #96 team car likely resulted in a difficult post-race debrief session for all involved.

Camera Settings – 1/200 shutter speed, f/10, ISO 100, 420mm.

Mazda Takes the Green Flag

Petit Le Mans Retrospective: 1 of 40

076a0960The first practice session is always a little bit like the first day of school.  So much effort happens before any action.  It takes a huge effort just to get to the track from the teams, drivers, spectators, officials, track staff, suppliers and other vendors.  There is work to prepare the cars from the last race and adjust for the upcoming race.  There are checklists, protocols, and procedures.   Getting a clean start to the race event in the first practice can easily set the tone.   Get a good start on the checklist and the team feels like is can methodically work towards the green flag.  Encounter a problem – regardless of fault or cause – and the damage is two-fold.  Not only does the issue need to be repaired and addressed (if possible), but the time spent is lost and is often measured in money, spares, lost track time, and late crew evenings.

The corner worker in the flagstand at Turn 10a waves the green to welcome the first practice lap of the event for the #55 Mazda Prototype driven by Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez and Spencer Pigot.  Sadly, the #55 didn’t finish the race due to an engine misfire.

Camera settings – 1/250 shutter speed, f/10, ISO 100, 420mm.

Every Picture Tells a Story…

The philosopher Rod Stewart once observed that “Every picture tells a story.”  That may be true, but there usually is more to a story than a picture shows.

We’re going to try an experiment in this little corner of the interweb.

Foraging through files from photos taken in the past, we’ll use them as little diaries.  Perhaps commentary will focus on the technical mechanics of taking the photo.  Perhaps they’ll talk more about the subject or the venue.

In some cases, the commentary may be more about the warts or missed opportunity than the “perfect shot”.

The theme will be primarily motorsports, but will likely touch on other topics if the mood strikes.

Copyright is reserved for all photos regardless of whether they bear a watermark.  Permission for use can be arranged.

As with anything, who knows how (or even whether) this will work out but we won’t know if we don’t try.  Hope you enjoy the ride.

Rolex 24 P Class – A Deeper Look

Endurance races have multiple layers and there are a multitude of plots and sub-plots, unseen stories and angles and facts that get filled in later.  The Rolex 24 at Daytona had plenty of storylines that grabbed the headlines, but the days and weeks after the race provided an opportunity to have a closer look.  The Prototype class had 13 entries and plenty of intrigue.  With that, some observations and nuggets through the Prototype field at the Rolex 24:

  • In past years, P2 cars showed some pace, but struggled with reliability, fragility, and less professional driver line-ups. The Daytona Prototype platform has racked up wins with the opposite – reliability, strength and solid driving strength.  With that background, it was ironic that the 2016 Rolex 24 saw the winner persevere through early rear contact (at the hands of another P2 car) and late gearbox alarms to take the win while Daytona Prototypes that should have been favorites for the win suffered mechanical failures.20160130-30215427252
  • Both Ganassi cars had braking issues. The #02 had an exceptionally difficult race, plagued by brake issues throughout.  Tony Kanaan completed a three hour stint at about 8.5 hours into the race by losing front brakes completely and taking the car directly to the garage.  A broken brake line cost 10 laps to repair.  With just under three hours to go, NASCAR driver Kyle Larson was onboard the #02 when the brakes failed in the infield sending the car into the tire barrier and doing significant front-end damage and needed a flatbed for recovery.  The #02 eventually finished 7th in class and 13th overall, 28 laps off the lead.20160130-30143718149 20160130-3020051834 20160128-28091652253 20160128-28090909204
  • The #01 stayed on the lead lap until the early morning hours when overheating issues with about 5 hours to go sent the car to the garage for several laps. While stars among the driving line-up included Alex Wurz and Brendan Hartley, and Andy Priaulx, it also included young Lance Stroll.  We don’t know for sure one way or another, but one suspects that Stroll landed the ride due more to a business arrangement than pure merits given Ganassi’s access to other drivers like Sage Karam that didn’t drive.  Given Mr. Stroll’s youth, family resources, single seater crashes in Europe, a lack of any prior experience in a Daytona Prototype, and a crash on cold tires in his first outing in the car at the Roar test, observers wondered if he was the weakest link in the driving chain.  However, he acquitted himself quite well.  He drove three stints of about 7 hours of total drive time with average lap times within a few tenths of Hartley, the fastest of the drivers in the car.20160128-28092057298 20160130-3020031925
  • The Ganassi Daytona Prototype program officially ended after the Rolex 24. The two prototypes will not run again in competition.
  • The two Mazdas showed enough pace to give the team a taste of the front of the field. They’re not there yet, but were a lot closer than in all of 2015.  While the engineering exercise of the diesel engine may have been extraordinary, the move to a gasoline powerplant for 2016 finally allowed Mazda to play with the rest of the prototypes.  Sadly, the #70 retired after only 11 laps with a flywheel issue and gained fame as the first retirement of the 2016 Rolex 24 Hours in the hands of Tom Long.  Joel Miller and Ben Devlin never got to drive. The #55 ran another 316 laps before a valve train issue ended its run an hour shy of halfway.  The new engine had been in development during 2015 and racked up nearly 4,000 testing miles prior to the Roar test in January.  The little 2 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine manages to make about 570 horsepower.  The #55 wasn’t immune to more traditional dramas – the team switched steering wheel and ECU at about the 6 hour mark and also suffered a shredded left rear tire just after the 10 hour mark.20160130-30144229196 20160130-30204622121 20160128-28090758171 20160128-28090832189  20160130-30143722152 20160131-310316531 IMG_20160130_211227739
  • 2015 Indy Lights champ Spencer Pigot got his first ride in the prototype and first outing at the Rolex 24. He wasn’t use to sharing a car and looked forward to starting the 2016 IndyCar campaign with RLL with March testing at Sebring and an Indy 500 run in May.  All of the Mazda drivers were part of the Mazda driver development program.  Pigot had a distinctive fluorescent green glow in the dark helmet which made him easy to spot during the nighttime hours.  Despite Pigot’s resume, he wasn’t the fastest of the drivers in the car.  That honor was reserved for Jonathan Bomarito who has plenty of experience with the car and will run for the full season with teammate Tristan Nunez.20160130-302048141
  • The sympathetic favorite early in the race was the DeltaWing. Plagued by gearbox issues throughout 2015 and the perpetual debate about what it is and where it fits, Katherine Legge charged to the front in the opening of the race with an electric drive.  She drove with confidence, making bold passes into the bus stop and into turn one.  In her hands, the Delta Wing raced and passed other prototypes on the track for position on its merits without gimmicks of strategy or luck of caution flags. Legge has been extremely loyal to the program for several years – potentially to her detriment – and it was marvelous to see her and the car run well.20160128-2809085219520160128-28120632343  20160130-30143327117 The DeltaWing skipped the wet qualifying, so started dead last in the prototype field which equated to 13th place on the starting grid. By lap 8, Legge was up to overall.  By lap 27, she was leading overall and stayed in the lead for 14 laps.  She reclaimed the lead on lap 70 and held it through lap 81 when she pitted to hand over to Andy Meyrick after 2 hours and 34 minutes at the controls.  She was effusive when visiting the media center after her stint.  She rose to the pressure of having a competitive car.  She noted that the gearbox had been the car’s nemesis and admitted that they hadn’t run a 24 hour simulation, but were hopeful.  It must have been a crushing moment to see Meyrick crash into the back of a stalled prototype challenge car in turn one, ending the car’s race just over an hour later.  Somehow the radio message from the pits didn’t get through or was missed which left Meyrick unsighted as he arrived at the corner.  Sean Rayhall and Andreas Wirth did not get to drive.20160130-30143324114IMG_20160130_211131792
  • Action Express had to be one of the favorites for the overall win coming into the 2016 event. The team not only had won the Rolex 24 several times previously, but brought a stable driver line up and a stable car.  With so many other teams experiencing changes, they knew what they had and arguably enhanced their lineup with the addition of Scott Pruett in the #5 car.  It was surprising then to see both cars experience driveshaft failures at separate points during the race.  The #31 Whelen Corvette ran at or near the front for the bulk of the race until under 6 hours to go when a left rear drive shaft failed.  The repair took about 20 minutes and 13 laps.  Later, with only 3.5 hours to go, the #5 experienced the exact same problem while leading the race.  For a team that has little to no mechanical failures for two years, it was a tough time for a failure to strike.  The #5 lost only 11 minutes and 5 laps in the repair (remarkable – faster with practice?).  The #5 Mustang Sampling post-race press release noted that the car went off track three times during the race.  One was a brief nudge into the tires at turn 3 just shy of two hours into the event.  Another was a brief off track tour at turn 5 just shy of the 7.5 hour mark.  The third was a brief overnight detour due to oil from a troubled engine in a competitor’s car. The cars finished 4th for the #5 and 6th for the #31 – solid runs for both and both logged many laps in the lead, but they needed a perfect run for a podium. 20160130-30214738234
  • Is Pruett still fast?   He did fewer laps than the other drivers in the #5, but had the fastest average lap time.  Barbosa did the most laps by far for drivers in the #5 car.20160130-3019595517 20160130-3020250491
  • What about the #31? Simon Pagenaud was fastest and Brit Jonny Adam was close behind in his debut, Dane Cameron was also close and did the most laps of any driver in the car.  Kudos to Cameron for logging drive times among the longest of all drivers at a competitive pace.  Notably, there is no evidence that the #31 incurred any pit lane penalties at all – a very impressive feat given the number of other cars with at least one infraction.20160130-301958171
  • The “Highway to Help” Daytona Prototype sports the #50 as a nod to the more experienced driver line up. The team runs for charity and giggles rather than hardware, so they provide some additional color and character to the event.  When the checkered flag flew, the team not only was running at the finish, but finished 36th overall and 8th in class.  It wasn’t an uneventful run though.  The car earned several pit lane penalties, had some radio problems, incurred some rear bodywork damage, brought out a full course caution just before the halfway mark when the car came to a halt to drivers’ right at turn one.   The #50 went behind the wall, but emerged only 10 minutes later.  With under 2 hours to go, a left rear wheel hub issue delayed the car in pit lane.  Drivers Jim Pace and Dorsey Schroeder had both won in previous years.  Pace, the overall winner in 1996, was clearly the fastest in the car based on average lap times.20160130-30202705100
  • The #37 SMP BR-01 prototype surprisingly sat on the pole in the hands of Indycar driver Mikhail Aleshin which was quite the splash for the car’s US debut. After setting pole time in the wet Thursday session, however, the car lost its Nissan engine 21 minutes into Friday practice.  The team changed to an engine with some prior run time, but was unable to get a hardship lap prior to the start of the race.  Despite starting on the pole, Aleshin was third at the end of the first lap and slipped off the track at the west horseshoe on the 7th lap which cost several additional positions.  The car never led a lap during the race and spent almost the first 6 hours of the race near the back of the prototype field.  The car had contact with the pit exit wall and returned to the garage via the infield, dropping quickly to something like 44th  The BR-01 struggled throughout the race with brake problems but finished – albeit in 28th place overall 108 laps off the lead.  Nicholas Minassian was aboard when the car made a 3:30am visit to the garage for 15 minute stop.  Sadly, the language barrier prevented a full understanding of the issue by your humble scribe who doesn’t speak Russian.  Two technicians with laptops focused on the steering wheel which suggested that perhaps shifting electronics in the complex steering wheel were the culprit.20160130-30143712147 20160130-30215414242 20160130-30215416243 20160131-31033659300 20160131-310342064 20160131-31034533311 20160130-3020001119 Michael Shank has to wonder what might have been. The #60 Ligier-Honda was dominant for hours at a time.  From just after the 4 hour mark, the car led more often than not in the hands of Oz Negri, Olivier Pla and AJ Allmendinger.  At times, the lead stretched to 30 seconds or more.  By average lap time, Pla was the fastest driver in the entire field.  Unfortunately, an engine failure at the 9.5 hour mark took the car from the lead to retirement.  The same powerplant went to victory lane in the other Ligier, so the platform was clearly a strong horse.  Ironically, the two Ligiers got together in the braking zone for the bus stop as John Pew overcooked his brakes and hit the back of the ESM car.  The Shank car needed a new nose, but the ESM car appeared to dodge a bullet that could have ruined its race.20160128-28120816344 IMG_20160129_083940638 20160128-28085729100 20160130-3020080551 20160130-3019594516 20160131-310317521
  • It was all change for the VisitFlorida #90 Daytona prototype behind the wheel and the team was rewarded with a quiet run to the podium and a lead-lap finish. Some grass on the grille and loose front bodywork in the early hours was visible evidence of a run off course at some point with Ryan Hunter-Reay.  The team changed the rear wing at the 5 hour mark.  The #90 appears to have incurred a single drive through penalty for a pit lane infringement (wheels spinning while up on the jacks) and that was at the 7 hour mark.   It also had a power steering problem on Sunday morning that required an ECU change.  Otherwise, it was a clean race and the #90 stayed in the top 3 or 4 cars for most of the race.  Marc Goosens was the iron man at the controls with the most green laps run and the fastest average lap time.20160128-28091732261 20160130-3020071044 20160130-3020153869
  • The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Daytona Prototype Corvette again came up just short of a win.  Jordan Taylor suffered from mononucleosis but still managed to show strong pace in the car and log over 100 green laps.  So much attention was shined towards late joiner Rubens Barrichello, but he was the slowest driver based on average lap times and did the fewest laps in the car.  While Jordan Taylor and Barrichello got the headlines, Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor were the strong horses for the #10 entry, logging many of the green laps. Ricky Taylor tweeted after the race that he lost 9 pounds of weight through the event.  Showing what kind of run is required for the win, the #10 car spent less time in the pits than any other prototype, had no pit lane penalties, and had no off course incidents.  However, exhaust fumes got into the cockpit for the last few hours and ended up with Jordan Taylor cutting his last stint short and Angelelli barely bringing the car across the finish line.  He was taken unconscious to the hospital and kept overnight.  An extremely close call that could have resulted in disaster for the drivers in the #10 car and other competitors.  One wonders whether some sort of sensor in the driver’s compartment would be a good idea since monitoring the environment for the driver ought to be at least as important as telemetry for the car’s health.20160128-28091419231 20160129-2908411457 20160128-2809194428620160130-30214804237 20160130-3020052035 20160130-3020253093
  • That leaves the winning #2 ESM Patron Ligier Honda. The car took the lead with about 6 hours to go and never really relinquished it until the checkered flag.  As noted previously, the ESM car had a close call with contact from the rear heading into the bus stop.  In the closing laps, a gearbox temperature alarm was going off for Pipo Derani which kept everybody on edge but obviously the car finished the race.  Derani was clearly the star of the show with the fastest average lap times of drivers in the car (and most drivers) and the most green laps logged in the car.  In fact, his record of about 250 laps was among the most green laps run in the event by any driver overall.  Johannes van Overbeek and Scott Sharp ran clean, consistent and quick laps as well.  Owner Ed Brown did only a small handful of laps and deferred to the hot shoes for the vast bulk of the running.  Brazilian Derani was known to those that follow the WEC and LeMans given his 2015 drive with the G-Force Ligier LMP2 team, but 2016 was his first race in the US and first Rolex 24 run.  He certainly will have done his career prospects no harm, so keep an eye out for him.  He will be running with ESM for a full 2016 WEC season.20160128-2808560893 20160130-30143307111 20160130-30212902161 20160130-3020000518
  • The first ever Rolex 24 win for the Honda engine almost got lost in all the excitement. Honda has had a challenged several years in US sportscar racing between prototype cars and engines, so a win must be a welcome reward for all of the work and faith.  Interestingly, it also puts Honda in an odd position for the future when it isn’t sure whether it can supply engines to customers in light of ambiguities in the rules package.20160128-28090754169
  • Interestingly, the Shank and ESM teams coordinated on logistics for 2016. The chassis used by ESM to win the Rolex 24 was also run by Oak Racing at the 2015 LeMans 24 hours with Nissan power.  Shank is running the 24 Hours of LeMans in 2016 for the first time and will be using the Daytona winning car for that race.  As ESM is running the full WEC season, ESM leased the car from Oak for Daytona who will eventually ship the car back to Europe to get it ready for Shank at LeMans.  The arrangement permitted ESM to lease their car for Daytona without having to risk impacting their WEC cars and program and likewise permits Shank to show up to LeMans  without impacting his US IMSA program.20160130-30143312113 20160130-30144723238

All eyes look forward to Sebring and remaining questions on reliability and pace among the various prototype flavors.