Rolex’s commitment to the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA marked its 27th year this weekend as champions from across motor sport took to the famed North American circuit for this iconic test of endurance. After an intense contest in extreme weather conditions, resulting in the race finishing under the red flag, it was the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. that took overall victory. The winning drivers, Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande, Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi, led in the dry during the early stages of the race before mastering the treacherous rain and standing water that challenged the field in the final nine hours.
This year’s race was officially started by 2019 Grand Marshal Scott Pruett. The five-time overall winner of the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA and friend of Rolex reflected on the race: “It’s been a dream come true to be Grand Marshal, I’m really humbled and it’s been a fantastic experience. The racing was incredible tight from the start – it was nose to tail – with a lot of action in all the classes. It is unfortunate that we finished under the red flag, but the conditions were so tough and the right call was made. When you drive in these conditions it’s intense and precision is key because as we’ve seen, if you put a foot wrong, it will catch you out. The race, over the last 24 hours, demanded the highest level of commitment, focus and dedication and the drivers have been inspirational.”
Headlines were made on Thursday afternoon during qualifying when the No. 77 Mazda Team Joest broke a 26-year record, setting a fastest lap of 1:33.685 around this 5.73-kilometre (3.56-mile) circuit. The green flag declared the start of the race at 14:35 on Saturday afternoon as the 47 sports cars commenced their epic 24-hour journey. The No. 77 Mazda and No. 6 Acura Team Penske led the race initially but as darkness fell, Fernando Alonso in the No. 10 rapidly made his way through the pack to put his Cadillac in contention. As the Rolex clock passed the fourteen-and-a-half-hour mark, intense rain forced a number of full course cautions and a lengthy red flag. There were many incidents throughout the field and the drivers had to cope with multiple re-starts as the severe weather persisted into the morning. With a little less than two hours remaining, and moments before the ultimate race-ending red flag, Alonso took the lead, rounding off some inspired stints by the two-time FIA Formula 1® Drivers’ World Champion.
There was compelling driving across all four categories over the course of the race. In the separate secondary prototype class, the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) cars were in the mix with the leading Daytona Prototype international (DPi) drivers, as the four ORECA 07 Gibson teams exchanged places from start to finish in their battle for survival. Overnight the intense competition in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class developed with four different manufacturers in the top four often separated by seconds; while the leading car in the GT Daytona (GTD) field changed from lap to lap in the closing hours, as the challenging conditions tested the resolve of many of the drivers. Ultimately it was the No. 18 DragonSpeed ORECA 07 Gibson in the LMP2 class, the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE in GTLM, and the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Hurácan GT3 Evo in GTD that topped their respective categories, when the race result was declared official.
Following the race, the dedication and excellence of the winning team was celebrated in Victory Lane. In tribute of this success, Rolex rewards the victorious drivers with a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona, an infinite reminder of their achievement. Having stood on the top step of the podium in Victory Lane, Pruett fondly remembers the moment: “When you consider all the time, effort and energy that goes into trying to win the Rolex 24, it is completely consuming and a watch is a symbol of this commitment. If you win a trophy, it sits in your trophy case. However, when you win a Daytona, with “Winner” engraved on the back, there’s nothing more special. There’s no current driver or past driver who wouldn’t say the most memorable thing you can take away from this race is the watch.”
ROLEX AND DAYTONA
Rolex’s connection to Daytona harks back to the early 20th century when Daytona Beach attracted a wave of speed enthusiasts due to its long, flat and very firm straight of sand. Some 14 land speed records were set there, five by Sir Malcolm Campbell, including the fastest official time recorded there of 444 km/h (276 mph) in 1935 at the wheel of his mighty Bluebird with a Rolex on his wrist. In 1992, Rolex formalized this long-standing association with Daytona and Daytona International Speedway®, becoming the Official Timepiece and Title Sponsor of the 24-hour epic, further strengthening the link between the race and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watch. After 27 years, the brand is now so closely tied to the event that motor sport aficionados refer to it simply as “The Rolex”.