Cool Things at the Rolex 24
Many race drivers dream of victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona — the prestige ranks with winning the Indy 500, Grand Prix of Monaco or the 24 Hours of Le Mans. To spectators, it sounds more than a little crazy to race for 24 straight hours in the middle of winter, endure more than 12 hours of darkness and contend with four different classes of cars on track at the same time. But drivers and team owners understand the allure of victory at Daytona. It’s a race of skill, strategy, determination and a bit of luck, all combining to make a win at the speedway one of the sweetest in motor racing. In addition to the intense competition, here are the top reasons you should make plans to attend the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
First Race, Diverse Race
After several long, race-less winter months, the Rolex 24 at Daytona is the first major event on the motorsports calendar. Held at the end of the January, four weeks before NASCAR’s Daytona 500, the Rolex 24 kicks off a new year of intense racing as the first round of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season. Because other race series have not started yet, you can expect to see drivers from NASCAR, IndyCar, European Le Mans Series and even Formula 1 compete in the Rolex 24.
The Rolex 24 is held at Daytona International Speedway, one of the most iconic American superspeedways. It was built by NASCAR founder Bill France in 1959. France had been promoting races on the beach, and he moved the races to the new speedway, with the first Daytona 500 in 1959. The Daytona Continental sports car race (3 hours) was held in 1962, and the first 24-hour race was in 1966. Every race fan should attend this hallowed venue just for its history, but the $400 million “Daytona Rising” renovation project currently underway promises to make Daytona International Speedway one of the premier tracks in the world.
Races are no longer held on the beach in Daytona, but the Atlantic Ocean is only a few miles from the speedway, and fans can easily add some beach time to the race weekend. Book a hotel at the beach if you prefer to awaken to the sound of waves lapping the shore. Even if you prefer falling asleep to the sounds of cars lapping the track, arrive a few days early or stay a few days extra to stroll on the sand.
Biggest Race of the Year
The Rolex 24 is the biggest and most prestigious race of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. While most sports and other racing series feature signature events at the middle or the end of the season, the TUDOR SportsCar Championship begins the season with the “Super Bowl” of sports car racing. For true racing fans, there is no other event that showcases the intense competition and determination to win, as drivers and teams battle through the night to see who will cross the line first after 24 intense hours on the track.
The Race Course
This 24-hour endurance challenge takes place on a course that combines the high-banked 2.5-mile tri-oval of Daytona International Speedway with an infield road section to create a 3.56-mile lap. On each lap drivers face the daunting challenge of running flat-out on the 31-degree banking, and then transitioning down the tri-oval into the maximum braking zone for a low-speed entry to the road course. The road course features two hairpin turns and a bus-stop chicane. Race fans can see the entire course from the top of the grandstand, or get up close next to the fence of the infield — the best of both worlds.
Toughest Race of the Year
The Rolex 24 is considered one of the three most elite endurance sports car races in the world, with the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring rounding out the big three. Many drivers consider the Rolex 24 as the toughest of the three because of the extended period of darkness and the constant transition from superspeedway to road course and back again, all while dealing with the speed differentials between the four car classes. Granted, Le Mans and Sebring present enormous challenges for drivers, crews and teams, but the Rolex 24 is the most daunting of all.
Before the race, fans can get right in the middle of all the excitement and build-up to the race start as cars line up in qualifying order along pit lane. Once the cars are in position, the grid is opened up for all fans to join the drivers, crew members, car owners and celebrities as thousands of people swarm the cars to get an up-close look at their favorite cars and drivers. It’s an amazing atmosphere for fans as the clock counts down to the start of the race.
Walking On Track
Before the race begins, fans can walk right onto the track at the tri-oval section in front of the grandstands before the race. It’s a humbling moment to stand on the banking at the start-finish line and comprehend the steep angle of the tri-oval banking, and take in the sightlines back to NASCAR Turn 4 and down the Turn 1 entry to the infield road course. Hundreds of fans roam the banking, sit on the track and sign their names on the start-finish line in the moments leading up to the start of the race.
Unlike most major racing events, the Rolex 24 not only attracts a wide range of race drivers from NASCAR, IndyCar, sports cars and Formula 1, but race fans have a surprising level of access to the drivers throughout the race weekend. A 45-minute driver autograph session is held in the garage area on race morning, where fans have a chance to meet their favorite pilots. Most drivers are also on the grid with their car during the open grid fan walk. During the race, fans will see drivers coming and going as they head to the pit to prepare for their next driving stint or return to the motor coach for some rest.
For those who long to immerse themselves in the total speedway experience, fans can pitch tents and spend the entire four days in Daytona without even leaving the track. The general camping area near NASCAR Turns 3 and 4 becomes a nonstop party zone with tents surrounding campfires, while at the other end of the infield luxury motor coaches line the road course area.
Racing Through the Night
Whether your preference is a tent, a luxury motor coach or a sleeping bag in the grandstands, the Rolex 24 offers non-stop racing throughout the night. For a true racing fan, there is something magical about the nonstop action, especially during the long, cold hours in the middle of the night. The racing spectacle never stops; it only pauses as cars pit briefly for fuel, tires or an unscheduled repair. Tired crews are always ready, frantically working to get the car back on track as quickly as possible. In many cases the crew members never sleep — the unsung heroes of the winning teams.
Cars You Can Recognize
While the top two classes at the Rolex 24 feature high-tech prototype cars purpose-built for racing, the cars that compete in the GTLM and GTD categories are based on production street cars. Although highly modified for both performance and safety, the cars in the GT class are recognizable, and chances are you will find a favorite to root for. It’s a blast to watch Corvettes battle Ferraris and BMWs, or Vipers take on Porsches and Aston Martins — all battling for that elusive victory on the high banks by the beach.