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LALLY: Rolex 24 Debrief

Andy Lally files his first Sportscar365 column of the year…

Photo: Darren Pierson

Photo: Darren Pierson

It’s great to be back for another year of writing for Sportscar365; this is a great website made up of some very dedicated people who live and breathe this sport.

It’s especially exciting to be able to write about the debut season of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Despite all of the bickering and complaints, it’s an amazing time to be in this sport, and I look forward to seeing how the year develops.

Daytona is of course a very special place for me. I’ve had four wins there, my most recent one coming in my debut race for Magnus… it was a great way to come back after a year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Unfortunately, our 2014 race wasn’t really what we were hoping for.

It’s one thing to have a fighting chance but be taken out by bad luck, but to be honest we were never really much of a factor all month. It’s tough to explain why, as there’s no one reason for it.

Porsche has brought an all-new car, the Porsche 911 GT America, which is essentially the new 991 Cup car with a few additional features similar to what we raced last year. It’s an entirely new car, and with that comes a lot of development not only on the outright speed, but also the longevity of the car.

Combined with that, the GTD category rules have been really, really slow to come out. The impact this has on a team’s preparation is difficult to describe. In a case like ours, where we’re dealing with a whole new car, it’s tough to make alterations on the machine as you don’t know what sort of pieces and mechanical parts are legal or illegal without proper rules, so all of the Porsche teams were stuck in limbo leading up to the race.

This all led to us showing up less prepared than we’ve ever been. It’s worth noting this has NOTHING to do with the Magnus crew, they did an excellent job of preparing for the circumstances thrown at them, it’s just impossible to be ready for a race where the rules aren’t issued until weeks before.

It’s very frustrating, as everyone on this team puts their heart and soul in to it, and it’s tough to show up feeling this behind knowing there’s nothing else you can do.

During the week of the race, there was a real sense of excitement around the paddock, but it was definitely muted knowing that we’d have a tough race ahead of us.

We didn’t have a lot of practice time, and I hogged the seat time a bit in order to get the car set up as well as could be, so I give a lot of credit to John Potter, Wolf Henzler, and J.F. Dumoulin, J.F. hadn’t even sat in the car until Wednesday, for getting up to speed quickly.

In qualifying we couldn’t really a good draft, we qualified 13th. Meh.

One thing that hasn’t been too publicized is my new Continental Challenge ride! I’m driving the Stevenson Motorsports Camaro Z.28.R, and it is a beautiful car. I’m very thankful to John Stevenson and his team manager Mike Johnson for teaming me up with Matt Bell, it’s a great opportunity and a program with a lot of potential.

Unfortunately, this weekend was the first real time the Camaro had been put to the test, and it suffered from many of the new car issues that can happen. I never even got a lap in the car until Friday morning practice.

During Friday’s Continental race, the car had issues from the moment we rolled off the grid, and we lost several laps repairing a small fuel issue. In all honesty, these sort of problems are normal for a development program, and I promise you that this car will be a beast when it comes together… you have a great pair of organizations in Stevenson and General Motors.

Speaking of organizations, back to Magnus!

There’s not much to say about the race. We had a couple of minor mechanical issues, and the typical problems in the front splitter that seem to always plague Porsches. That was enough to keep us out of the hunt, but it seemed like all of the Porsche teams had the same problems.

The one thing that was impressive was how the guys handled it. For example, they changed an air compressor under the dash that operates our gear selector in under 90 seconds. It’s impossible to describe how amazing that is.

Otherwise, their preparation really showed in the lack of time lost as they changed the front nose once, and a couple of different times on the splitter. Even on a weekend when you know you’re out of the hunt, these guys never waivered on their commitment, and that’s why I came back in 2014.

Then of course there’s Magnus’s marketing efforts, which didn’t disappoint in Daytona.

I have to give credit to the creative folks behind the scenes on this year’s video, as it was an entirely different tone from the past, but every bit as awesome. It really tugged at a lot of people’s heart strings. Then there was the poster, and the brilliant choice to bring Ryan Eversley on to the webcast, which had 100,000 viewers!

If nothing else, I’d say Magnus won the internet all month.

Finally, like many others I want to send my best wishes to Memo Gidley following his accident. It was a really, really tough one to watch, and he’s got a long road ahead. It could happen to any of us, but luckily he had a closed-cockpit car which likely helped.

Hopefully Sebring will be a better story to tell, and I’m glad I’m back to tell it.

Andy Lally (@AndyLally) is a three-time GRAND-AM champion and former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year, currently driving for Magnus Racing in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

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