Perhaps ungainly to start with and often derided, the Daytona Prototypes still have served as a workhorse of first the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, then IMSA’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and now the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship over a 14-year period from 2003 to 2016.
Sunday after 2:40 p.m. ET and local time, the run for DPs at their namesake track of Daytona International Speedway will end. The DPs have raced at Daytona 23 times; meanwhile, IMSA and teams will prepare for the new DPi/LMP2 era starting in 2017.
The initial DP race at Daytona, the 2003 Rolex 24 at Daytona, featured only six of the new tube-frame cars and a shock overall win by the GT class-entered TRG Porsche 911 GT3 RS. This last DP race at Daytona, this year, will feature only one more than that, seven DPs in a 13-car Prototype class.
In the intervening years, the DP car count pushed 30 at the Rolex and was often in the high teens for a full season, and produced a high volume of dramatic races and finishes.
But as costs escalated and regulations evolved, the car count inevitably dwindled.
This will be the last season for the DPs and the nostalgia is already setting in for a number of teams and drivers that have been there for most, if not all, of the last 14 years.
“I’ve had the honor of being involved with GRAND-AM basically since the beginning and then was fortunate to be a part of the move to IMSA,” said Scott Pruett, who’s won 44 DP races since 2004 with Chip Ganassi Racing and now switches to Action Express Racing for this year’s Rolex 24 and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
“We had a time when sports car racing was fractured, divided and driven by large amounts of money and our sport was in jeopardy.
“We didn’t have not necessarily the right individuals at times setting the course at times, but fortunately Jim France and a group of individuals stepped in and made a car with some sustainability and affordability.
“The cars might not have been the prettiest at first, but they were affordable and we had about 18 prototypes. The racing was tough, hard and aggressive but it was a great product and through it all, we have IMSA today.
“So the DP did a lot for sports car racing from 2003 all the way forward to today.”
Pruett’s Rolex 24 wins with the DP have featured seven different co-drivers (Salvador Duran, Juan Pablo Montoya, Memo Rojas, Dario Franchitti, Graham Rahal, Joey Hand and Charlie Kimball), and he’s been the one constant with Ganassi.
As he joins Action Express this year in the team’s No. 5 Corvette DP, he’ll join past Rolex 24 overall winners Joao Barbosa (2010, 2014) and Christian Fittipaldi (2004, 2014) and Audi factory ace Filipe Albuquerque.
Barbosa’s been with Action Express from the start, and recounts the team’s surprise 2010 overall win as his favorite moment in a DP car.
“One of my favorite memories is my first overall Rolex 24 win in 2010,” Barbosa said. “Action Express Racing was a new team, and we were racing with a Porsche V8, so against all odds we had a great race and we won. It was an amazing feeling.
“The Daytona Prototypes have been great. Initially they weren’t as visually appealing when they first appeared, but over time, and certainly with the latest generation they’ve become some of the best looking cars anywhere.
“As they’ve improved they’ve become even more fun to drive. The are extremely robust and very dependable so you can drive them 100 percent all the time.”
The Taylor brothers arguably have been some of the DP’s biggest defenders, particularly when the 2014 merger between GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series occurred.
Ricky Taylor, who’s driven both an LMP2 car and a DP (as has Barbosa), noted the importance of DPs on his career.
He drove for father Wayne’s team, then moved to Visit Florida Racing for a year, then moved back to race with brother Jordan Taylor starting in 2014.
“I just feel kind of nostalgic with DPs,” he said. “It’s kind of how I’ve made my name, and how Jordan has made his as well since his GT stuff. We’ve always loved the driving style and the hard racing.”
Jordan Taylor took the 2013 GRAND-AM DP championship with Max Angelelli and has nine career DP wins. Ricky Taylor has 11 career DP wins.
Angelelli and the Taylor brothers seek Wayne Taylor Racing’s first Rolex 24 win since 2005 this year, and they’ll also look to avenge last year’s drive-time miscalculation.
The other Corvette DP team still standing is Troy Flis’ Visit Florida Racing squad, which was originally Spirit of Daytona Racing and has played a key part in the Corvette DP era.
At Barber Motorsports Park in 2012, Richard Westbrook and Antonio Garcia delivered the first win for a Corvette DP in GRAND-AM. The car’s five-year life cycle phases out at the end of the year, and Flis is keen for his new full-season pairing of Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens to close that chapter in the same way.
“It’s gonna be sad to see the DPs go away. But they’ve ran their course,” Flis said. “It will be sad to see them go away though because we’ve been involved for so long.
“We’re not gonna ride around and only work on ’17. Winning the championship and races is still the goal. We were the first Corvette to win and we’d like to be the last one, too.”
Pruett’s old team, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, signs off its DP era at Daytona this weekend, where the team has secured six Rolex 24 wins and two additional Daytona sprint race wins.
They’re the only two Riley-Fords in the field, a package that Michael Shank Racing took to the win in 2012 ahead of Starworks Motorsport following an epic duel between most notably AJ Allmendinger and Allan McNish.
Both those privateer teams are still standing of course.
Shank was the first DP stalwart to switch to an LMP2 chassis with the Ligier JS P2 Honda in 2014, and Peter Baron has primarily focused on his PC class program, with occasional DP starts the last few years.
A final mostly gentlemen driver entry, the No. 50 Highway to Help Riley-BMW, is the perfect last of the DPs to pay tribute to the end of the era.
There’s been plenty of pro-am DP lineups at Daytona over 14 years and while all others have faded away, this car carries the spirit of what the class used to be even if it lacks a realistic chance of a result.
Pruett perhaps is the perfect driver to sum up the finale, before it happens.
“Every Rolex 24 is special, but with this being the last year for the DPs, having been involved with DPs for the last 13 years, to win the last race that we’ll see these cars race at Daytona would be incredibly special,” he said.