The Rolex 24 at Daytona celebrated its 50th anniversary this year with a stellar field of international racing teams and drivers, several having ties to the Cincy area.  The excitement of the start of the racing season is pervasive throughout the central Florida area with many series getting their season started in the agreeable climes that make for great racing, again several tri-state teams made their way onto the track to get 2012 started, here is a review of the action and results.
    
Rolex 24 at Daytona, a twice around the clock endurance contest for Prototypes and Grand Touring cars sanctioned by Grand-Am (http://www.grand-am.com/) on the road course at Daytona International Speedway, kicks off Speedweeks that will include NASCAR's Daytona 500 and culminates with Bike Week.  The Cincy area has long been a hotbed for road racers that have challenged the world's best teams and drivers.  This year a multiple local drivers and teams raced through the night in hope of starting their season with a victory, and several came very close.
    
The GT (Grand Touring) class had three entries with local connections; Stevenson Motorsports Camaro with John Edwards driving, Flying Lizard with Wright Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup Car and Alliance Autosport Porsche GT3 Cup car with Scott Rettich amongst the drivers.  
The Stevenson Team (http://www.stevensonmotorsports.com/) came closest to spraying the champagne from the podium but missed it by a whisker and finished fourth just one lap (less than four miles) behind the winning Porsche.  John Edwards (http://www.johnedwardsracing.com/) obviously had a stout performance, and was the first non Porsche in the class, driving a Camaro GT.R with co-drivers Robin Liddell and Ronnie Bremer.  Edwards and Bremer each came through the open wheel ranks while Liddell is a veteran in the GT category.  The open wheel experience teaches drivers to win sprint races; John has adapted very well to the long distance racing and exhibits the speed required to compete at this level, while being easy on the equipment to make sure the team is poised to be in contention at the end of the race.  The endurance races have become 24 hour sprints with each driver being required to produce consistent lap times close to the qualifying times, no more riding around for three quarters of the race and then turning up the wick at the end, it is hammer and tong from the green flag to the checker with today's depth of teams and drivers.  Bravo to John and the Stevenson Team for a job well done.
 
Flying Lizard with Wright Motorsports (http://www.wrightmotorsports.com/) from Batavia entered the GT category with a Porsche GT3 Cup Car.  Both these teams have competed at the Rolex 24 before but recently had been pursuing victory in other series.  Combining their efforts for 2012 allowed them to attack this race without compromising their competitiveness in their primary arenas.  Endurance racing is a mammoth undertaking that demands a huge expenditure of resources, a minimum of 25 crew personnel at the track being fed and watered, enough spare components to rebuild the car several times over in case of failure or incident damage, multiple tool sets for garage and pit areas, and much much more.  The appearance of hybrid teams is a regular sight in the international endurance sports car racing world and the possibilities were promising for John Wright and his crew.  Behind the wheel were drivers that are hand picked by Porsche for their speed and ability to manage the machine for the duration of the race.   Flying Lizard principal Seth Nieman was driving when one of the Daytona Prototype cars slammed into his right rear corner in the infield section of the track, causing significant damage to the car.  Nieman nursed the car back to the pits where the crew worked at a fever pitch to repair the damage and get the car back on track and up to speed, however the deficit was too large to overcome and the chances of another podium finish for the team slipped away through the night.  The Flying Lizard with Wright Motorsports Porsche ended up 15th in the GT category at the end of the 24 hours, a valiant effort by two of the best Porsche teams in North America.
 
The Alliance Autosport Team (http://allianceautosport.com/index.php) from Columbus also fielded a Porsche GT3 Cup Car at Daytona, with Camden Ohio's Scott Rettich (http://www.scottrettich.com/)as part of the driving team.  I have been on-track with Scott and some of his crew in club sports car races and they are a great bunch to compete with, it is super to see them tackling one of the toughest series in North America.  This was the team's first Rolex 24 at Daytona, even though Scott and others had competed in the race with other teams.  Qualifying showed that the team had good speed, placing them 30th out of the 45 GT cars, but in this field their times were not that far off the front runners and endurance racing rewards consistency, so the chances for a strong race loomed large.   The race started well with the first hour and pit stop going as planned, however in the second hour a clutch problem slowed the team, being early in the contest they took the car to the garage and fixed the clutch rather than drive the next 22 hours with no clutch.  Returning to the track the team was running strong, turning very competitive times and waiting for the competition to encounter issues that would assist their climb through the field when another GT car blew a tire in turn two of the banking and took the Alliance Autosport Porsche hard into the outside wall at 160 mph.  Team manager Suren Tchobanian and the crew went to work replacing right side front and rear suspensions, Fenders and aerodynamic devices and checking the car for other damage that would derail their efforts.  for the next 15 hours the team battled back from nearly last place to finish 28th.  A tough race for the Alliance Autosport Team that showed the depth of talent and commitment to being competitive in endurance racing that will set the tone for the rest of their Grand-Am season.   
 
The Daytona Prototype category included Doran Racing (http://doranracing.com/) from Lebanon Ohio in the Combos Dallara-Ford with the Friselle brothers, Jim Lowe and Indycar ace Paul Tracy sharing the driving duties.  Kevin Doran's teams have captured victory at the Rolex 24 several times.  Qualifying tenth the team suffered a rough start and fell to 13th in the first hour, correcting the problem they started to climb in the standings about hour 12 and finished 7th in the Daytona Prototype category.
Overall the teams with Cincy connections fared fairly well at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, however fell short of the desired result of standing atop the podium in Victory Lane.  Watch for these teams throughout the rest of the season as they compete across North America.  Watch for these teams to race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course later this year and at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, it is always exciting to see them run up front.

Aside from the races at Daytona Central Florida tracks hosted a variety of racing series including Sprint Cars at Ocala that attracted the Hoffman Auto Racing Team (http://www.hoffmanracing.com/) from Milford Ohio.  Founded in 1929 by Gus "Old Timer" Hoffman this team is one of the most successful teams in the history of USAC Sprint Cars.  Many of us remember the Hoffman's Little King's Special running at the Indy 500 with Larry "Boom Boom" Cannon behind the wheel.  Richard Hoffman operates the Mean Green Cleaner sponsored Team today with additional sponsorship from Milford's own Lykin's Companies.  The Hoffman's took two cars to Ocala for the start of the Sprint Car racing and snatched a very exciting win last Saturday with Daren Hagen driving the famed #69 to get 2012 started in just the right fashion to compete for another championship.  Congratulations to the Hoffman Auto Racing Team, we look forward to seeing you back in the Cincy area competing this summer.
Mark your calendar for a charitable cause and fun day of motorsports April 21, 2012 when the Friends of Steely Library and WNKU FM (the area's BEST radio network) will conduct an 80k Road Rally/Rod Run and Car Show on the NKU campus to benefit the Library and the WNKU radio network.  Watch this space and check into (http://friendsofsteely.nku.edu/) or (http://www.wnku.org/) for more information.  Come out and have some fun with this family friendly event this spring.