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OBSERVATIONS: Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona

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Roger Penske and Parker Kligerman are a special kind of breed. While fans strategically planned nap times into their schedule, both of these individuals went the full distance – 24 hours – without a single drop of sleep.

How is that humanly even possible? It’s something that I used to be able to accomplish, especially on those hot sticky days in the summer where you cannot get comfortable at night. Admittedly, though, I failed myself, having to sneak in a couple hour long naps.

While known as the one of the greatest sportscars races, the 2019 edition may not be in that category. While NBCSN had a great debut of their coverage and there was some spectacular driving on the track, weather and series decisions would overshadow that.

So as open-wheel stars Fernando Alonso and Colton Herta celebrate their respective victories, here are some observations to consider leaving Daytona.

Talented Drivers Bring Great Racing

No matter what time of day, whether the beginning of the race, or through the graveyard shift, or even in the morning in the midst of a monsoon, the talent of these drivers shined through.

The race had a bit of everything. Corvette Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing brought forth the drama storylines in GTLM, while side-by-side racing was the talk of the DP Class between Wayne Taylor Racing, Team Penske, and Whelen Engineering.

Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Kamui Kobayashi before midnight was great to watch, even if Montoya said it was “completely unnecessary” just seven hours into the event.

You also cannot forget the battle between Jordan Taylor and Felipe Nasr around the 12 hour mark as most people caught up on sleep. Of course, Nasr only got to lead for so long as Alexander Rossi made a beautiful pass just a half hour later; we shouldn’t be surprised as Rossi became known for those throughout the NTT IndyCar season.

Taylor and Kobayashi weren’t the only members of Wayne Taylor Racing that shined, as you could say that Alonso was the MVP. His pass on Dane Cameron through the bus stop as the rain began to fall was a thing of beauty, and showed why he’s won prestigious events in multiple disciplines.

Although quick to give the MVP to Alonso for that pass, along with his eventual pass on Nasr for the win, it goes back to Taylor for his driving in the rain. His ability to avoid the spinning lap car was a thing of beauty.

The Rain

As much as you hate to see fans have to deal with wet conditions, my smile widened the more that I heard about the possibility of weather. Anytime you get rain in motorsports, things usually get very interesting. Like Daniel Morad said, “it adds another element.” Being that this was the biggest stage with some of the most talented drivers, it was intriguing to think about how they’d handle it.

Now I wish that I never would’ve thought about it as frankly, the back-half and ending to this race turned into a mess as a result. Sorry for being the jinx.

Initially when Wayne Taylor told NBCSN his comments, I brushed them off. I mean, his team was leading at the time and avoiding green flag laps could prove to their benefit. So it’s no surprise you overlook things when he says, “The entire team doesn’t have any clue why we’re going in circles. Neither do the drivers. Anyone can look at the radar and see this is getting worse. Someone sitting in an office looking at the track needs to take the advice of drivers on track.”

That was only emphasized when Jimmy Vasser said, “If they red flag it, it’s just going to be puddle up more” as there were no signs of stopping and no big drying crew at the track.

But did we really wanna just sit here & watch them go around under caution? Was that worth it, with the conditions continuing to get worse? Besides, these are the best drivers in the world anyway supposedly. It’d make sense to just let them go and they play the risk vs reward game that we originally expected. They want to complain about it being sketchy – then go slower. Deal with it. That’s why you’re in the driver’s seat with control of pedals and wheel.

Ultimately, you know how the race will be remembered – and frankly, it’s nobody fault except for Mother Nature.

While rain can be fun and delays may be frustrating for fans, safety has also to be considered. When Alex Zanardi says “it’s the worst conditions that he’s experienced,” it makes you take a bit of a step back – a very small one – from thinking this is overkill in the reaction to the rain.

It was getting rightfully dangerous down in the lather stages of the event – as evident by blind on-boards and multiple incidents, so you can’t fault race control for the red flag in reality. It’s unfortunate, but what do you do?

However, IMSA could’ve made the situation better. They handled it right at the first red flag with race director Beaux Barfield releasing a video on Twitter stating why they had stopped the event. However, they didn’t do things right when it mattered in the final hour.

Sitting under the red flag with just over two hours remaining, the series stated that they’d give an update at 2 pm ET. That’s fine – except the race is officially concluded 35 minutes past that. If you think about the time that it’d take to get the drivers back in the cars, warm up the cars, and get them on-track ready to go, the writing was pretty much on the wall for how it’d end right there. Rather than make us continue to sit around and dread the weather, can’t we just have a decision already?

Instead, they made sit and wait, and wait until past 2 pm. It felt like they were doing whatever they can go prolong it without saying the words, “We’re calling it early.”

If IMSA would’ve just come and said that they were calling it early rather than make people sit around staring at a lock, they could’ve earned more respect from the teams, drivers, crews, and fans. Instead, they just created an angry mob.

You want to get behind sportscar racing and watch. You feel the drama with the great side-by-side racing, talent, wide variety of cars. But then you sit now for five hours in dealing with this and does it entice you to get interested and come back for another? Nope.

Eventually the decision that we knew was coming came out – at 2:25 pm ET for that matter. According to series officials post-race, the decision was delayed due to procedures that they had to follow. Instead of leaving us informed and frustrated, they could’ve said “will not be restarting, stand by while we go through our procedures with official results revealed.”

Hopefully the series learns lessons from what they saw for future races.

On another note – since the France family owns both NASCAR and the WeatherTech Championship, why weren’t there Air Titans and more jet dryers available for usage? It’s not like they’re doing anything else this time of year.

Poor Mazda, and More Safety Concerns

When Mazda Racing won the pole for the event, Juan Pablo Montoya questioned whether they would have the liability to last the distance. He had a point, as both entries ran into fuel pressure issues within five minutes of each other.

The shock was watching how quickly it took for the team to fix the issue on the No. 55 entry, getting back out on track. By the way, those drivers have way more guts than I would’ve as there’s no way that I’d get back in the car. However, they showed why do it as they were able to come within a lap of getting themselves back on the lead lap and in contention. As they say, the race is never over until the checkered flag is waved.

As far as their second entry, the No. 77, I feel for the poor driver watching his car burn and feeling the wait for the firefighters is an eternity. I get keeping everyone safe and such, but the emergency response time throughout the event for incidents was slow. If something severe would’ve happened anywhere, the outcome may not have been good.

Speaking of safety, can we try to avoid spinning on the backstretch in future races? That’s sketchy and I feel every single nerve waiting for the car to get back on the road.

Great Start for NBCSN

As mentioned at the beginning, this was the first race for NBCSN after announcing that they’d be broadcasting the IMSA WeatherTech Championship in 2019. Just like they have done with their NASCAR and IndyCar coverage, they impressed and it should be a fun season with them at the helm.

The commentary in the booth, whether it was the main squad or their back-up line-up, was on point in telling you what was happening, and offering opinions on the action.

The pit road squad was also very informative in finding drivers to talk to, interesting tidbits about the crew members, and keeping you in the know of what was happening.

The Peacock Pitbox was also a nice addition for this race, as the interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve LeTarte were on-point and interesting. Truthfully, I can honestly say that I learned some things during that time I didn’t know before.

Also, their montages coming back from breaks and opening the broadcast are second to none. The video talking about the meaning, history, drivers, and prestige of the event was spot on.

The only thing? Let’s just hope that the Rutledge Wood interviews don’t get anymore awkward than him and Jordan Taylor. That was – well, different we’ll say. While I will agree with A.J. Allmendinger that we need the gong for Wood’s singing, I am glad that he rode the Ferris Wheel as you cannot do a broadcast of the Rolex 24 without that.

Moving forward, there’s also great potential. With NBCSN having coverage rights for sports cars, NASCAR and IndyCar, it could allow for some great cross-promotion in having drivers from one series on another broadcast, and sharing that love of motorsports in general.

A Canadian Shout-Out

Finding coverage of an event can be a chore for Canadian racecar fans. If you don’t get Rogers, you’re having to stream the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events, along with other racing disciplines like Supercross. There’s also the ever-changing question of which of TSN’s five channels is my race on today, when it comes to Formula 1 or the other two top-tier NASCAR divisions.

However, we do not have to worry about that when it comes to the IMSA WeatherTech Championship as Discovery Velocity announced they will carry every event, from drop of the green to the checkered. Taking in their first broadcast, they did a good job going between NBCSN’s and IMSA’s coverage without any transition issues. So thank you for recognizing us fans north of the border. We appreciate the love once in a while.

In that regard, I do feel for the international fans. IMSA originally stated that for markets outside of those with coverage, they would be able to access the event 24/7 via their website. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case.

But what’s worse than it not working? The fact that the issue wasn’t even acknowledged by the series anywhere. If they’d at least acknowledge that there is an issue, saying that they’re working on it, that’d go a long way and so their appreciation to their customers. But saying nothing after all the hype and being biggest race of the year doesn’t offer encouragement.

It’s the worse case scenario, too, as you don’t want to fumble on your biggest stage. They know this is their biggest race of the year & they’re going to attract people due to the stars from various forms of motorsports competing. It almost becomes an audition because if broadcast goes smoothly and race shows promise, people may watch another.

Hopefully that’s cleaned up in the near future.

Shout-out to Alex Zanardi for his determination and drive to get back behind the wheel. It’s truly an inspiration to see how he has turned that fateful day where he lost his legs into a life full of great opportunities. Although he did not get the result he wanted, hopefully we’ll see him at LeMan.

I also have to give a shout-out to journalist Jeff Gluck. If you’ve never been to the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, go check out his twitter timeline. It gives you a good glance at the fan access, what’s around the grounds, and what makes the event beyond what you see on television as a fan. Trust me – it will give you more reasons to respect the event and want to go one day.

I mean, what’s a better combination than a race and carnival at the same spot?

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularOpenWheel.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Ashley McCubbin is currently studying journalism at the University of Guelph-Humber while writing for multiple websites. She also serves on the managing staff for a select few. Born in North York, Ontario, McCubbin currently lives in Bradford, Ontario and spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area where she enjoys taking photos and working on websites.

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