With the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona still fresh in our memories, Matt Hunter and James Brown take a look back to Daytona’s other 24 hour race this year, the e-racing 24 event held the weekend previously.
2017 marked the second visit to Daytona by TORA for what is fast become the traditional sportscar season opener at the site. This was held the weekend before the real Daytona 24. It was an all new look for the race this year as TORA welcomes DP chassis competition for the first time in the all-new American Sportscar Championship.
The ten round calendar brings together a mixture of top level endurance classics with fast action two hour ‘sprint’ races making up the rest. It differs from the TEC calendar ran in previous years by including Daytona and Sebring with Petit Le Mans, in an American calendar, with the TEC closer emulating the WEC calendar later on in the year.
Teams and drivers can choose to compete in just the three round NAEC (Daytona, Sebring, Road Atlanta), the ASCC Sprint Series (Long Beach, COTA, Watkins Glen, Indianapolis, Road America, VIR, Laguna Seca) or the whole lot!
Over 200 drivers took to the track over the course of the 2017 Daytona 24 with a mix of 19 prototypes and 26 GT cars from a wide range of teams both new and established at TORA. This would, however not be a walk in the park for any of the top teams as they battled not only each other but also a raft of new squads entering TORA Endurance racing for the first time and as the footage showed on the day, it was a battle that raged almost continuously twice around the clock.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the battle in the prototypes was largely fought out between the established ‘mega teams’ of F4H Motorsport and HCR. HCR would return as defending winners of this race, opting to continue in their trusted Oreca machinery that yielded so much success in 2016, and an unchanged lineup.
This time however, F4H Motorsport meant business, adding two eSports+CARS drivers to bolster their lineup. They were superbly strong last year but setbacks took them away from good positions in last year’s running. Their Ford Riley ‘Red Sonja’ took pole position by little more than 0.16s over the HCR ‘Scuderia’ entry, This is made closer still when it is considered that qualifying takes the fastest two drivers from each entry into account.
Such are the margins at the top, both top F4H and HCR drivers were within thousandths of a second of their teammates. Indeed it was F4H first and third, and HCR second and fourth. The next car on the grid was the all Spanish XRS entry, with a strong lineup of their own.
In GT it was a tale of BMW as eSports+CARS put their BMW on pole by half a second over the F4H Motorsport BMW, who were 0.7 seconds ahead of Wippermann Racing in a Ferrari. The higher order in GT mostly consisted of BMWs, Porsches and Ferraris with the Fords and Corvettes in particular expecting to show considerably better at Long Beach and Sebring.
Controversy hit right from the start with a bizarre incident involving initially the Corvette DP of F4H Bandicoot and Oreca 05 of HCR Hamish which in turn set off a chain reaction in the mid-pack resulting in Adam Watson being pitched into a spin in the middle of Turn 1. The majority of the field managed to avoid contact with the Ax4x DP but a glancing blow from a Porsche would see Watson heading to the pits for remedial works and a fight back through the field later on until the car’s eventual retirement as night fell.
HCR Hamish would charge through the field after his early setback. Onlookers were entertained by an epic battle starting with the Griptek Porsche Riley of Iceman versus the F4H Black Sheep Corvette DP of F4H Bandicoot. The pair were being shadowed by HCR Grizzly in the second HCR entry in another Oreca (branded a Lotus Judd!). The battle between Griptek and F4H Black Sheep would continue long into the night.
Gremlins hit the all Spanish XRS Porsche in the early stages of the race with two major failures limiting mileage in the opening two stints. The Puerto Rican PROD entry also lost a chunk of running early on but they were able to continue strongly afterwards.
The GT battle was largely between the BMWs of F4H and eSports+CARS for the majority of the afternoon and evening with the #999 Wippermann Ferrari shadowing them throughout the early stages waiting for any signs of a mistake.
Overnight, F4H Red Sonja and HCR Scuderia established a clearly defined battle between each other for the win, but the contest for third was still too close to call. HCR Lotus Motorsport were being chased by F4H Black Sheep, Griptek Racing, XRS Corvette Racing and Allied Forces Team Gearhead. Sadly, a myriad of problems hit the latter two, putting them out of contention but the battle for the third spot on the podium did not cease right until the end.
This meant that F4H Black Sheep and Griptek racing would end up racing each other for the vast majority of the race in a spectacular battle of raw pace; it being a straight up Corvette DP vs Riley DP fight as well.
The eSports+CARS BMW was enjoying a solid lead in class courtesy of some big gains by CAR bbb0x but trouble in Ralphy’s stint in the sixteenth hour put them down towards the midfield. They would then fight their way back towards the sharp end of the field.
Sure enough in the closing stages of the race, a mistimed pass by Red Sonja resulted in contact between the two F4H cars leaving the class leading BMW to limp almost a full lap before the damage could be attended to. This allowed the Ferrari to take the lead.
The rest of the field were too far behind to capitalise, with the Portuguese Racing Team and Black Diamond Racing both fighting for third, as eSports+CARS were coming back fast towards them, and ultimately it was the latter that would snatch third place, edging out the Portuguese team who themselves just beat Black Diamond Racing.
In the Prototype class, the battle for the lead went down to the wire. HCR’s Scuderia team were forced to put HCR Hamish back in the car for the final couple of hours, to go up against F4H Nova in the Red Sonja car. Ultimately, Hamish wasn’t able to make the required gains needed to defend his team’s crown and F4H Red Sonja would take the flag to win TORA’s second Daytona 24H. A victory well earned.
Further behind, HCR Lotus Motorsport were holding on to third overall with a small advantage over F4H Black Sheep and the Griptek Riley, who all fought until the last second. In the end, it would be two HCR Oreca 05s on the podium as HCR Lotus Motorsport held out, doing what they needed to do to secure the third spot. Sadly, F4H Black Sheep’s car had an incident in F4H Lotterer’s final stint in the car, which put them behind the Griptek being brought home by Mr Driv3.
The GT class was indeed won by the Wippermann Racing Ferrari, with the F4H Motorsport BMW second and eSports+CARS third after their dramatic finale.
F4H Diablo, in the winning Red Sonja car said: “Overall, we are very pleased with our performance throughout the week, from testing, to qualifying on pole, and starting the race in the lead and never looking back. The HCR Scuderia team kept us honest all the way through. Definitely looking forward to Sebring, our GT Omega F4H Ford/Riley is up for the challenge!”
HCR Motorhead, part of second place HCR Scuderia told us: “It was a very tough race. Hamish, Cerberus and myself were on it and only had a few issues. We pushed hard and we made F4H earn it. But still, we’ll be back at Sebring and will try to defend our crown there. And also chuffed for the lads in third!”
HCR Noodle, of HCR Lotus Motorsport in third said: “I’m extremely proud of our result. It was difficult to get used to the car, having spent most time in the Nissan GTR-LM before, but we qualified on the second row and had a faultless race. Overall, a great result for HCR and looking forward to next time.”
Mr Driv3, of the fourth placed Griptek Riley Porsche, spoke to TORA afterwards: “There was a lot of competition for the race … it was close for third, fourth and fifth. We made up two spots from qualifying and had a great time doing it! Griptek is more than happy with fourth!”
Full results are available from the TORA Live Timing site.