Craig Murto: Rolex 24 still all about time

The 53rd annual Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway was all about time.

The 24-hour Tudor United Sports Car Championship endurance race is twice around the clock as four classes of cars compete for overall and class titles. It is the granddaddy of all sports car races in North America.

When time ran out it was the Chip Ganassi Racing Ford No. 02 Prototype driven by Scott Dixon, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and Tony Kanaan that grabbed the victory, 1.33 seconds ahead of the defending winner, the Action Express Prototype driven by Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais.

The win was Ganassi Racing’s sixth victory in 12 attempts, a new record. It also put Jamie McMurray in the history books as only the third racer to win the Daytona 500 and the Rolex 24, behind A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti.

And it was Wayne Taylor Racing’s third podium in three races. For Taylor’s prototype team, which finished second in 2013 and 2014, 24 hours was simply not enough time.

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that they didn’t make the best use of their time.

Jordan Taylor was behind the wheel of the Taylor entry with about an hour to go as the top runners made their final pit stops. For Taylor and Dixon, behind the wheel of the Ganassi entry, they were simply gas and go.

Then came the drama.

With about 20 minutes left in the race, the Prototype Challenge car driven by Colin Braun backed out of the lead in its class, into the wall and into flames in what proved to be the most spectacular incident of the race.

With less than 15 minutes to run, and with the pits closed, the Wayne Taylor car gave up second place and came down pit road. Jordan Taylor got out and his brother Ricky climbed in. Once the race went green the team served a penalty for pitting while the pits were closed.

Somebody at Wayne Taylor Racing didn’t do his or her job. The Rolex 24 may be a 24-hour event, but as in any form of racing, measurements are very precise. There is a safety rule that states that no driver can spend more than four hours behind the wheel of a car during any six-hour period. Jordan Taylor was at risk of violating that rule; the driver change probably should have been made during the final pit stop.

Ganassi’s Ford won the overall and the Prototype group. In Prototype Challenge — spec racecars, all exactly the same — Tom Kimber-Smith, Andrew Palmer, Novich and Guasch grabbed the win. The Corvette No. 3 driven by Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe won the GT Le Mans class, and GT Daytona was won by the Dodge Viper of Ben Keating, Dominik Farnbacher, Carter, Wittmer and Lawrence.

Interesting things happen when 53 cars race for 24 hours. About 5 a.m., Andy Lally felt a thump as he drove through the infield section. Later he parked his Porsche temporarily due to an oil leak. In the Porsche’s trunk — which is in the front of the car — they found the cause of the thump, a dead opossum, which they named “Ballast.”

The Rolex 24 is a fantastic event, attracting racers from every discipline. Imagine what a boost it gives to the already rising career of 2014 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson, to be so young and already a Rolex 24 winner. The winning car was driven by two IndyCar champions and two NASCAR racers, one (Larson) who’s greatest accomplishments so far have been in Midgets and Sprints on dirt.

There were some accomplishments on dirt in Oakland, Calif., Saturday night when AMA Supercross competed. Malcolm Smith finally grabbed his first 250cc main event on his Honda, followed by Cooper Webb and Alex Martin, both on Yamahas.

A lot changes in the course of 24 hours, and even more can change in the course of a week.

In the 450 Supercross class at Oakland, Trey Canard showed that he must have been fired up after his run-in with Chad Reed the week before, as he rode his Honda to his first victory in nearly four years. Ryan Dungey rode his KTM to second, and Chad Reed brought his Kawasaki home third. Dungey takes the points lead as former leader Ken Roczen crashed and finished 16th.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.