Never Stop Driving #36: 24 Hours in Daytona

Sports-car racing entered a new and already prosperous era last weekend at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, the endurance event that has long been the kickoff to the racing season. A record crowd watched 61 entries from over a dozen manufacturers.

I had an idea something special was brewing this year, so I went to Daytona. My main interest was the new Grand Touring Prototype GTP class, which is for the fastest cars of the race.

Sports car racing is an odd duck, especially to outsiders, because cars from several racing categories compete simultaneously on the track. The Daytona 24 Hours is held by a sanctioning body called the International Motorsports Association, or IMSA, and five classes were running. Two of the classes are for production-based sports cars like the Corvette, Porsche 911, Mercedes AMG GT, and others. The other three classes run a type of machine called a “prototype,” yet another confusing term that’s a legacy from decades ago.

Back when racing was used as a testing ground for new products, manufacturers often raced brand-new machines, called “prototypes,” that would lead to a production car. Now the term basically means a purpose-built racing machine that’s closer to an IndyCar or Formula 1 car with fenders than it is to anything you’ll see in a dealer showroom. IMSA has a good explainer here.

Sports-car racing is dominated by two events: The 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona. Racing is insanely political such that, historically, the fastest cars at Le Mans were not eligible for Daytona and vice versa. That has changed for 2023 and the new GTPs can vie for an overall win at Le Mans. Porsche and Cadillac will be on the Le Mans grid in June.

Car racing thrives with manufacturer support. The carmakers bring not only the cars but the marketing dollars to help promote the races. BMW, Porsche, Acura, and Cadillac all built new cars for the GTP class, signaling newfound interest in the top class. What gives?

I spoke to all the teams and heard similar themes. The manufacturers’ interest stemmed from four main areas: The cars can race in both the U.S. and Europe; the rules allow them to integrate brand design elements to visually differentiate the cars; they use gas-electric powertrains; and a new technology promises to keep the cars competitive but also allow manufacturers to design their own engines.

Yep, that’s a BMW. Larry Webster

The teams all must use the same 40-horsepower electric motor and 1.35-kilowatt-hour battery that’s combined with a gas engine of their choosing. A new sensor, a small collar that lives on both driveshafts, measures how much power gets to the wheels. The total combined power, from the gas engine and electric motor, cannot exceed 670 horsepower and that is monitored in real time by the sensor.

That gold collar on the driveshaft measures the torque from the powertrain and then a computer uses that data to calculate horsepower. Larry Webster

BMW and Porsche use twin-turbocharged V-8s and Acura had a turbo V-6. Cadillac went with a turbo-less V-8 because the company decided that setup was lighter and simpler and thus less prone to fail. Without the turbos to muffle the engine note, the Caddy GTP went by with a big booming V-8 soundtrack, an obvious outlier to the others, which the crowd loved. I wish I could tell you more about these GTP cars, but Cadillac would not allow photos of the engine room nor provide much background material. Acura indicated interest in sharing more details so if you’d like to hear more, let me know in the comments.

Beyond the GTP class, the fun of sports car racing is seeing actual street cars compete. Porsche long ago showed that there is money to be made by supplying teams with factory-built race cars and parts. Now Mercedes, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston Martin, and BMW do the same. Each manufacturer also sends a parts trailer to the races. I went to the Mercedes trailer and the guy running it told me they mostly sell body parts after cars hit each other. At Daytona, Chevrolet announced that it will now sell factory versions of the Corvette C8 race car for about the same as the others cost: some three quarters of a million dollars for just the car. Sports car racing is never cheap.

I last went to Daytona about a decade ago, and it felt like a ghost town. I could park in the infield and walk into the pits. Those days are over. The infield was sold out and motorhomes occupied every spare inch of open grass. You could sit in new cars at manufacturer displays on the infield concourse. The pits were still open, since one of the selling points of this kind of racing is that spectators can go almost everywhere, but the crowds were so thick that the teams had to deploy a crew member to part the throngs as they wheeled the cars to the starting line.

The driver lineup included heavy hitters like Indy 500 champ Helio Castroneves and former F1 pilot Roman Grosjean. The folks who work in the sports-car racing industry were all giddy over this newfound popularity and many pointed out the youngness of most of the faces. While we don’t have official attendance numbers, we heard that some 50,000 fans were on hand, which was a record for the race.

New cars usually breed new problems. Pre-race gossip suggested that the teams that fixed the inevitable issues quickest would prevail. After all, the Daytona 24-hour long race has been known as a war of attrition—the car that broke the least won—and many feared that electronic sensors could fail and sideline the cars. On Sunday, some 18 hours into the race, I strolled the garages expecting to see the usual 20 percent or so of the field pitted, with crews fixing crash damage or making mechanical repairs. But the garages were surprisingly empty. This year, Daytona was a nearly continuous 24-hour sprint race.

An hour before the finish, a series of yellows bunched the field. The Porsches were the pre-race favorites because, according to trackside chatter, they had done the most testing miles, about 20,000 before the start. Neither was in contention, however. Two Cadillacs and two Acuras had trouble-free races and lined up for the final sprint. The Acura prepared by Meyers Shank Racing slowly but steadily pulled ahead and won. In the sports car categories, the Mercedes edged out the Corvette.

While my son and I race on local dirt tracks these days, I love sports car racing, so this resurgence is nothing but fantastic to me. The next event is Sebring, Florida, in March and then of course Le Mans is in June.

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    We were there. I heard something on the radio broadcast that I didn’t understand. There was a reference to restrictions on energy use or energy replenishment during the pit stops. Do you know what these restrictions were? I know that they use the amount of time it takes to fuel as one of the BOP adjustments, but I can’t see them recharging the battery in a pit stop.

    I grew on in love with drag racing and Trans Am, then somewhat transitioned to NASCAR, now about all I watch is IMSA, World Endurance, and Trans Am. The Rolex 24 Hours was a great show. It is wonderful to see so many manufacturers competing and to view the technology that will be incorporated into our future vehicles.

    IMSA is owned by NASCAR. There are 4 races after Sebring before Le Mans. Only the Porsche and Cadillac teams and a few of the LMP cars and a few Gt cars (Corvette for sure) will go. You can see the IMSA schedule on their website. The crowd was over 75,000. The pits were only open pre-race -like any other race. When the race begins the pits are closed without proper credentials.

    Hi Larry, Great Article, I didn’t know BMW & Cadillac had merged (photo caption) Who knows it may work out. I have worked for Cadillac & currently work for BMW & as big as all the X series have become I think the merger happened a few years ago!

    This was my first time attending the race in person. What a blast! Already bought my tickets for next year and I can’t wait!

    Very interesting article Larry ! I suppose the future in racing will be the entrance of many exotic race cars with equally exotic innovations. But that is what racing is all about. Whether you accept these is your own personal opinion. I have been involved in racing in one form or another since 1947. I look forward to the increase in fan participation and race car innovation. The sound of the huge V-8’s and the scream of V-12’s will never grow old to this guy’s ears.

    I am impressed by the revival of IMSA and its surging popularity. The classes, power-units and rules remain confusing even for this lifelong race fan. Please keep covering this and keep digging and explaining.

    Excellent article, with insightful comments and pictures about the weekend that I attended too. Thank you! I don’t understand missing GTD, won by Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin. Strong results from their serious effort, and supporting the Seattle Children’s Hospital charity too, while beating the GTD Pro teams in the Mercedes and Corvette that are mentioned. One of the big side stories of the weekend!

    It’s certainly great to see the crowds back in force! Heck, it was even announced that Ford is getting back into Formula 1 with the Red Bull Team for 2026 presumably with power trains, seeing an opportunity with the resurgence of F1 here is the states. Whatever the technology, it’s still the driver’s, race strategies, quick pit service, and good ‘ole fashion competition that is so great to see and witness as a healthy sport.

    Hi Larry
    Great summary of the weekend Thankyou.
    My third time at Daytona this year and the crowds were much bigger on Saturday than I have seen before.
    Personally ( and I have no way of proving this) I would say the crowd was bigger than 50k , I think there were that many on the grid walkabout on Saturday afternoon

    It’s great to see the manufacturer interest, but watching races with three prototype classes and two GTD classes can be confusing. It would be more entertaining to run one prototype class and one GTD /FIA GT3 class, similar to the early TransAm series where 2.5 imports ran with Pony cars and were easily distinguished. Neither F1 or Indycar run multiple classes. IMSA needs to rethink this!

    Yeah, I agree it is confusing, although judging by the attendance, perhaps most get it or don’t mind the complexity?

    Hello Larry and fellow gear heads –

    Thanks so much for a neat and sweet article with just enough information to keep me informed
    and not too much to lull me to sleep !!

    As a Gen xer from Texas and right down the road from COTA it is always personally a positive thing when racing is thriving . I have found myself getting more interested in IMSA in the last 5 years especially .

    Not surprising that Nascar would snatch up IMSA too bad their primary operation and other organizations like Moto GP and others are struggling . Speaking for myself we have moved too far away from the core of these sports and unless you have serious funding or you look the part in a racing suit LOL its just out of reach for most to get involved .

    I am a tried and true knee dragger with a preference for Kawasakis but I do have a real sweet 98 SS Camaro level 2 car and want to take it out and track it soon .

    Thanks again to you and the Hagerty Team for keeping us informed

    Tony / San antonio

    nothing ‘gold’ in the tech photo. Also, doubt if the shaft wrapped with a torque sensor is vertically oriented. What gives?

    I loved IMSA and have attended since the early 80’s their events.

    The glory days were the 80’s where teams and companies spent millions to win $15,000. The innovations and diversity of the cars was always of great interests.

    There is little stock in the GTP then and now. The Hybrid system is just there for marketing for the companies as they are trying to find a way to race electric cars in the future. These systems just got them out of the pits and powered the cars electrical systems. In other words no alternators.

    The GTD class is more closer to the stock type cars but make no mistake they may have a few token parts but they are still full on race cars built to take advantage of the tires and weight rules given.

    I am glad the rules are such now we can see them race globally again. But I still do not see the reckless spending coming back of the 80’s. If anything I see them more and more becoming more of a spec type car with Aero and body differences. This will control cost as when they do get reckless with cost IMSA finds itself looking for MFGs and teams.

    The coming Camaro to LeMans may be a bigger deal of all as it will provide a cheaper platform that is fast and affordable to many. It can be raced globally on road and circle tracks and be entered in all events.

    This will bring us the best drivers globally to many big raced in cars with a number of different MFGs.

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