MONDAY 30 JANUARY 2012
ALLAN ALMOST GRABS THE SPECIAL ROLEX

Weeks before the running of the 2012 Daytona 24 Hour race, every team descends on the Florida circuit for the compulsory practice session which has become known as the "Roar before the 24″ (RB424).

If you hadn't been doing Dakar or the Dubai 24 Hour then Daytona is the first big race of the year.

The Daytona 24 Hour race (D24) is all about getting your hands on a very special Rolex watch. Get a podium in with either a Daytona Prototype (DP) or a GT car and you get the lollies.

D24 is a Grand-Am event, run under control of NASCAR. That's why you often see a NASCAR star in a DP.

Allan Simonsen and Dominik Farnbacher, both comedians, were competing together for the first time at D24. Both had raced the event previously, Dom even winning GT on his debut attempt! And it made a lot of sense to team them up together since they've raced the Hankook Ferrari 430 GT2 (2009, 2010) and then the 458 GTE-Pro (2011) in the Le Mans Series to great success. Factory Porsche driver Patrick Pilet would also be on loan from Stuttgart and Ben Keating would round out the squad.

Kevin Buckler is a name synonymous with both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and especially the American Le Mans Series. His team, The Racers Group (TRG) would field no less than five Porsche 997 GT3 GA spec racers. That's twenty drivers! And that translates to a rather large catering effort no to mention the tissues because as we all well know, drivers never actually make the mistakes themselves. Someone else does it for them. Consequently, I have resorted to a rather creative writing style in order to protect their delicate egos, at time.

Dom has a rather interesting way of describing a circuit – he does it by smell and so, here is his Daytona as a map, that I made for him in 2010. D24 is run on an infield section which uses part of the high bank oval. The defunct US F1 GP @ Indianapolis did a similar thing. It's the NASCAR Daytona 500 that runs the full banking.

The RB424 saw a rather large contingent of race cars, with the TRG #66 entry of Al & Dom topping the GT time sheets on their first run. It was the perfect way for everyone at TRG to become aquatinted and clearly it was was working in their favour. D24 can have its perils in practice and come in the form of weight additions, smaller air restrictors and ride height adjustments. It's designed to provide parity ensuring close racing. Porsche has had an outstanding record at D24 and with both Ferrari and Audi debuting their 458 GT3 and R8 GT3 respectively, the was some worried faces in Stuttgart land in that GA officialdom may be kinder to the newcomers. Consequently one must not show their true hand in P so Al & Dom finished in 6th place. Out of 44 GT cars.

Fast forward to the last weekend in January, the team arrives for its traditional dinner before the gate opens for Thursday free practice.

It didn't however go smoothly.

Dominik first out, was an innocent victim, when an Audi R8 squeezed him into the wall. Thats rendered the practice session over for car #66 whilst repairs were effected.

P2 didn't seem to bring much luck either, with Patrick Pilet at the wheel – steering problems that proved difficult for engineers to isolate and remedy. More time lost in the pits.


Ben Keating is the car owner and as such inherited both qualifying and start duties, but has not envisaged having to go into Q without having done a lap in P! He did manage a respectable job considering Ben is the "gentleman driver" of the squad – 17th. It could have been better but the 997 was difficult under brakes, stepping out heavily.

Final Night Practice. Allan is in the car. Only three laps. Over 200 kph and he hits oils, obviously deposited by another competitor. It was quite a scary ride through the infield and being dark even more so as the lateral forces start to build and at any moment the car could dig in and roll violently. Luckily it didn't an damage was minimal.

Ready for the race. Time to focus on that rare Rolex. It was not an ideal build up and the past few years had also been quite an uphill battle but perhaps the tough part was behind them. Lead up at D24 is huge, much like the 24 Hours of Le Mans or Indy 500. A driver is really ready to just get on with it by the time the flag drops.

Ben started very well, putting in some strong opening laps, but lost the front splitter early on – that was something that was essential around Daytona since it accounted for a drop in top speed of 5-10 kph not to mention front end instability. But swapping one in and out, without going down a lap can be difficult. It's not Le Mans where you can pit and fix something with 4 minutes in hand (a fast GT race lap is ~ 4 mins 10 sec).With Ben now out of the car, Patrick was in, driving superbly over his 2 hour run to bring the car up to 3rd in GT.

Dom swaps in for a double stint, maintaing P3. At each stop the team was assessing the splitter replacement scenario and as the 5th hour rolled by, where Allan would jump in for his first steer, the car was still splitter-less (Imagine the agony for a driver at Bathurst having to wait five hours for their turn – 24 hour racing is very much a mental discipline indeed).

The Dane kept the car in 3rd place and so on the cycle would continue. Eventually the spitter had to be swapped out and with that came the loss of a few places. Pat, Dom and Allan took on night duties with gusto, fighting hard for that watch and to regain a podium position.

Further drama came in the form of a stuck calliper – three laps lost sorting that out. With 2 hours to go they were in P6 and back in the hunt until more brake problems. All fluid had been lost and with total brake loss into turn 1, another trip to the pits for fresh underwear and bleeding off brakes was necessitated. Two more laps lost.

They would finish 7th, watchless.

It just goes to show the level of competition at D24 and that a tiny error here and there can cost big time.

GT would be won by Magnus Racing's Porsche was Andy Lally at the wheel form the #67 TRG racer.

Micheal Shank Racing took out DP with an overjoyed AJ Allmendinger at the wheel.

Now to Australia for the first time to race the famous Bathurst 12 Hour around Mount Panorama.