Andy Wallace Column – The 2004 Rolex 24
So was it the most dramatic 24 hour race you’ve ever been
Well, it was one of the
wettest – and lots of things did happen. There was Daytona
in 2001, when Butch had the engine blow up while we had a big lead
for Dyson Racing, a couple of hours before the end. Le Mans 2001
and 1995 were both pretty wet and eventful – but yes, I think
this one was the most dramatic.
course, it was the first race for the Crawford DP03 too. When you
get that close… I think it was 17 minutes from the end, and
it slips through your fingers… We had our problems, that was
inevitable in those conditions, with cars that have never raced
before. There was always the possibility that something would come
out and bite us. It was a great shame though, especially for Max
and Jan Crawford, and all the crew, who worked so hard for us to
be there. And we pretty much dominated the bulk of the race, didn’t
Crawford is a very nicely designed, well thought out car. Max and
Andy Scriven did a great job with the design. They sealed the car
so well against water coming in; we didn’t have a drop in
the car, which is very unusual. Nice and dry – and the radio
worked perfectly throughout the race, which was a great help when
conditions were bad.
I’ve heard all
the negative mutterings about the Daytona Prototypes, but when you’re
travelling around the banking at 190mph in the rain, and bear in
mind these cars are pretty slippery aerodynamically, it does get
quite exciting. It’s even more exciting when you have the
right rear wheel fall off!
I need to explain the
procedure here, as you join the banking in the wet – out of
the infield, and the chicane. The car slithers wide up the banking
towards the wall. Near the top there’s a broken white line
which runs the entire way around the oval. There is just enough
room to fit the car between the painted line and the wall, but it’s
very tight. This line is incredibly slippery, and causes a huge
“wobble” if you put a wheel on it. The best solution
is to try to keep the car slightly off the wall and straddle the
white line, so that it runs down the centre line of the car, well
away from the rear tyres. At some point though, you need to bring
the car back down the banking to take the fastest line, so you have
to “thread” the car between one of the gaps in the lines.
I normally wait until the car is reasonably under control before
doing this, but as the car is accelerating hard, the longer you
leave it to do this the closer together the lines become (in time).
It all very exciting stuff, and certainly gets your full attention
twice a lap. Sometimes if you are a bit eager with the throttle
exiting the infield onto the banking, you can get a fairly major
slide on, which lands your right rear tyre on one of those pesky
white lines. With a bit of lightning arm work the car is back under
control, but it does keep you awake.
I was nearing
the end of a triple stint, and had touched the white line quite
a few times already. On the next lap, the right rear wheel came
off, and initially it felt like that good old white line again!
Only this time it took a whole lot more than a few well judged arm
movements to bring the car back under control. The car was determined
to turn right and collide with the wall, but somehow I won that
little battle. Usually in that situation the wheel comes past you,
so you instantly know what’s happened. Elliott was not far
behind me in the # 4 Crawford, and he told me later that he saw
the wheel move up and run along the wall.
Once under control, I
had to keep up enough speed to ensure I could get back to the pits
for a new wheel. If I’d have let the car slow down too much,
I’d have got stranded out on track with the diff. spinning
was having a great time out there. The car was going really well,
and I’d had some great fun racing with Butch and Elliott,
in and out of the traffic. We were regularly the fastest cars on
Dale then Tony
took their turns at the wheel. I was really impressed with what
they did. Of course they don’t normally race in the rain,
so it was all a bit alien to them at first. They just took it easy
then got quicker and quicker as their confidence grew. You can tell
these two guys are first class professional drivers, and on top
of that they are really nice people.
My next stint was a full
three hours. The car was still performing perfectly. The main problem
was visibility on the banking. With all the spray about, and dirt
and oil all over the windscreen, it was difficult make out the traffic
you were hurtling towards. At these speeds the wiper is no help
at all, and in fact if you are ever tempted to switch it on, it
just smears the job up. I did it a couple of times, then couldn’t
believe I’d just done that! Some of the time you just had
to pick a line and keep your foot in it. I had a few close shaves,
but other than that I was having a great time. We were leading the
race and continuing to edge away from the opposition.
After my co-drivers had
each completed another excellent spell at the wheel, I jumped in
for another go. We did the stop under yellow, and I accelerated
out of the pits. It can get a bit uncomfortable behind the pace
car, and I was hoping we would go green soon. But the rain was really
coming down and some parts of the track were flooded, so it was
going to be quite a long yellow. At pace car speeds, big V8 race
cars don’t like to run smoothly. They “kangaroo jump”
and leap about over the bumps, and generally do their best to make
you throw-up! I’m usually OK under yellow for about 30 or
40 mins, but this was a long one… It finally went green 1
hour 35 mins later; by which time I was feeling a bit queasy. With
the adrenalin flowing I had no problems driving the next hour under
green, but when I stopped I felt a bit second hand. The good news
though, was that we were still controlling the race from the front.
With Dale in
the car the rain started coming down even harder, and the decision
was made top stop the race until conditions improved.
He had a three lap lead
when we went racing again, but we lost one lap with a refuelling
problem. Then with Tony at the wheel things started to go wrong…
were within sight of the finish when the right rear rocker mount
failed. The team tried to repair it, but with so little time remaining
in the race, it made sense to keep running as fast as we could,
as we still had a one and a half lap lead. By my calculations we
would just get to the finish line a few seconds ahead of the # 54
Bell Motorsports car. Tony was having quite a time of it with the
broken rear suspension, but was managing to keep the car running
at a reasonable pace.
But with less than 20
mins remaining, still with a big lead, disaster struck! The left
rear wheel came loose going down the back straight towards the bus
stop chicane. Tony fought with it, desperately trying to keep control,
but with the rocker problem on the other side it was hopeless. The
car snapped around and parked itself backwards in the wall.
We were so close…………
Very disappointing for the whole team after all the effort they
had put into this race. But it happens.
On the bright
side, the car has proven its speed. And there is always next year.
just about wraps up the 42nd Rolex 24 here. Just one more image
though: Andy's brother Paul (working for the Citgo Crawford team
at Daytona), and their mother and father, Maggie and Steve. Ed.