Andy Wallace Column – The 2004 Rolex 24
So was it the most dramatic 24 hour race you’ve ever been in Andy?

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.

dailysportscar.comOf 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 we?

dailysportscar.comThe 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.

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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 furiously.

Otherwise I 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 the track.

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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.

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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.

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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…

dailysportscar.comWe 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.

And that 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.

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