DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - A 67-car field, an unusually low attrition rate and a relatively tight road course turned an endurance race into a pushing and shoving match.
And no one was immune.
The result: dinged and damaged cars at every turn at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“It feels like you are playing poker every time you are passing a slower car,” driver Sebastien Bourdais said. “Hopefully by the end of the race, there are fewer cars on track and people start to figure out a little bit more where they need to be on the race track because it feels like there are some terrorists out there.”
The merger of the American Le Mans Series and the Grand-Am Series created a crowded field for the 52nd running of the Rolex 24. And with few cars getting knocked out early, traffic around Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56-mile road course became problematic for everyone involved.
Complicating the situation, many of the sports car drivers have considerably less experience than the professionals.
“It’s not a criticism; I think every series has this,” Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan said. “We probably need to ask, ‘Do we need them?’ … Would I like to see only professionals? 100 percent. Is that going to happen? 100 percent not. It’s part of it and that’s the risk we take, but yes, there are guys there that if I teach you how to drive in two days, you’d be better.”
Kanaan offered examples of some of the strange moves he encountered during his seat time.
“I remember when I used to drive with my father, my mom would say, ‘I’m not worried about you. I’m worried about other people,’” Kanaan said. “It’s the same thing here. You have no idea what they are going to do. You think they are going to turn left and they turn right. Somebody has their left blinker on and you are thinking he’s going to the left, and then he goes to the right.
“They don’t know where to stop if they have a problem, and they panic when they see something in front of them and hit the brakes and spin. I think that’s part of this race.”
Kanaan’s sentiments were echoed throughout the garage.
“I strongly believe there are some people out there who should not be out there,” Ganassi driver and three-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon said. “They are going to hurt somebody or hurt themselves.”
Added Action Express’ Christian Fittipaldi: “It’s wild out there. Of all the eight races I’ve done here, this is definitely the worst.”
The track at Le Mans is longer and has more straightaways, which provide drivers more chances to pass and more opportunities and take a break from the stress of traffic.
It’s far from similar at Daytona.
“You literally could do a double stint and not get a single clean lap,” DeltaWing driver Andy Meyrick said. “It’s tough on the driver because you’re constantly in traffic.”