For the first time in years, my year did not start off with either the North American International Auto Show or Sno*Drift. I decided to skip both because neither one really piqued my interest, so that left the door open for a whole new way to start the year.
The 24 Hours of Daytona always falls around my birthday and it has been on our “to do” list for years. So this year we finally decided it was time to check that box.
When we got there it was the best part of the weekend, the historic laps. We weren’t really too sure yet on the best viewing spots for the track so we missed most of the laps while scoping out locations. But we were able to see them pull back in after the laps.
A Martini Lancia and the 1973 Daytona 24 Hour winning Porsche? Worth the whole trip to Florida right there.
We got to the track around 9:30 but the race didn’t start until 2:30, so we had a decent amount of time to walk around and take in the sights. This was the biggest race we’ve ever been to since the 24 Hours of Le Mans back in ’06. At least this time we were a little more prepared.
I usually skip the grid walk because it’s just loaded with people and usually not worth the time, but couldn’t resist the urge to walk the tri-oval of Daytona. This is 18 degrees of banking. Turns one, two, three and four come in at a staggering 31 degrees of banking.
They even let us write on the start finish line. Like Bohan said after I sent him this picture, “Blast all the things.”
At this point there were still a few hours to go and we were already bored. Luckily Daytona put a platform on top of the garages so you can look down on the paddock. While it’s not as cool as Mid Ohio where you can look down into the garages, it was still awesome. Plus it got us out of the crowd.
This years Daytona 24 set a record for the biggest crowd in the history of the 24.
One of the things I love about sports car racing is that the drivers almost just blend in with the crowd. I can remember going to Mid Ohio for ALMS way back in the early 2000s and seeing people like Tom Kristensen and JJ Lehto just going about their business with fans milling all around.
In F1 and NASCAR the drivers and fans are so separated that there seems to be a slight disconnect between the two aside from the few times where they sign autographs going to or from the the garages.
But in sports car racing they just blend in with the crowd. James Hinchcliffe and Patrick Long are both here just walking around.
The real MVP of endurance racing.
There were some big changes this year. One being that the Daytona Prototypes were gone and are replaced by new DPi cars. And the two big names coming in were Cadillac and Mazda. Cadillac took the first three places in qualifying and looked to be the favorites.
Along with Mazda and Cadillac there was also Rebellion, Nissan and Riley.
It was cool to see Cadillac back, but I was team Mazda.
Jeff Gordon was racing along side the Taylor brothers and Max Angelelli. I grew up with NASCAR and Jeff Gordon was my favorite driver from the start. So to see him in person and at Daytona, awesome.
I saw a post on Instagram of an orange Porsche 993 GT2 somewhere within the limits of Daytona. Finding that car became my sole goal for the morning.
Turns out it was at the Porsche corral, so it was a pretty easy goal. I’ve recently really gotten more into Porsche and I’ve loved the 993 for years. So this is like the Holy Grail. Porsche only built 57 GT2s, so I’m assuming (hoping,) this one is real. You’d have to have a lot of guts to have a GT2 replica with vanity plate the says “993 GT2,” and park at the Porsche corral at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
What I was not expecting was a Rauh Welt Martini Porsche with a massive turbo sticking out the rear end. I love race cars, but it’s the cars that show up in the parking lots and corrals I really come for.
A Mexico Blue GT3RS? Yes please. Even from a distance it looks good.
Looking over the Porsche corral got us to the start of the race.
Even though we walked through the paddock, I still wasn’t ready for just how many cars were in the race. 55 cars started the 2017 24 Hours of Daytona.
Ever since Ford debuted the GT and then announced it was going to have a GT racing counterpart, it has shown up and dominated everywhere.
This pretty much sums up the 24 in one photo. Prototype car, palm trees and the Rolex signs. But then there’s the clouds. We were in Naples Florida the day before at the one of the best museums ever, more on that later, and it was in the 80s and sunny the whole time. Daytona? Cloudy, some rain and in the 50s. Everywhere I go.
So with about 23 hours and 45 minutes left in the race, it was time to explore.
I wasn’t media for this event so I was stuck behind the fences. But I like the challenge of finding places to shoot. Sure, having media credentials is awesome and gets you to awesome places, but sometimes it’s fun to shoot the race by wandering around.
What I was most looking forward to though was the banking. NASCAR on banking is pretty common, but seeing prototypes and GT cars on the high banks was a sight I really wanted to see and experience.
And to hear the cars at full chat was awesome too.
And then watch them shoot off onto the back straight towards the Bus Stop Chicane.
As we were walking we found a patch that went along Lake Lloyd and gave a pretty decent view of the back straight.
I didn’t think the GT2 could be topped, until I saw this. I couldn’t believe how right this car looked and the patina on the car was perfect.
It’s hard to top perfect patina. This car pulls it off perfectly.
On the other side of the Porsche was this line of VW Busses. My kind of people.
When we came in on Friday night to pick up our tickets I saw this E30 M3 pulling out and added it to the list of cars I needed to see. Luckily it was just as easy to find as the GT2 because it was in the BMW corral.
He also had some cool 1:18 scale models on the rear deck.
Already a V8 in the new Miata.
We headed back outside the track to see if we could meet up with an old friend, but unfortunately he was busy. Although luckily I spotted a Jersey Mike’s across the street, so right then I knew what was for dinner. And we came across this partially carbon fibre NSX.
My original plan was to get some good sunset photos, but because of the heavy cloud cover, it just went from kind of dark to dark right away. So we just took a long break at Jersey Mike’s.
This was the first time I’ve seen racing in the dark other than rally or NASCAR trucks. So it took a little bit of getting used to.
I’m not a big fan of the road going NSX, but man the the GT3 version looks incredible.
It was wild how the GTLM cars could keep pace with the PC cars on the banking.
It wasn’t even halfway through the race, but it seemed like the Cadillac teams were running away with it.
But my Mazda was still in it!
It was only 8:30 or so p.m., but the sun had already set and the atmosphere of the whole event really started to shine.
Even in the darkness the lights really bring out the camps and all their decorations and adornments. And a nice sound to fall asleep to.
It was a little chilly, so I’m not too sure I’d want to be in a tent, but race fans are pretty tough.
And they’re also a bit eccentric.
Watching the cars on the banking was even cooler at night.
There was a pier in Lake Lloyd that gave a decent view of the entry to the bus stop chicane.
Lake Lloyd adds a whole new level to the Daytona infield.
After an hour after nightfall I was pretty much ready to go, but I really didn’t want to leave with the noise and atmosphere.
The Ford GTs do look good from all angles and all time of day and night.
Unless you’re a Corvette fan. It’s good to see Chevy and Ford going at it outside of NASCAR.
I wasn’t too sure what was going on, but I did know that the Wayne Taylor Cadillac was still upfront.
You have to have some Ferris wheel shots at night.
I got a little carried away and played around with the Ferris wheel for awhile.
Just as I was getting ready to head out, I felt some rain drops. Which changed my mood around completely.
I was all ready to go and get some sleep, but now all I wanted were some nice night rooster tails.
But the rain kind of came and went and never really wetted the track down too much.
So I stood around for a little bit longer to see if maybe some massive rain storm would just show up out of the blue.
It did, but it was like 3 a.m. when it did. By that time I was long gone and sleeping back in my hotel room.
But before I left I saw my Mazda a few more times.
Although one of the Mazdas I saw a little too close. They kind of came and went throughout the race, so I knew they weren’t too reliable, but man they looked good.
In some of the garages you could find their car, but the crews have since long left and either went to watch the race or just go to sleep and forget the whole day.
Just as we got to the pedestrian tunnel to leave, there was one last spot to get a pretty cool view of turns 3 and 4.
Got that rooster tail!
My plan for the next morning was to get the sunrise pictures since the sunset was obscured by clouds. Turns out the sunrise suffered the same fate.
One of the best parts about endurance racing to me is the grime that covers the cars. Race cars just look so right covered in dirt and bugs.
There were’t too many changes upfront with the Wayne Taylor Cadillac leading the Mustang Sampling Cadillac.
BMW had an art car in the race this year, and it was…..interesting.
Walking around the camp grounds I stumbled across this GTi. It belongs to Sam Dobbins, the creative director for Vossen. This is the first GTi with the Pandem body kit in the United States. You never know what you’ll see at races in the parking lots.
With about 2 hours to go the race had a pretty big moment when the Mustang Sampling Cadillac spun right in front a huge group of cars.
Porsche and Mazda, my kind of combo.
At this point in the race I was just wondering around taking it all in for the last two hours, just trying to enjoy it all.
Again, you never know what you’ll see driving around the infield.
Don’t they just look great dirty?
I did some messing around with the 1DX built-in multiple exposure capabilities.
It looked like Jeff Gordon was going to get another win at Daytona.
At this late point in the race it is just a race for survival. Just make it to the end.
But still looking good doing it, Porsche.
I took one more pass by the banking to take it in before heading into the paddock to get ready for the end of the race.
I was only at the track for about 17 hours, and only 12 hours of racing, but with about an hour left it felt like it was ending all too quickly.
I don’t know how many green Lamborghinis there were, but they showed up everywhere.
I can’t imagine the heartbreak getting out the car with about 45 minutes to go.
Like every car show or race I’ve ever been to, when people hear a car in the paddock, they swarm.
But it is cool to see a car that ran for 23 hours so up close.
Just taking the final sights of the race.
Green Lamborghinis were all over the place.
The two cars I liked the most dropped out with mere minutes left.
No! I guess I should say why I like the Mazda. While the Cadillacs look awesome as do the rest of the prototype lineup, they’re all so squared off. The Porsche 919, Audi R18 and Toyota TS040 are also pretty blocky. But the Mazda looks so organic and flowing. It reminds of the old Group C cars that were flat, smooth and sleek. Although the catfish grill is a little odd.
Then it was finally time.
It wasn’t too bad shooting the race without media, until the end. Then it became a little tough. But I still got the winning car taking the checkered flag! Right there in the bottom right corner.
I thought I was in a good spot to see the winning cars, but I was on the wrong side of victory lane, so I missed all the action. But here’s some of the crew that won.
Luckily for me though, Dirk Müller got lost and drove right where I was standing, and this was the class winning car. So the gamble paid off a little.
He just needed some directions and he was on his way again.
This is where things get tough for me. We had a flight booked that night leaving around 7, and we were an hour away from the airport.
The race ended at 2:30 so I only had a little bit of time to wander around the paddock and check out all the race torn cars.
Since the cars were swamped with people, I decided just to shoot random parts of the cars and get some detail shots. I liked that the Porsche had ceramic white exhausts. Awesome.
Then I just ran around taking random photos.
I honestly couldn’t get over the grime on the cars, it just looked so cool.
But I think everyone loves dirty race cars.
It’s also cool seeing the effects of the aerodynamics of the cars too.
Art car with the car on the side. Ok.
After this week I want a Porsche even more now. Maybe Porsche can give me a GT3 for a week to review?
Dirty race cars and energy drinks. The race summed up in one photo.
The most interesting looking car of the weekend. Funny story about Brendon Hartley, one of the drivers of this car, they next day at the airport I saw Brendon wandering around while we were at the Outback Steak house. Seemed kind of fitting, even though he’s from New Zealand.
After rushing around and rushing to the airport, it turns out that day Delta’s computer system went down, delaying our flight so much that the pilot hit his limit, pushing our flight back to 6 p.m., the next day. So we had a free relaxation day in Orlando. So that was nice.
It was a little eerie how quiet the track got once the race was over. Peaceful, but eerie.
Another race finally off the list. It was an incredible event at an incredible track. It was cool to see the first outing of the new DPi cars and seeing the NSX making it’s first racing laps. The banking, Lake Lloyd, the camp grounds and the Porsche GT2 just make Daytona an awesome event to experience. Although the weather didn’t fully cooperate, it hardly put a damper on the weekend. I could get used to starting the racing season off in 60+ degree weather.