IRL: Indy Racing League Drivers Star as Road Warriors in Rolex 24
2 February 1999
The 37th running of the sports-car endurance classic is a melting pot of professional driving talent, and the Indy Racing League was represented by four of its favorite sons.
Just a week after the TransWorld Diversified Services Indy 200 at neighboring Walt Disney World Speedway, Arie Luyendyk, John Paul Jr., Scott Sharp and Eliseo Salazar were back in a completely different motorsports competition.
Of course, Luyendyk is semi-retired from the Indy Racing League circuit. Hes currently Treadway Racings driving consultant and plans only one more Indy Racing League start -- the 1999 Indianapolis 500 -- to cap his magnificent open-wheel driving career.
But leading the Indy Racing League group to battle at Daytona was Luyendyk, the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion, who co-drove the Doran/Lista Racing Ferrari 333 SP entry with Mauro Baldi, Fredy Lienhard and Didier Theys.
The Ferrari, classified as a Can-Am according to United State Road Racing Championship guidelines, started the twice-around-the-clock marathon on the outside pole.
Luyendyk, Baldi and Theys hoped to defending their 1998 Rolex 24 title, but fate had another idea for them. The exotic Italian prototype was pushed behind pit wall in the fourth hour of competition with a broken gearbox.
Luyendyk jockeyed the car when it coasted to a stop in the east banking of Daytona International Speedways 3.56-mile road course.
"The gearbox broke," said Luyendyk. "I think it broke because we had an alternator problem first. When I went down to shift from fifth to sixth, the engine stalled, and when it stalled and you go the gear with a sequential gearbox, it doesnt like it, and I think it busted the gears.
"We were trying to stay with the Riley & Scott Fords, and stay on the lead lap. Its a very quick car. We were a little bit quicker down the straights. We lost a ton of laps changing the gearbox. Its a shame. Ive never been in this position before, where we had to make such a major change."
Luyendyk hoped to make a little bit of history. The last team to score back-to-back victories in this motor marathon was Al Holbert/Derek Bell/Al Unser Jr., which won in 1986 then defended its Rolex 24 crown, with the addition of Chip Robinson, in 87.
After making repairs, Luyendyk and his co-drivers threw caution to the wind and rallied back to finish eighth overall. When all was said and done, they had scored a moral victory by turning 632 laps.
The winning car, a Riley & Scott Ford Mk3 owned by Rob Dyson, logged 708 laps -- or 2,520.48 miles -- in the 24-hour period. Andy Wallace, Elliott Forbes-Robinson and Butch Leitzinger drove the winning car.
Salazar also made a sterling run in this grueling event. He was teamed with Henry Camferdam, Duncan Dayton and Scott Schubot in the Support Net Riley & Scott Ford Mk3, which finished fifth overall.
Salazar was in the hunt the first half of the race. After 11 hours of competition, Support Net was running third, just two laps behind the lead car.
"Were pleased, but its way too early," warned Salazar as his team stayed on the leaderboard. "The cars pretty good, it seems reliable, and we hope to finish. We knew from the preseason test session that we could run with them, and thats what were doing."
The 12th hour reached up and grabbed Salazars entry. The team had some mechanical problems and spent much of the 12th hour making repairs. When the Support Net car returned to action, it was 31 laps down to the lead cars.
When it was over, Salazar & Co. had turned 643 laps. Salazar spent nine hours behind the wheel. He drives in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League for Nienhouse Motorsports.
Paul drove a Chevrolet Corvette C5-R -- making its debut in racing -- and gave Dysons entry a good chase through the first 20 hours of competition. After 20 consecutive hours of racing, the Corvette, in the GT2 sedan class, was fifth overall.
The car provided the Cinderella storyline for at Daytona, and Paul beamed on pit road.
"How about this Corvette, huh?" said Paul, a two-time Rolex 24 winner. "The car is very, very strong. Were trying to make sure we dont make any mistakes with it and get it through the night. I believe we have a chance to win this thing."
But in the 21st hour the drama started to fade as Pauls Corvette started to have problems. As the clock ticked down, the new Chevy suffered a leaky oil fitting, requiring a lengthy pit stop to locate and repair.
The car fell eight laps behind the GT2 class leader before finishing third in class and 18th overall. Paul drives in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League for Byrd-Cunningham Racing.
Sharp was in another Corvette C5-R entry, which suffered a number of minor teething problems requiring several unscheduled pit stops during the night to repair. Still, Sharp was running in the top 10 until the trouble started.
"I think everything went the way we expected," said Sharp, who came to the Indy Racing League from road racing. "I sure would not have expected to go through a 24-hour race the first time out with absolutely no problems with new cars and new teams."
Sharp drives in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League for Kelley Racing.
And, just for the record, Riley & Scott Inc. brought back a piece of the overall Rolex 24 win to Indianapolis, since one of its chassis went to Victory Lane.
Riley & Scott Inc., located practically in the shadows of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, produces the Mark V chassis, which is approved for Indy Racing League competition.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona is a prestigious race because of the attention it receives from drivers such as Luyendyk, Paul, Salazar and Sharp. Running this sports car race falls somewhere between a part-time job and a weekend lark for drivers.
"I enjoy the endurance driving," said Luyendyk. "I was anxious to come to the Daytona test session (earlier in January) so I could get in the car and drive again after I had my gall bladder surgery.
"It went fine. This weekend I had some pain and sick feelings, but was OK. The Ferraris very different than my IRL car. I enjoy driving with my friends Didier, Mauro, Fredy and the Doran team."