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Did final half-hour ruin an otherwise great Rolex 24? (UPDATED)

Jan 26, 2014, 5:10 PM EST

Joao Barbosa AP

IMSA officials were surely hoping this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway would be an awesome debut for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and a new era of North American sports car racing.

And outside of the horrific crash yesterday that sent drivers Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli to the hospital, it was looking like just that going into the final hour of the race today, with tight battles for victory ensuing in nearly all of the classes.

But instead of being hailed as an out-and-out classic, this year’s Rolex (won by Action Express Racing) will likely be remembered by some for its chaotic finish, which evolved over the final half-hour and transformed the race into something more akin to a NASCAR-style “green-white-checkered” rush.

With about 22 minutes to go, Leh Keen had just taken the No. 22 Alex Job Racing Porsche out of the pits but then slid off the track at Turn 2, and bounced into the nearby tire barriers.

The impact inflicted some front-end damage, but Keen was able to keep the car going out of that and almost immediately came back onto the track. However, that didn’t stop IMSA from throwing a full-course yellow in surprisingly quick fashion – bunching up the field for what would turn out to be a final, eight-minute dash when the green returned.

In hindsight, Keen’s incident meriting a full-course yellow was iffy at best, considering how fast he was able to get his wounded Porsche on course again. But while that may have caused an eye-roll or two, the conclusion to the GTD duel between Level 5 Motorsports’ Alessandro Pier Guidi and Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Markus Winkelhock would prove more stunning.

After the two had made contact in the bus stop chicane shortly following the green flag, Pier Guidi overshot the same corner on the penultimate lap but took the lead back from Winkelhock as the white flag came out. Then in the infield, Winkelhock and his Audi came up to battle side-by-side with Pier Guidi in his Ferrari.

The two gave no quarter to the other but didn’t appear to make contact before Winkelhock went off-course, allowing Pier Guidi to pull away for the win. Instead, IMSA chose to give Pier Guidi and the No. 555 team a time penalty for avoidable contact, which meant Winkelhock and his No. 45 squad were dubbed GTD class winners.

The decision was met with surprise and shock, and MotorSportsTalk’s man on the ground, Tony DiZinno, confirmed that IMSA officials were discussing the final outcome in GTD. Several hours after the finish, IMSA announced that they would reverse their original decision and declare the No. 555 team as GTD class winners after a review of the last-lap incident.

Article 48, Section 3 of IMSA’s TUDOR Series rulebook says that any driver who is found by the Race Director to have caused “avoidable contact with another competitor, whether or not such contact interrupts the other competitor’s lap times, track position or damages other competitor’s Cars, and whether or not such actions result in actual contact, may be warned or penalized.”

So, IMSA was within its right to issue the original penalty, even if you may think the rule is misguided because their was no contact on the final lap.

But it begs the question of why that penalty wasn’t issued right after the two had come together in the bus stop. So, even though IMSA officials have decided to overturn their call on Pier Guidi and give the No. 555 the class victory, they still appeared to have missed one.

It’s a shame we’ve had to focus on this, because outside of this and the Gidley-Malucelli crash, the 2014 Rolex was really fun to watch. And the fact that there was a very sizable crowd to attend the festivities bodes well for the new TUDOR Championship. They have several positives to build upon as they continue deeper into their inaugural season.

But one can’t help but wonder if today’s finish has put a damper on an otherwise great event.

  1. rlfj - Jan 26, 2014 at 6:10 PM

    Seems clear they were looking for an opportunity to tighten up the race by throwing the Yellow in typical NASCAR style. But to take away a podium finish from the Ferrari for… racing!… with no contact, indelibly tainted this otherwise well managed race. Attempting a pass on the outside is always optimistic and the Ferrari clearly had the line and position into and through the turn. Ugh.

    • rlfj - Jan 26, 2014 at 7:38 PM

      Ahh, public opinion. Even NASCAR can’t ignore it. Unfortunately, now (NASCAR having reversed themselves) we have one team with their celebration ruined and another that did not get that magic moment on the podium at Daytona. Life goes on.

  2. testover6370 - Jan 26, 2014 at 6:48 PM

    The final half hour didn’t otherwise ruin a good race. NASCAR ruined the entire race from the start. Anyone who has watched any racing outside the US knows that besides the big wreck with the 99 and 62, only one, maybe two other incidents required a safety car. Instead, any time a spectator within 20 meters of the track sneezed NASCAR subjected us to a half hour or 45 minute safety car period and gave lucky-dog wave by’s to everyone not on the lead lap.

    On top of the horrible operating rules, the coverage was awful. Now I totally understand that you’re not going to get a 24 hour race on one channel. Even the motorsports-devoted Speed Channel went to online streaming overnight. And getting it onto Fox broadcast network was great, except for all the people whose Fox affiliate decided to just not show it (let that be a cautionary tale to anyone who wants racing off cable and onto broadcast networks). Putting a big chunk onto Fox 2 excluded 98% of the audience, and the remaining 2% could only get it in definition so low you would think it was streaming over a dial-up modem back in the early 2000s. Then it went into streaming, which should have been great for everyone, but was blacked out for quite a long time with technical difficulties. When it finally came back on, the commentators weren’t the knowledgeable and engaging Radio Le Mans crew sports car fans rely on, but some good ole boys who are deathly afraid of the satanic black magic of fuel injection, are entirely confused by cars turning to the right, and seemed to think that this is the first and only non-NASCAR race in the history of motorsports. They couldn’t even pronounce Oz Negri’s name, and mispronounced it with all the misplaced good ole boy confidence they could muster all night long. Hindy, We Miss You!!!

    • jezza819 - Jan 27, 2014 at 12:38 PM

      +1

      My local Fox channel did college basketball all afternoon so I missed the start. I don’t have Fox Sports 2 due to it being in a much higher cable package and even there it’s not HD. So I wait around until 8PM and go on Imsa.com only to find out that the feed isn’t working. Somewhere after 9 somebody says the race feed is actually on one of the incar feeds. Should have known it was trouble when I heard Eli Gold and the MRN crew doing the announcing. The Negri thing killed me because ALL of their announcers pronounced it the same way.

  3. chad4208 - Jan 26, 2014 at 10:17 PM

    testover6370 …what? Why make such posts. Some people in the world actually have hd receivers and computers that work. Sorry you dont

  4. testover6370 - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:48 AM

    Chad, only one carrier has fox sports 2 in HD. All others have it in low def only, and it seems a lot lower quality than my other standard def channels. I get had channels, but FS2 isn’t one of them. And most carriers don’t have FS2 in any def. For the internet streaming, even NASCAR admitted on their FB page that the stream crashed. When they did fix it I streamed it from my iPad to my tv through Apple TV and that was great. That’s not the problem. The problem was the MRN announcers who don’t understand sports car racing.

  5. midtec2005 - Jan 27, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    That last lap “incident” shouldn’t have been a penalty, even if there was contact. It will be interesting to see how this series fares under their umbrella….

    Indycar may be the last bastion of road racing in the U.S. now.

  6. markdartj - Jan 27, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Keep the yellow flag in your back pocket. Seems like just as in the NFL, if they have a yellow flag, they want to use it. No reason for it at end of race. I agree that to show part of the race on FOX SPORTS 2 was a brainless move for a new organization trying to get eyeballs on their product. Streaming was awful, and I have all the latest equipment. I finally turned the volume down and listened to MRN broadcast over my iPhone. Then it was OK coverage. I am pissed as heck by COMCAST not even giving us the option of getting FOX SPORTS 2, and I’ve told them as much, about once a week since last August. Last I heard from them was that FOX SPORTS 1 will be carrying the bulk of Daytona 500 coverage, including all qualis, the Shootout, the Duals. The Nationwide will probably be on ESPN, and the 500 on FOX. Just wait, as soon as there is an infomercial or UFC fight, or even a College Basketball game between North Dakota Tech and Eastern Montana Liberal Arts College, All the motor racing programing will end up on FOX SPORTS 2.

  7. manik56 - Jan 27, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    TV coverage was a mess (channel location, NOT the talent). It is still a damn shame SPEED is gone.

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