- Drivers Rob Kauffman, Michael Waltrip, Rui Aguas and Travis Pastrana Mark First Rolex 24 Experience.
- Over 75,000 Fans Attend America’s Premiere Sports Car Race.
- Marks First Major Return of Ferrari To Daytona Since 1998.
- Clutch Replacement At 20-Hour Mark Sends Car To Garage, Returns for Finish.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Upon entering the media center after his first stint behind the wheel of the No. 56 Ferrari 458 Italia, Travis Pastrana summarized the AF Waltrip team’s first Rolex 24 race at Daytona International Speedway.
“Woo…Hoo…..,” shouted Pastrana into the microphone to the 150 or so startled print reporters.
“That was an absolute blast.”
That seemed to be the theme of the week from AF Waltrip drivers Rob Kauffman, Michael Waltrip, Rui Aguas and Pastrana as they raced in the 50th running of the historic 24-hour marathon held this year in front of a record 75,000 fans.
The No. 56 team ran a relative incident-free race alternating drivers about every 90 minutes. Aguas started the race before turning the Ferrari over to Kauffman who gave way to Waltrip then Pastrana. The team repeated that rotation four times in 24 hours. Drivers did media work or returned to infield motorhomes for rest when they weren’t behind the wheel.
The Ferrari carried the decals of RK Motors Charlotte on its hood and an American flag on each side. The 458 Italia performed flawlessly through the infield portion of the track while ceding the advantage on the high banks. It appeared AF Waltrip would achieve its goal of running the full 24 hours free of any major problem. It raced in 18th at the 20-hour mark and seemed poised to gain several spots in the closing stages, but clutch issues forced it to the garage for more than an hour’s worth of repairs.
The work enabled the team to return to the track. Despite some late-race gear box problems that caused Waltrip to slide off the track, the team salvaged a 22nd-place finish of the 44 cars in its GT Class and 35th of the combined 58-car field.
“We hate that we had to go to the garage after 20 hours of battle,” said Kauffman. “But it was important to us to get back out there in time for the checkered flag. That’s an accomplishment and we used that last portion as kind of a test for next year. Michael did a good job just getting it home in the closing laps.”
Few Ferraris spend a more demanding weekend. No. 56 logged 645 laps – about 2,296 miles – in the race. But, it’s the pageantry and the historic significance of the race and not the statistics that most will remember from the 50th Rolex 24.
Throughout the week the familiar AF Waltrip drivers were the center of attention along with their special car. Ferrari’s last major appearance at Daytona was in 1998 when the carmaker won overall Rolex 24 honors. Ferrari has competed in 47 Daytona 24s and boasts five overall and 15 class wins.
“We couldn’t have put together a weekend like this without the help of Ferrari, Michelotto, and Motegi Wheels,” Kauffman said.
The multitude of manufacturers, nationalities and fans add the event’s allure.
“This is a fantastic environment and this week has been a tremendous experience,” said Kauffman. He added that driving wheel-to-wheel with the Porsches, Mazdas, Ford and GM Sedans that make up the GT Class plus dealing with the faster prototypes was, “fun but intense.”
The Rolex 24 even made a great first impression on the most experienced of the AF Waltrip drivers.
“This is something every driver in NASCAR should experience,” said Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 champion. “I radioed my team during the middle of the night just to tell them how much fun I was having.”
Waltrip’s message was to the newly formed team created from the Italian sports car team AF Corse and NASCAR-based Michael Waltrip Racing – co-owned by Waltrip and Kauffman.
“This is really cool,” said Waltrip. “I love the enthusiasm of everyone here. This is an event every race fan needs to experience. If you love cars this is the place to be.”
Pastrana echoed Waltrip’s comments.
“I’d never driven a Ferrari, or been in a 24-hour race before so as soon as they asked me I said sign me up. I wasn’t disappointed. I really want to thank Rob (Kauffman) for including me on this. I hope this isn’t the last time I do this.”
After the 24-hour battle, the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford won in the Daytona Prototype class by 5.198 seconds over the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Ford. In GT No. 44 Magnus Racing entry took the checkered flag nine seconds before its nearest rival.
The AF Waltrip Ferrari carried in-car cameras during the race pointed the drivers cockpit and toward the track. During 24 hours of television and online coverage, viewers rode with the AF Waltrip drivers through the twisty infield section of the track and on the high banks during both day and nightime racing.