The Rolex 24 Is Motorsport's Cruelest Endurance Race – Jalopnik

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As dawn broke over Daytona International Speedway, the 2024 Rolex 24 was still set to crank on for seven more hours, but already the pit lane was full of haunted faces. Exhausted crew members may very well have started their work day over 24 hours prior, and many would continue on for hours after the checkered flag. They’d battled the humid, inky fall of night and would now challenge themselves to remain in fine form as the sun crested the horizon. They’d changed tires, mended wings and noses, issued press releases, rallied drivers, and ignored the most basic elements of human survival in order to do the impossible: Create a car and compete with it for one full rotation of the Earth around the sun.
The very nature of the Rolex 24 at Daytona means that not every team will see anything resembling success. Some combination of luck and tedious preparation will dictate their fates in the event, but there’s no telling what variables could come into play over the span of 24 hours. This is endurance racing, the cruelest form of motorsport.
Full disclosure: Acura invited me to IMSA’s Rolex 24 and hosted me for every single hour of the iconic race in its lovely hospitality suite that served as a bedroom, office, dining room, and rest area.
The 24 Hours of Daytona saw its first running back in 1966, where Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby took victory behind the wheel of a Ford GT40 Mk. II before the car finally defeated the seemingly unstoppable Ferrari team at Le Mans later that year. Icons of racing — men like Mark Donohue, Pedro Rodriguez, Brian Redman, Hurley Haywood, Scott Pruett, Scott Dixon, A. J. Foyt, and Juan Pablo Montoya — have all tried their hand at the event and secured victory. Hundreds of others have fallen short, their dreams nipped in the bud as the year’s racing activities get underway.

In this modern era, not even qualifying for IMSA’s opening race of the year can prepare anyone for what will happen when the green flag flies. This race is not merely the sport’s marquee event; it’s the season opener. Months of development and testing will hit the asphalt for the first time the week before the 24-hour race, but series-mandated alterations — known as “balance of performance,” or an artificial leveling of the playing field — won’t be applied until each car has claimed its place on the starting grid. With surprise additions of weight or reductions in horsepower, there’s no telling how any one car will perform on race day.
As a result, cars and drivers that seemed fast during the Roar Before the 24 may not actually see that speed translate into results. Katherine Legge, one of four drivers competing in Gradient Racing’s Acura NSX GT3 Evo22, had high hopes for the race before Saturday’s afternoon race start.
“Out of all the times I’ve done this race, this is the best shot we’ve had,” Legge told Jalopnik. “Everything has been good, but it’s really stressful, because at this point before the race, you’re trying to fix things. This time, it’s been smooth sailing, so I’m worried because I should be expecting more problems.”
Gradient was one of the few teams who were offered additional horsepower through BoP adjustments. What should have been a promising mandate turned sour; the team, who started second in class and quickly battled up to first place, was forced to retire with electrical system issues. Over nine hours — the duration of over four Formula 1 Grands Prix — remained in the event.
“We don’t know what caused the failure, but after three attempts at trying to resolve the issue, we came to the conclusion that it was better to save our equipment so that we can go on to fight for another win in the future,” Legge said after the event.
Such is the nature of the Rolex 24. When your first race of the year is also your most challenging, there are simply no guarantees that the promise of speed will manifest into a victorious reality.
It was a similar story of struggle for Acura’s prototype program. After three straight years of victory, the manufacturer lost steam in 2024. The No. 40 Acura ARX-06 of Wayne Taylor Racing secured a third-place finish but simply didn’t have the might to challenge Porsche or Cadillac; the No. 10 Acura of WTR and Andretti Autosport completed the race down in 43rd position overall.
But with seven hours remaining in the Rolex 24, the finish line was still very far away. The triumph and hope of the pre-race ceremonies had faded into an atmosphere of shuttered garages and stripped-bare pit stalls for many teams on the grid. The promise of a race win has died, and many those who remain are committed to completing a full race distance, to simply seeing the checkered flag, praying that they may learn something critical to succeed later down the line — because this is the Rolex 24, the cruelest endurance race in the world.

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