Club Happenings – Winter 2019: Roadtrip to Rolex 24 at Daytona 2019


By Larry Engel

As has been the case every winter for the past fourteen years, I headed south in late January to attend one of the greatest events in motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It’s all Bob Isbitski’s fault. (Have I thanked you lately, Bob? Thanks again for introducing me to this huge piece of car-nut heaven all those years ago!) I think it was 2006 when Bob organized a huge group of New Jersey Chapter members and we descended upon Florida to enjoy the race weekend. If I recall, there were more than 20 of us. I was hooked, and I’ve attended every Rolex 24 since.

This year, a group of New Jersey, New York, and Delaware Valley Chapter members met up in Daytona for this spectacular event. As has been the case for the past several years, the BMW CCA teamed up with BMW NA to provide a corral and front straight hospitality that included weekend food and beverages, as well as allimportant shelter and seating with TV viewing both overlooking pit road and in a tent behind the pits.

Will Turner fielding questions during the BMW CCA meet and
greet at the Rolex 24. BMW racing legend Bill Auberlen is on
the left and Former NJ Chapter member Don Salama is on the
right. Photo by Larry Engel.
The Turner Motorsport Liqui-Moly BMW M6 GTD getting last
minute prep. Photo by Larry Engel.

This year, Jeff White acted as my co-pilot and travel buddy, as he has for the past several years. We drove down, stopping in South Carolina for a night before finishing the trip on Thursday of race weekend and arriving in Daytona at about midday. Thursday was sunny and warm enough to wear shorts, but it turned out to be the best weather of the weekend.

NJ Chapter members Larry Engel and Jeff White after
arriving at Daytona for the Rolex 24. It turns out that
the winter tires on Larry’s X5 weren’t needed, but
the weather wasn’t ideal for most of the weekend. Photo by Larry Engel.
Getting ready for the start of the Rolex 24. Photo by Larry Engel.

By Sunday morning it was so bad that the race had to be red-flagged twice for dangerous conditions and the checkered flag was thrown at 23 hours and 49 minutes. (The Rolex Twenty Three Forty Nine doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?)

It was pouring rain when we got up on Sunday morning, and we hung around the hotel breakfast area and watched the TV coverage from my iPad as other guests watched along with us while deliberating what to do.

The best way to watch a race under red flag conditions –
from a warm, dry hotel that includes breakfast! Photo by Larry Engel.

The first red flag had already been waved and in our case the corral parking area was a long walk from the shelter and free booze offered by the BMW CCA hospitality package. Jeff and I made the wise decision to forego the soggy and bone chilling hike and head to our evening destination in Naples, and hopefully arrive in time to watch the end of the race on TV in the unlikely event that it re-started. It didn’t. (Before any of our friends accuse Jeff and me of being fair weather fans, I’ll remind all of you that we’ve both been the last man standing in rainy paddocks numerous times. We’ve paid our dues!)

Watching the end of the Rolex 24 from the warmth of
Naples. Well, it was warm in the den, anyway! Photo by Larry Engel.

Jeff stayed with his niece and her husband in Naples before flying home on Monday and I met Karin at her mom’s house, where we spent a few days before heading north via Palm Beach and a quick visit with old friends who’ve had the good sense to move out of Jersey. I’ve made this trip by car for the past five or six years, and I really enjoy the escape from my daily grind and the ability to just drive and listen to music while the miles roll by. Jeff doesn’t seem to mind my music selections (which are mostly in the country and Jersey Shore genres), but Karin announced after the return ride home that she didn’t want to make that trip by car again. I put almost 3,000 miles on my F15 X5 35d, which is by far the most comfortable and capable road car I’ve ever owned. It also gets about 32 mpg at brisk highway speeds and on snow tires – closer to 34 mpg on summer tires and at more reasonable speed. (I’ll break from the current storyline to curse at Volkswagen and stick my you-know-what finger up at them for ruining the reputation of diesel-powered motor vehicles and to beg BMW to bring the diesel X5 back to the US.)

The Rolex 23:49 was, in many ways, even more appealing than ever. It marked the return of Formula One great Fernando Alonso (who teamed up with Wayne Taylor Racing and co-drivers Jordan Taylor, Renger Van Der Zande, and fellow F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi for the overall win). For BMW fans it was particularly exciting to see former Indycar and Formula One great Alex Zanardi return to center stage in one of the RLL BMW M8 GTLM cars. He is an inspirational force after overcoming the loss of both his legs in a 2001 accident to compete at this level and becoming a Paralympic champion, as well. He could be seen buzzing round the paddock in his wheelchair and was always happy to chat with the fans and stay still long enough for fan selfies. Technical problems plagued his car during the race, but his team car won the GTLM race – so it was a very good day for BMW. The red flags messed up the strategy for the Turner Motorsport M6 GTD, but it was great to see BMW-legend Bill Auberlen wearing a blue and yellow racing suit again! The car was fast and overcame a lengthy pit stop repair to finish in the top 10, quite an accomplishment under the circumstances. Auberlen will be driving for Will Turner all year along with Robby Foley. With race strategy called by former NJ Chapter member Don Salama, this team should add to their winning record this year!

The newly re-named Michelin Pilot Challenge series featured several teams running BMW M4 GT4 equipment in the GS class. In addition to Turner and others, BimmerWorld had two entries in the four hour Friday afternoon race. BimmerWorld owner and long-time friend of the New Jersey Chapter James Clay finished 4th with co-driver Devin Jones, who made a great late race charge. This is a team that also looks to put some wins on the board this year!

If you’ve never been to the Rolex 24, you need to put it on your bucket list. It’s a Who’s Who of racing, and the on -track action is as good as it gets (as long as the flag stays green, anyway). Let’s hope the CCA can do a corral and hospitality again next year!

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