It was the most intense battle in the 2020 Rolex 24 At Daytona, and it went on for hours.
In one corner, you had the No. 24 BMW Team RLL M8 GTE shared by John Edwards, Jesse Krohn, Augusto Farfus and Chazz Mostert. In the other, it was a Porsche GT Team “tag-team” with Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and Mathieu Jaminet in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR and Nick Tandy, Frederic Makowiecki and Matt Campbell in the team’s No. 911 entry.
Those three cars fought tooth-and-nail for GT Le Mans (GTLM) class supremacy all night long, and really, right up to the checkered flag.
“Don’t forget, Ferrari was in there for a while, and the Corvettes were in there for a while, too,” said BMW Team RLL co-owner Bobby Rahal. “It wasn’t just us and the Porsches. Everybody jumped in. Over time, the Ferrari had issues towards the end, but with two-and-a-half or three hours to go, they were still on the lead lap and they were still in the hunt.
“The [No. 4] Corvette had a problem early on like our other car did, but all race long, if you looked at it at any given time, it could have gone to anybody. In the end, it was a shootout between us and the Porsche team. How does that get any better? BMW versus Porsche, all good.”
It was especially good for the No. 24 team, which delivered BMW Team RLL’s second consecutive victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. But whereas the 2019 win by the team’s No. 25 entry – which also was the team’s most recent IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory – was a product of strategy, heady driving and being at the right place at the right time in what was a rain-shortened race, this year’s win by the No. 24 squad was a straight-up battle.
“The ’19 race, there were rumblings in the paddock, ‘Well, that wasn’t 24 hours, you guys kind of lucked into it, blah, blah, blah,’ which I think was unfair,” Rahal recalled. “We weren’t the fastest by any stretch of the imagination, but we had great pit strategy and a super job by Augusto Farfus in the wet with the [No. 25] car. More than anything, it was a great strategic call in the pits. Between the two of those things, that’s what really won us the race, aside from the fact that the car ran beautifully in really ugly conditions.
“This year was just a battle. It was brutal. It was flat out right from the start. We kind of knew what we had, but we didn’t know what Porsche had and we didn’t know what Corvette had because they had brand-new cars. You suspected that they were going to be really strong, but you still didn’t really know.
“Our fears, or our expectations, were realized and in the end, it really came down to a gunfight. I think the last two hours in the GTLM class were as good as it gets, let alone the previous 22. To win the race under those conditions – I won’t compare ’19 to ’20 because they were very different – but all I can tell you is it’s a huge accomplishment for our team and something that we’ll look back on very fondly.”
As one might expect, there was an assortment of critical moments and highlights throughout the 24 hours. The No. 24 car had an issue in an early pit stop that dropped it from battling for the lead to last in class and a lap down to the leaders. But a rare and well-timed full-course caution brought the team back to the lead battle.
And while the No. 24 team’s battle looked like one against two with both Porsches, and the No. 25 BMW – which encountered early issues of its own that removed it from contention for a second consecutive Rolex 24 win – made significant contributions to the No. 24 team.
“The No. 25 car that had some problems, all during the race they were, in effect, testing tires for us,” Rahal said. “We had been on the medium compound tire and we think the Porsche was on the soft for a lot of the race. We had softs that we would run maybe at night and as it got warmer, maybe we’d go to the mediums, but the 25 car became kind of the guinea pig.
“They would go out and run segments with one tire or the other and report back. They’d say, ‘No, we don’t think that’s going to have the longevity that you’re going to need.’ In the end, I think that was a huge contributor to the success.”
Rahal was especially proud of – and for – his pair of full-season co-drivers in the No. 24 machine, Edwards and Krohn.
“Poor John Edwards, last year if something bad was going to happen in a race, luck-wise, he was going to get it,” Rahal said. “I mean, it was crazy. If there was anybody I was really pleased for, it was John. It’s been a tough couple of years for him. He deserved it. He’s been a great teammate and a great driver for us.
“And Jesse, what really struck me was when he got out of that car after the race and he said, ‘Thank you for asking me to bring it home.’ That just meant a lot. Of course, we’re thanking him for doing a great job, but he was thanking us for putting him in that position. I love that kind of passion. In any sport, there are guys that you want to count on when the chips are down, and Jesse earned a position as one of those guys.”
Next up for the WeatherTech Championship is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on Saturday, March 21. The race starts at 10:40 a.m. on CNBC. It can also be streamed on the NBC App with authentication and TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. IMSA Radio will have coverage available at IMSARadio.com, RadioLeMans.com and Sirius XM.
Tickets are available now at SebringRaceway.com.