Daytona 24 Hour

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DAYTONA BEACH, FL, FEB. 4 — Butch Leitzinger`s expression said it all. After dominating the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona– leading all but a dozen of the race`s 598 laps– fate had intervened. As the Pennsylvanian pulled his #16 Riley and Scott Ford off the side of the road, its engine having expired, in the pits the Thetford / Norcold Dyson Racing crew looked on incredulously. Butch sat in the car for a few moments, then slowly removed himself and walked away. It was over. The massive 28-lap lead which he and teammates James Weaver, and Andy Wallace had built over the rest of the field started to disappear.

Rob Dyson had been watching the drama unfold on the television monitor in his team`s pit area. While his own #20 car would soldier on to the race`s conclusion, the team boss was shaken by the downfall of the #16 machine. “That is racing. It is a tough one to swallow, because the boys did such a phenomenal job. This race is such an unbelievable event. But with this weather, I am glad that at least we are rolling both cars onto the truck. We will just have to look forward to next year.”

The race was a messy affair, due largely to the patchy weather which at times produced heavy showers and foggy conditions. The pole sitting Pat Smith-led #16 car had run relatively trouble-free, with the sole exception of a leaky power steering unit which was replaced during the race`s 9th hour. Based on its number of laps completed, the car was classified second in SportsRacer Prototype and 14th overall at the end.

The #20 car of Rob Dyson, Max Papis, Elliott Forbes-Robinson, and Nic Jonsson, which ran as high as second overall, suffered transmission problems in the early evening hours on Saturday. After losing second gear, the car`s gear cluster was replaced. Into early Sunday morning, the input shaft broke, requiring yet more attention. Randall Kelsey and the crew worked valiantly to return the car to action, but it was well down to the leaders. Nonetheless, the car continued to claw its way back up through the order and ultimately finished third in class (19th overall), with the team boss crossing the line behind the winning Corvettes.

For James Weaver and Max Papis, the quest for that first overall victory would have to wait another year. In the wake of his car`s misfortune, the Englishman quipped, “That was so bloody annoying. But it was a great punch-up last night with the Ferrari. That is what it is all about.” When asked about the event, Team Manager Pat Smith put the team`s result in perspective: &aquotWe came pretty close. If we had not won this event already, I would have been really disappointed. But there are some teams out there who have never finished second and third in class, so it is not all bad.” The team is looking forward to its next event in the run up to the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17. Be sure to stay tuned to for more details. Exclusive photos from Daytona will be posted here shortly.

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