2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona
Mazda Nabs GT-Class Podium, Four Top-10 Finishers

It is called endurance racing for a reason; the ability to endure—run on the ragged edge for hours on end and overcoming obstacles of all kinds—is more important than brute speed. Lap times matter, but the age-old adage “you have to first finish to finish first” is often a bigger consideration.

Mazda’s GT Class teams at the 2011 running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona classic knew that their best opportunity was to be as perfect as possible—perfect reliability, perfect pit stops, and perfect luck.

The breakout performance came from the No. 40 Dempsey Racing VISITFLORIDA ModSpace Construct Corps Mazda RX-8. Dempsey Racing is the partnership between actor/racer Patrick Dempsey and Joe Foster. Joining Dempsey and Foster in the driver’s seat of the No. 40 were road-racing veterans Charles Espenlaub and Tom Long.

The team started brightly, in day-glow colors for returning sponsor VISITFLORIDA as well as new partners ModSpace and Construct Corps.

They led six times for a total of 197 laps, Patrick himself being the first of the four team drivers to lead. The team was leading when Tom spun on lap 512, at which time the car developed an electrical issue and failed to restart. The team dropped to fifth before recovering for a third-place finish—a first-ever podium for the No. 40 team and the best-placed Mazda in the race.

The sister No. 41 Team Seattle/Global Diving & Salvage Mazda RX-8 GT in turn ran as high as second and challenged for the lead early before overcoming a string of mechanical and contact-related issues to finish 10th with James Gué, Dane Cameron, Ian James, Dave Lacey and Don Kitch Jr. driving.

“It's been an amazing weekend, just getting here in itself,” said Dempsey, who led a career-high 28 race laps.

“We had a really good test early on in the weekend, I think Thursday it felt good and comfortable and probably the best I've ever run here. Then I found myself leading the 24 hours, which was remarkable. And it was at night, too, which was fantastic because they wouldn’t tell me I was up front, just to keep the same pace. I didn’t know I was leading.”

From top performance on the track to major fundraising efforts, Dempsey is very pleased with the team of people that has come together to make Dempsey Racing what it is.

“This is validation of their hard work, and this is a team sport,” Dempsey said. “We are very fortunate to be sitting up here, the four of us, but we have a lot of guys and girls who have made it possible for us to be here, and I think that's what it says, that these guys are doing the right thing.

“And towards the end, to just watch them and to be on the pit wall and hear everybody's journey with each stint was an incredibly joyous, magic, fun moment. And I think, hopefully, if we can continue with our team, and to have those values emotionally, that we can continue on, I hope that's what it means. I hope that's what we can build.”

The SpeedSource Castrol Edge No. 70 RX-8 was looking to repeat as Rolex 24 class winners. The 2010 champs battled hard and did well to post a sixth place GT class finish. Undaunted, Sylvain Tremblay and company knows 2011 will be a long campaign and the team’s Mazdas will soon be back on point.

Team Sahlen started its 2011 Rolex season off with a fantastic seventh-place finish. The race started well, with Wayne Nonnamaker holding form in line in the top 20, as many competitors treated the race like it was a short three-hour sprint race.

During the next shift, a Ferrari GT competitor failed to yield as Memo Gidley attempted a passing move. This resulted in significant front end damage.

"Most teams would have given up when the front end damage occurred," said team manager Jay Chapman. "But our team is very experienced and we realized that this is a very long race, and this would be just one of many setbacks that we would have to persevere through to get to the end."

From that point forward, all of the Team Sahlen drivers continued to take turns behind the wheel of the No. 42 SpeedSource-built RX-8. Although the front end damage denied the drivers from posting strong lap times, Team Sahlen battled back from 25th to 13th at the 12-hour mark. And as the final seconds ticked off the Rolex clock, Team Sahlen had run back to seventh in GT.

As the defending champions in just about everything related to Grand-Am GT, Mazda expectations were high in Daytona. After all, 2010 had delivered the Rolex Grand-Am GT Manufacturers Championship, Team Championship (No. 69 SpeedSource FXDD) and Drivers Championship (Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato). Mazda also won the GT class in the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona, their 23rd such Daytona class win.

John Doonan, MAZDASPEED Team Development Manager noted that, “As we saw in 2010, the Mazda teams have an amazing ability to deal with adversity. Hopefully we used up our share of bad luck at Daytona today, and we’ll move on towards our goal of a repeat manufacturers championship.

“We’re thrilled for Patrick, Joe and the entire Dempsey Racing organization as they reaped the results of hard work during the off-season. Once again we had 100-percent reliability of the Mazda rotary engine. Many of our devout rotorheads followed the action, both on SPEED TV, as well as the growing MAZDASPEED Motorsports Facebook page.”

All the Mazda teams will be tuning, tweaking and making repairs before heading back to the Sunshine State for the Grand Prix of Miami on March 5.

2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona GT Class Mazda Roll Call

Finish No. Car
3rd 40 Dempsey Racing VISITFLORIDA/ModSpace/Construct Corps Mazda RX-8
6th 70 SpeedSource Castrol Edge Mazda RX-8
7th 42 Team Sahlen Mazda RX-8
10th 41 Dempsey Racing/Team Seattle Mazda RX-8
18th 63 Team Spencer Motorsports Mazda RX-8
20th 30 Racers Edge Motorsports Mazda RX-8 (DNF - Crash damage)
27th 69 SpeedSource FXDD Mazda RX-8 (DNF - Crash damage)
28th 43 Team Sahlen Mazda RX-8 (DNF – Concentrated efforts on #42 entry)
29th 36 Yellow Dragon Motorsports RX-8 (DNF - Crash damage)