Scotland’s ex-Superleague and Champ Car driver Ryan Dalziel has cemented his move into sports cars with victory in the prestigious Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance race, beating Ganassi teams that included Justin Wilson and Dario Franchitti.
Driving for series debutants Action Express Racing, Dalziel and his co-drivers Terry Borcheller, Joao Barbosa and Mike Rockenfeller racked up 755 laps in their Porsche on the way to victory over Wilson’s #01 Ganassi BMW by less than a minute.
The other Ganassi entry had earlier retired from the race with a piston failure while ex-F1 star Juan Pablo Montoya was in the lead.
For Dalziel, who was runner-up to Montoya in the 2007 race, the victory represented the chance to kick-start his career after struggling for a drive in 2009.
He said: “It’s an incredible feeling and to have a win here on my resume is fantastic as a professional sports car driver. I feel my career is re-launching in 2010 and this is obviously a perfect start.
“I’m completely over the moon but I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet what we’ve achieved. It was just a crazy range of emotions in the final minutes of the race but obviously I’m delighted with the outcome.”
With the race entering its closing hours, Dalziel and Wilson’s team-mate Mike Pruett were the only two drivers on the lead lap, battling each other for the top spot before handing over to Rockenfeller and Wilson who continued the rivalry.
But the race changed with slightly more than two hours left when Wilson believed his car had suffered a mechanical fault and made a split-second decision to dive into the pitlane.
He said afterwards: “It’s very odd, I came out of the Bus Stop and I heard a loud clog and the car kind of whacked. So I thought I had torn a front tyre or something like that and being that close to the pits we decided to drive in and check everything over, but it seemed fine.”
In the time needed for his crew to give the car a clean bill of health he went two laps down. A pitstop for their rivals allowed them to make up some ground, but only enough to get back on the same lap as the eventual winners.
Dalziel said: “I’ve never before been in a perfect race where every pit-stop, every tyre change, every fuel-stop has been absolutely spot on. Everyone at Action Express Racing delivered for this event, it’s as simple as that. We were all quick behind the wheel and I think around the midnight mark we really began to believe we could have a shot at the win.
“The Ganassi cars are the benchmark for this event and we matched them for pace. For 16 hours we raced with them on the same lap, a tremendous achievement.”
The Scot will run the rest of the 12-race Grand Am season for Starworks Motorsport in the #8 BMW-Riley Daytona Prototype alongside Canada’s Mike Forest. Round two will take place at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 6-7.