Three quarters of the Rolex 24 at Daytona have been completed but the battle for the lead remains as hard-fought as it was at the start, with SAMAX initially moving into the lead, only for Chip Ganassi to get back ahead soon after on an incresingly treacherous circuit.

In an otherwise placid few hours, the top two positions continue to change hands, the variable pit stop cycles skewing the results somewhat but generally suggesting victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona will come from one of these teams.

In the hands of Juan Pablo Montoya, Ganassi had built up a comfortable advantage before handing over to Scott Pruett, but when the race was plunged into a full course yellow, the SAMAX Pontiac began to make up the ground quickly, somehow getting to within five seconds when the race resumed just gone the 16 hour mark.

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Indeed, after confident stints by Ryan Dalziel at the halfway mark and by Milka Duno just after, it was the turn of Patrick Carpentier to show his hand, closing the gap down markedly before moving into the lead when Ganassi pitted and switched to Salvador Duran.

Now Carpentier had to make the most of a clear track ahead - save for lapping the various GT cars that have proved a bane for several prototype runners through the race - and do enough to hand the car back over to Darren Manning in the lead.

Indeed, the Canadian had done enough and Manning was back on track five seconds up on Duran in a scene rather more akin to a grand prix sprint rather than an endurance race now approaching the 18 hour mark.

However, SAMAX wouldn't be able to savour the lead for too long as Duran continued his charge, proving rather more comfortable in the increasingly wet conditions that have made the circuit tricky to drive as day begins to break. By the 18 hour mark Duran put the Chip Ganassi car back in front, gradually pulling a lead out on Manning.

As if the spectators braving the weather needed another battle to keep themselves entertained, the tussle for third is also proving equally engrossing with the position switching constantly between the second Chip Ganassi Lexus, the Brumos Porsche and SunTrust Pontiac.

Although again pit stop cycles have more to do with the changes in position at times, the trio were occasionally within just a few seconds of each other, with Scott Dixon for Ganassi and Joao Barbosa for Brumos in particular swapping position on the track constantly at one point.

For the moment, Dan Wheldon holds third for Ganassi, 18 seconds up now on Hurley Haywood, both drivers lapping faster than the leaders but now off the lead lap, while Jan Magnussen in turn is just three seconds off Haywood in fifth place.

Further back, the rest of the top ten is largely stalemate, barring a switch of position in eighth and ninth for Ruby Tuesday and Finlay entries, the former moving ahead with a lead of three seconds as they bid to put earlier problems behind them.

As a result, the second SAMAX Pontiac led by Tomas Enge remains sixth, actually gaining a lap on those in front of him, even if he remains two laps off the battle for third place. AIM Autosport hold a two lap lead over Ruby Tuesday and Finaly, while Doran round out the top ten, a clear 12 laps up on the eleventh place Lowe car.

In the GT class it is all change as the top five circulate within a lap of each other. Porsche now hold the lead of the race with the #85 Farnbacher entry, currently in the hands of Dirk Werner, now leading, while the Banner Pontiac that had been ahead has slipped to second.

The #70 Speedsource Mazda has jumped to third to make it three different cars in the top three, while the Lowe Porsche and second Banner Pontiac have now moved inside the top five and are currently embroiled in their own private battle.

The #17 Doncaster Porsche that had been challenging for the lead has now fallen some ten laps back thanks to a water leak, while the #86 Farnbacher Porsche has also retired falling a crash.

Leading positions - Rolex 24: 18hrs

1. Pruett/Montoya/Duran Ganassi 487
2. Carpentier/Duno/Manning/Dalziel SAMAX 487 laps
3. Dixon/Wheldon/Rojas Ganassi 486
4. Haywood/France/Moreno/Barbosa Brumos 486
5. Angelelli/Taylor/Gordon/Magnussen SunTrust 486
6. Enge/Festa/Montanari/Yasukawa/Szekeres SAMAX 484
7. Frisselle/Frisselle/Wilkins/Empringham AIM 479
8. Long/Bergmeister/Dumas Ruby Tuesday 476
9. Finlay/Valiante/McDowell/Labonte Finlay 476
10. Gidley/Gollin/Servia/Jourdain Doran 475

GT

1. (13) Ehret/Keen/Werner/Hardt Farnbacher Loles 459
2. (14) Pilgrim/O'Connell/Edwards/Collins Banner 458
3. (15) Ham/ Haskell/Tremblay/Pobst Speedsource 458
4. (16) Lowe/Pace/van Overbeek/Kellener Lowe 457
5. (17) Lewis Jr/Reese/O'Connell/Edwards Banner 457