A week has now passed since I returned from the United States and my first experience of the Rolex 24 at Daytona - but I still can't believe just how dramatic the race turned out to be.

In all fairness, 'Would you like to come over to the Rolex 24?' ranks amongst some of the most stupid questions I've been asked, but the trip Stateside exceeded any expectations I may have had prior to getting on my flight.

Let's be honest. Sportscar racing isn't everyone's cup of tea and endurance events such as Daytona can be devoid of action, with it becoming apparent long before the finish who the winners will be.

That doesn't detract at all from those people who are battling for honours, but for the fan watching on from the sidelines, it can be a case of counting down the clock and waiting for the chequered flag to fall.

With the 47th running of the Rolex 24 however, that couldn't have been further from the truth...

From the moment David Donohue edged out Timo Bernhard to take pole by 0.001secs, it was clear that this wasn't going to be your typical 24 hour race. This was a race that was going to be run as if it were a sprint, and a race where any seconds lost could be vital at the finish.

Okay, a large number of caution periods helped to ensure that nobody could dominate, but to see the top four cars running nose-to-tail into the final hour was nothing short of amazing.

The battle between Donohue and Juan Pablo Montoya over that final hour was sensational. Donohue's Porsche-powered Brumos entry clearly had the edge around the oval and through the quicker parts of the circuit but Montoya's Chip Ganassi Lexus Riley was able to keep in touch through the tighter infield section.

Brumos' decision to put Donohue into the car for the final stint meant they had a fresh driver at the wheel, but for a long time it looked like he wouldn't be able to find a way past the Colombian to secure the lead. Daytona may appear to be a wide open venue, but I was surprised to see just how narrow the famous banked corners are, and the infield section of the lap certainly leaves no room for error.

For lap after lap, Donohue would look one way and the other, but Montoya's lines were perfect to keep the Brumos man behind.

The way the two were running nose to tail was even more remarkable when you throw traffic into the equation. Consider a circuit that's half the size of Le Mans but has the same number of cars and you can imagine how busy it is on track - even in the closing stages when a number of entries have been forced to call it a day. As was pointed out by race control, the leading DP drivers could be faced with passing a dozen or more cars per lap; which is no mean feat when you have one eye on the mirrors to keep the chasing man behind.

When Donohue did make a move stick, people wondered if he would drive away from Montoya but the Ganassi man was equally as impressive as the hunter rather than the hunted as he valiantly clung onto the tail of the American. On more than one occasion it looked like he might make a move to reclaim the lead, but ultimately it wasn't to be as Donohue took victory by less than two-tenths of a second - with only ten seconds covering third and fourth.

It was a breath-taking, record-breaking finish to a race and showed what can happen when the organisers of a series focus on creating rules that encourage racing. It's just a shame that such a fantastic race was overshadowed somewhat by what happened afterwards and that there is something of a cloud over the result.

For a start, the post-race press conference was uncomfortable to say the least. Montoya and team-mates Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas questioned the pace of the Brumos car, which Donohue and Darren Law stated was a case of sour grapes at failing to secure another Rolex success.

But then came the announcement from Grand-Am that the winning car had been underweight.

Now twelve pounds might not sound like much, but in a race where tenths of a second were deciding the result, those twelve pounds could have made a difference. Instead of the result being changed, the penalty handed down was a points loss and a $5,000 fine.

Rules are rules and if a car doesn't comply, then there needs to be a penalty. Whether that penalty was right or wrong is open to debate and there are bound to be those who will say that the punishment doesn't fit the 'crime' - which Brumos said was down to fluid loss and the fact that the #58 was running on reserve fuel at the finish - and it will now be interesting to see how that decision impacts on the remainder of the season.

Let's be honest though, if Lewis Hamilton's McLaren had been underweight by the same margin in Brazil, the Briton wouldn't now be a Formula One world champion...

Despite the post-race rumblings, Grand Am has hit on a formula that works and which other series' would do well to follow. In creating its regulations, Grand Am has set out to create a series that is low cost - in relative terms - and which encourages racing.

Teams don't need to go out and spend millions to be competitive; they can go out and pick up a car for a fraction of what it would cost to purchase an LMP1 or LMP2 machine and can race for victory - even if their car of choice is a few years old. Would that happen in the ALMS or at Le Mans?

Now part of the NASCAR family, Grand Am should go from strength-to-strength this year and the fact that ticket sales were up at Daytona shows that the series is giving fans what they want.

For those that were there, there is little doubt that the 2009 Rolex 24 will live long in the memory. Here's hoping for similar action through the rest of the year.

 

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