Do You Daytona?

If I were to say to you, what do you think of the ‘Daytona’? I would probably be conjuring up joyous images of classic Ferrari’s with monumental price tags, quaffing champagne in the South of France, the bright casino lights rolling over smooth red paintwork as you waft along the streets on a cloud of tan leather and V12 rumble.

This has always been my favourite image of the Daytona – the iconic Italian supercar produced by Ferrari. However if you were an American motorsport fan, it is more likely that your first thoughts will turn to the Daytona 24 Hour endurance race which takes place annually across the pond. As a Brit, you have perhaps never taken much notice of the Daytona 24 Hours but I have reason to believe that it may be time to show a tad more interest.

Last Wednesday brought the subject to my attention. I was invited over to Silverstone where Sunoco, the American fuel company who run a car in the Daytona 24h each year, were taking their 2011 concept car for a quick spin for the benefit of us petrolheads, as well as showing off their drivers. Well, potential drivers. But more of that later.

Sunoco have taken a new approach to selecting their entry for the Daytona 24H. Most companies entering into a race such as this, or in fact any form of motorsport these days, do it because they can put their involvement to good commercial use. Sponsors, commercials and the development of their brand image are at the top of their attention. Sunoco, whilst maintaining this ethos, have decided to have a competition of their own, adding an extra dimension of fun and interaction between the company and its motorsport fans.

Cue the ‘Sunoco Rolex Daytona Challenge’, which involves 5 drivers competing in their own respective race series to generate points towards the Sunoco Daytona drive. This prize is one of the most valuable on offer in British motorsport, a seat in the 950kg, sequential ‘boxed, Porsche V8 engined, Daytona prototype race car.

VIDEO: a short clip showing Sunoco's Daytona prototype race car

The potential drivers, who come from a variety of backgrounds – British GT, F3, Radical UK Cup and SPEED Sports prototype series – are all based in the UK and win points by finishing in the Top 10 ( obviously points value is in order of 1st to 10th ) setting fastest laps and qualifying in pole position, within their own respective race categories. The current competitors include Jean Eric Vergne, from Red Bull Racing’s F3, Ross Kaiser from the Radical Series, Matt Griffin of British GT and Jody Firth of SPEED.

What Sunoco are aiming to achieve with this scheme is bringing Daytona 24H enthusiasm to the UK.

24 hour endurance racing is adored all over Europe, with Le Mans, Nürburgring and Spa 24 hour races topping the calendar, but the Rolex 24 at Daytona somehow doesn’t excite us here in the UK, which Sunoco have taken upon themselves to change.

They have taken 4 very popular British race series’ and have told us that they will find the best overall driver (which is interesting in itself) and that driver will essentially be representing the best driver of various British Racing Series’ across the pond at one of the most decorated endurance races in the world. Now that sounds cool.

This weekend, Silverstone hosts one of the final rounds of this Sunoco Rolex Daytona Challenge, and with 4 of the top young representatives of British motorsports all competing to be ‘chosen’ to race at the Daytona 24h, the racing should be really rather good.

Now when I now think of Daytona I am now conjuring up images of late-nights, 35 degree tropical heat, broken gearboxes and cracked paintwork. And somehow, this is even more exciting than tan leather or glimmering red paintwork from my Daytona images of old.