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Daytona International Speedway - Sleepless In Daytona

Never Mind Racing At Daytona For 24 Hours, We Were Exhausted Just Watching!

By , Photography by , Wes Duenkel

Any form of motorsport requires an enormous commitment on behalf of everybody, whether it's a one-man operation preparing his autocrosser for a local event or a multi-million dollar Formula 1 team. The economies of scale may be vastly different, but everybody goes into it with a will to win.

While the driver inevitably receives all the attention, he's simply the one who presses the pedal. Before he gets the chance to show the ladies his skills, there are parts to be fitted, components to be checked and adjustments to be made.

In January, we were invited to join our friends at Turner Motorsport for the Daytona round of the Grand-Am race series. The team has traditionally fielded a number of BMW touring cars, and this year would be no different; it had entered an E46 M3 and brand new E92 M3 into the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge that took place on Friday, as a warm up to the big event - the Rolex 24.

The famous 24-hour event is open to both GT cars and Daytona prototypes and, for the first time, TMS had entered a car - a BMW M6. In reality, it's BMW-shaped thanks to the carbon fiber body panels that clothe the Riley tubular chassis. Under the hood, pushed almost into the cockpit, was a naturally aspirated 440hp E39 M5 V8 engine; a motor that was homologated for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car series and had proved reliable in other applications.

The car was bought ready-to-race at the end of '09, leaving the team scant time to learn and prepare it for the Daytona testing at the beginning of January. All they could really do was prepare it to the same impeccable standards lavished on the touring cars and hope for the best.

We carried a number of blogs on the car's preparation, and encourage you to visit for videos of the car's initial testing and some Daytona footage. However, the entire race has been filmed for a special webumentary on the team's first 24-hour race.

Dawn over Daytona
Taking a redeye out of Los Angeles, we arrived in Orlando, FL at the buttcrack of dawn. The short drive to Daytona got us to the famous Daytona International Speedway at 8am, where Turner Motorsport's crew of 40 people greeted us. They were divided between the two Continental Challenge touring cars, the M6 GT and support staff for tires, engine, suspension and catering, etc. Many were volunteers, happy to participate in the historic occasion of Turner's first 24-hour race. Among them were former employees who'd worked on previous Grand-Am and SCCA World Challenge campaigns.

The driver line-up was particularly impressive. Four pilots would guide the M6 through its torture test; Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand are BMW Works drivers, driving the ALMS M3 GT2 for BMW Rahal Letterman Racing as well as TMS M3s for many years; Boris Said is another TMS regular who's currently driving Nascar and has experience in prototypes, touring cars, etc; Paul Dalla Lana was sharing a BMW 328i in '09 with Will Turner. As it turns out, these four would endure more than just exhaustion to bring the BMW home.

While the touring car team appeared to operate in a serene bubble, the GT team was more flustered. An oil leak in practice resulted in a top-end strip-down, while a fire in a later session brought inevitable concern. "Smoke, smoke, smoke!" aren't words you want to hear over a communications headset!

Fortunately, the damage was minor, caused by an alternator wire chafing on the carbon bodywork. It was dealt with during the pre-race strip-down that began late into Friday afternoon and continued almost up to the start of Saturday afternoon's race. All the major components were replaced, from the brakes (calipers, rotors and pads) to the suspension uprights and axles, while the transmission and differential were fully rebuilt.

To the uninitiated (and even some initiated), it didn't look like the car would make Saturday afternoon's grid. It was in too many pieces to start the race, never mind finish it.

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