Ahead of this year’s Rolex 24, we’re looking back to last season’s race (2023), following along with Turner Motorsport for some unique insight. And just as LIQUI MOLY is there supporting Turner and keeping those cars running well, they’re here to support this two-part series as well.
When is 24 hours longer than 24 hours? We don’t mean the way kids feel the day before Christmas when time seemingly stands still. We’re talking about the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. You would think by its name that it’s a 24-hour effort but in fact, it’s more than that. Much more.
As we get ready for the Rolex 24 of 2024, it’s a good time to look back to last year’s race and get a better understanding of this event. Following the Turner Motorsport team for guidance, let’s transport ourselves back about 52 weeks to the days surrounding the 2023 race.
For 2023, the Rolex 24 (which actually did take 80 seconds longer than 24 hours to complete) really started the weekend prior at the Roar Before the 24 for practice, qualifying, and even the VP Racing SportsCar Challenge. For teams like Turner Motorsport, that time frame extended to up to thirteen days on site in Daytona. And that doesn’t include months of prep and the denouement the days after the race which included getting home and dissecting the cars. While the four-day admission pass that the most ardent race fans secure might seem thorough, the Turner Motorsport team was in Daytona more than three times longer.
That admission pass allows access to the garages, but what else goes on with a race team at Daytona to run in a race like that? For Turner Motorsport, the near-fortnight of frenetic fun included three races—the IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge on January 20, 2023 the BMW M Endurance Challenge on January 27, 2023, and the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona on January 28 and 29, 2023.
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room that was Daytona 2023. While BMWs fared quite well the rest of the season, it was not a good weekend for our favorite marque. The Turner team was not the only team so afflicted. The G82 M4s and Turner’s F82 M4s were more competitive in the VP Racing Challenge during the Roar. After that, it was mostly downhill for BMWs. Actually, it was the downhill that plagued most of the five new M4 GT4s in the GS class in the BMW M Endurance Challenge a day before the Rolex 24. “Although BMW put a lot of development into these cars, they weren’t run in a unique environment like Daytona with its huge banking,” Will Turner explains after the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona. “That was the downfall, a software glitch they hadn’t seen before and hadn’t anticipated was setting off the DSC fault. BMW is aggressively looking into it and we know we will be better in the next races and beyond.”
The short answer for the GTD cars was that they did not have the pace to compete. “This isn’t about blaming Balance of Performance (BoP),” Turner says. “IMSA wasn’t out to hurt BMWs for any reason. They just got it wrong this race for all BMWs. They thought their adjustments would make everyone competitive, but it didn’t work out that way. As soon as the BoP table came out, we knew we were screwed. Paul Miller [of Paul Miller Racing] and I commiserated and determined that we should do the race and just do the best we could do. But we knew the best we could have done would have been seventh and right on schedule, his team finished eighth.”
In times of victory, we often hear the lauds and appreciation for the entire team for all they did to make it a successful race. Yet, it’s actually races like this when you really recognize what goes into a race weekend from a team perspective to enable the race to happen at all.
For starters, the Turner team had 54 people in Daytona supporting the race.They needed 32 hotel rooms for thirteen days. Overall, the team used 101 radios—radios in the motor homes for the drivers, radios for every crew person, radios for spotters and back-up radios for spotters. And they had to be managed and charged (the radios, not the people. Well, perhaps both). And clothes—the entire team had to be outfitted in team gear. Beyond that, the eight total drivers for the two cars in the Rolex 24 had at least two race suits.
They rolled four transports to Daytona from Newton, New Hampshire, and those trucks needed drivers and fuel—lots of fuel. But fuel for the Rolex 24 race alone added up, too. For the two cars for the near-800 laps, that came to $25,000. Yet, that paled in comparison to the expense for tires. More than 2,200 miles in 24 hours at a pace that averages more than 110 mph and peaks at 175 mph burns through more than $100,000 in tires for the two cars.
Beyond lodging and feeding 54 people for thirteen days, providing sustenance for a race crew operating for more than 24 consecutive, frenzied hours requires significant planning and coordination. With as many people running around the pits—including family, friends, and at least one very hungry media person (hi!) who greatly appreciated the team’s Red Bull supply—there’s as much required to provide the right fuel for the team members as the fuel for the cars.
Kelly Gimblin might not have an official title, but “glue-person” might be appropriate. “I’m supposed to make sure everything goes smoothly at the track, but that takes preparation before getting to the track,” Gimblin says. “At the track, it’s logistics and hospitality, making sure the people are where they need to be and when, but also making sure there is plenty of food and drink available for the drivers, crew, parents, and family. It’s non-stop the entire race. We are up really the entire 24 hours, but actually probably 36 hours with the time before the race Saturday.” While they might feel like doing it, they don’t fall asleep right after the race ends, either.
Gimblin’s contribution has been clear. “Kelly was new to the team last year and continues to do a great job,” Turner says enthusiastically. “This is her gig. As one of the newest members on the team, it’s hard to jump into any kind of situation in a team that has been together. She’s like the Den Mom; she has to figure out everyone and everything while shouldering lots of responsibilities keeping everyone happy—drivers, team, sponsors, and more. The testament was at the end of Daytona. Everything went really smoothly, and it has a lot to do with Kelly.”
2023 might have only been her second year with the team, but she has been around racing for years. “Daytona is a different environment, especially with six cars this year,” she explains. “With the help of Brittney Hill first with GS and then with the Rolex 24, we were able to manage such a large weekend. I’m really blessed to be with such a wonderful crew, like family.”
Some of that wonderful crew is just that—family. “I’ve been with Team Turner since 2011, now with my son Nicholas, too,” says pit crew member and fueler Dale Johnson. “We have been involved with fueling the cars and doing all the fuel measurements for the engineers. This year, I was on the fire bottle during the races on the GTD 95 while Nicholas was on the 96.”
“I was watching the highlights of the race on Peacock after the race and thought ‘How cool it was to be a part of that,’” Johnson continues. “At the end of the day, we didn’t have the race we would have liked, but we did get to live the event in person and in real time. I just enjoy the experience of putting on a crew shirt or fire suit and contributing to the team in any way. Not all of it is fun, glamorous, or exciting in detail, but it all adds up in the race. Being on point and in the moment for the race is priceless to me! The only aspect I’d change in this race is where we ended up and the BoP, but everything else was great and the Turner crew worked very well together. When I look back and think, ‘Would I rather sit at home and watch or be a part of the event?’ One hundred percent I would choose being a part of it.”
Read more about the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona here in Part 2. —Kyle van Hoften