BMW CCA member Laurel Hanlon, winner of the recent Akrapovič Ultimate Access Experience at the Rolex 24 presented by BMW CCA, writes about her exclusive experience at this world-famous race.

Her two-day excursion at the Rolex 24 was filled with panoramic views of Daytona inside the BMW M Champions Club Tower, and frequent stops to the BMW CCA hospitality tent, BMW Motorsport garage, and Team RLL pits to interact with some of the brand’s most dedicated fans, influencers, and drivers.

Winning tickets to the Rolex 24 at Daytona is comparable to a little kid being told they are going to Disneyland—that is, if you are a huge gearhead and have grown up watching this race on TV. Except, in this case, my mouse ears are the many event wristbands that I acquired over the weekend marking me as one of the many fans of this exciting sport.

Like most race fans, I was clearing my weekend to watch the first endurance race of the season when BMW Car Club of America announced that they were partnering with Akrapovič and Pit+Paddock to give away an exclusive package to experience the race in person. To enter, you had to upload a video of yourself explaining why they should give you the tickets and what I enjoy about being a member of BMW CCA. If you’ve ever entered a contest, you do so with hope, but without expectation. The Monday before the race, I woke up to an Instagram message informing me I had won the tickets.

Admittedly, the next few days went by in a blur since I was trying to buy plane tickets and find a hotel less than three days before the race, but once I stepped foot on my flight, I knew I was about to have a weekend to remember.

My first (and biggest) car love still belongs to BMW, so when I saw that they were having the BMW M Endurance race on Friday, I knew I wanted to be there a day early and cheer on some of my favorite teams. The weather was supposed to be beautiful all weekend, so I set off in my not-so-winter attire. There were plenty of parking options, but I chose the easy route and parked at the nearby mall. It was a bit of a jaunt to get to the entrance, but unlike going to most high-attendance events, the parking lot here was as rewarding as the event. Like a car show in itself, there were many rare, exotic, and expensive cars, in addition to cars that are a labor of love. 

I chose to go through the main entrance that walked me through the grandstands and out by the start/finish line. It was about an hour before the four-hour race started and there were quite a few people milling about, including a group waiting to cross over the track and into the infield. They opened the doors for us to cross in between manufacturer hot laps. I wasn’t even on the steep embankment and couldn’t believe the angle at which the track was set! I had to shuffle my way to the bottom. 

The vehicles for the M Endurance race were already parked in the pit lane for the grid walk and to get a glimpse of the vehicles was like swimming upriver! I knew there were quite a few fans of IMSA and endurance racing, but I severely underestimated the draw and it wasn’t even the main event! Even though I am a fan of any BMW racing team, I will always have a soft spot for Turner Motorsport since their bright yellow cars were what got me into endurance racing. To my joy, they had two entered in the first race and I was ecstatic to see them in person. 

From the infield, there are many good places to watch the race, including the Fan Zone. They have a large screen that shows what they broadcast surrounded by many food options. There is also an elevated section that gives you a view of the track from on top of the garages. Not only can you see the checkered line, but you can see the teams busily getting ready for the main race the next day. As I watched the cars zoom by, I noticed there were lengthy lines forming in the area below the garages. Time had gotten away from me and I remembered the autograph signing was starting soon. The event staff had done a great job of organizing the lines, but I still couldn’t get to all the teams in the one-hour allotted time frame. However, I got some autographs from The RLL team, Turner Motorsport, Iron Dames, and many more. Looking back at my pile of autographs, my favorite story is of the #7 Porsche Penske team. Joseph had run out of pictures, so I asked him if he’d cross out another driver’s picture and sign it instead. Now, I might arguably have the best autograph of the winning team.

Admittedly, I didn’t make it very far the first day. I was so busy watching the race that the rest of the world seemed to disappear. In what felt like a blink of an eye, I watched the most bizarre ending to a race I’d seen in a long time with the top cars pitting within the last five minutes. I walked to my car with heavy eyes, wondering how in the world I was going to survive the next day. 

Once again, I severely underestimated the amount of people that attend this race. There was a line of cars that wrapped around all the way to the main road. I could have used another 30 minutes just to get in. CCA was kind enough to give me infield parking, so I was lucky enough to experience driving through the infamous tunnel. As I drove through, I was greeted with a choir of cheers and one overly enthusiastic fan demanding I do a burnout—in my rental. 

Things were just getting underway and BMW CCA Director of Marketing Jason Kazian happily got me situated with a tour of the CCA hospitality patio—perfectly located to put you in the heart of the action, situated next to the pitlane with a second story that overlooks the track! From here, he took me to the M Suites and introduced me to the other partners that made this experience possible: Akrapovič and Pit+Paddock. Their representatives were so kind and made sure I had everything I needed for the weekend.

We then walked down for the second grid walk. Did I mention there were a lot of people yesterday? Well, today had at least twice the number of fans. I was glad I had time to admire the cars the previous day because it was next to impossible to get close enough for any sort of photo, but I got a few good shots and hung out with fellow fans near the starting line. Quite a few people were signing their names on the track! 

I got to enjoy the start of the race from the third story of the M suite and the sound was indescribable. A herd of GTPs thundered toward the start of their first lap and what would end up being around 250 over the next 24 hours. Immediately after, the GTD cars roared behind them. 

From here, I got to enjoy the company of many like-minded individuals who were more than willing to answer the age old question, “what do you drive?” while enjoying a race that I had only dreamed about seeing in person. I spent many hours from this viewpoint, enjoying the race and the company that came along with it. There were just so many fascinating stories to hear! Also, they were serving an unlimited amount of chai. I’d be needing it. 

At one point within the first stint, BMW had invited a couple of their driver’s to do a quick Q&A with the fans and provided some insight into what was to lie ahead. As happy as I was watching the race from the tower, I wanted to explore what else the Rolex had to offer, so I set off with a gentleman from Akrapovič and he showed me around.

The first thing you’ll notice about a race is the smell. The fuel is unlike anything you are used to and has an almost sweet smell to it. The second, is the noise. We walked out of the M suit and it drowned out everything else. If you are at all sensitive to sound, I would recommend ear plugs. Between the GTPs and the GTDs, the noise levels are deafening and after listening to it non-stop, it will exhaust you as much as all the walking. Trust me, they will sound just as good with a little noise cancellation. 

In the infield, next to the track and the RV parking were the manufacturers’ displays. BMW had beautiful cars there including a M2 with all the M Performance accessories and the all-new X2 M35i. People were lined up for the racing simulators, otherwise, it would have been fun to give it a try.

The sun was already getting low in the sky and I was left to menace the race on my own, so I set off for the RV park and followed the outline of the track. From here, I got to see the infield and the steep bank that made out the outer circle. What shocked me the most was the dedicated fans that had RVs kitted out with second story observation decks! They looked like they were having the most fun with their fire pits and lawn chairs. The smell of beer and BBQ was enough to compete with the racecar’s exhaust fumes!

Thanks to the generosity of my hosts and BMW Motorsport, they gave me the opportunity to walk the active pit lane. From here, we got a first first-hand look at the teams in action and even caught a couple of the cars stopping for a pit. Talk about a well-trained team! They tried to keep it on the down low, but we snuck a peek at the movie set tent where Brad Pitt was filming a scene. 

I’m not a quitter, but there was no way I was going to stay up for the full 24 hours. I wanted to enjoy my time there without being dead on my feet, but there were still two things I wanted to see before leaving: the fireworks and the glowing brake rotors. So, around 9:30 p.m., I found my way to the rooftop of the M Suite and took my place. Unfortunately, right as the fireworks were about to start, a full course yellow came out thanks to an GTP car that lost power, but it made for a spectacular view when all the cars rolled in front of the fireworks closely packed together. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve shut down a bar, but time works differently at a 24 hour race. Somehow, it was already midnight. The kind folks in the M Suite asked the few remaining people milling about to get out, essentially encouraging me to complete my final task for the evening. I found a corner in the infield and settled in. Like fireflies, the glow didn’t last long and you had to watch very carefully to see it, but it was spectacular none-the-less. At around one in the morning, I drug myself away from the track and sleepily made my way back to my hotel. 

My last day started with an urgency that none of the other days had held. There was a race going on and every minute I sat in bed was another minute that I wouldn’t be there to watch. The problem was that my suitcase was already bursting at the seams and I had acquired quite a few trinkets during my meanderings the previous two days. It was so bad, I was considering throwing away some old articles of clothing. With some swear words and a lot of luck, I got on my way. Even though my hotel was about four miles from the track, I was greeted by the sounds of the race cars when I exited my room. 

The Sunday crowd was much less rowdy, probably as sleep deprived as I was. After finding my parking spot, I decided to spend some time on the CCA patio to talk with some of the other members. I grabbed a cup of complimentary coffee and used the sounds of an impact to help me wake up. It wasn’t long before I found myself invited to a group conversation and I had the fortune to get to know my fellow members a little bit better! 

After our lovely conversation, I knew that there were still some things I wanted to see and headed back to the main M suite to check in with what I missed during the night. To my disappointment, Turner had to repair their oil pump after some debris hit their car, putting them some eighteen laps behind. However, Paul Miller was still in the race in a podium position! 

Along with the manufacturers displays, there were many retired race cars gracing the lawns of the race. Corvette had brought their 2023 Le Mans GTE am winning vehicle, along with the much older 2001 Le Mans car. The jewel, in my eyes, was the Z4 GTLM on display. Turner Motorsport may have gotten me in the sport, but I watched this car propel RLL to their legendary status. It was thrilling seeing this car in person for the first time! This article would be hollow without mentioning the 3.0 CSL they brought along to view as well. What a legend. 

After what felt like the fastest day in the history of man, the race was already coming to a close. I found myself watching the finish from the rooftop of the M building along with some of the people I had befriended. Like everyone who was watching the end of the race, I found myself scrambling to get my phone out after being shorted a full lap of racing. I barely caught the checkered flag as Porsche Penske crossed the line first. 

The M suite overlooks the podium and I was able to watch the #7 car make its way through the horde of people, accept their trophies, and wash each other in champagne. The cupcakes they served at the end of the race were not only delicious, but they were also printed with the race logo. I would have stuffed it in my bag and brought it home if there was room. Speaking of which, BMW was generous enough to give me a gift bag at the end of the race that held a couple branded items, including a beautiful metal water bottle. Trust me, the anxiety was real at this point. I was willing to throw out my old clothing rather than give up my new treasures. There was also no way I was going to give Frontier any more of my money. 

In line to get on the plane, I’d like to thank the guy wearing an “I Love Weed” hat that was in front of me in line for blatantly ignoring the one bag rule. When the bag check lady asked him if he knew he needed to pay for the second bag, he slurred, “what?” and she swiftly escorted him to the cash register, leaving me free to walk on with my clearly oversized bag. 

Now that I am home and have had a chance to reflect on my weekend after sleeping for almost an entire day, I would like to express how incredibly humbled I am by this experience. Not only was the BMW Car Club of America, Akrapovič, and Pit+Paddock willing to host me, but they did it in a way that made me feel like I was a part of their family. They went out of their way to make sure I felt included and didn’t miss any of the milestones of the race. For this, I am incredibly grateful. If you have a chance to go to this race, do. There is a reason racing enthusiasts all over the world hold it in such high regard. All of this was possible because of the generosity of the BMW CCA, Akrapovič, and Pit+Paddock. I’d like to acknowledge the gentlemen with BMW Motorsport as well, for their openness to listen to a car-crazy woman’s ramblings during a very busy time. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go and put my wristband somewhere where I can be reminded of a weekend I’ll never forget. —Laurel Hanlon




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