When a race fan thinks of Florida's Daytona International Speedway, his or her first thoughts are of stock car racing. After all, the storied super speedway is the home of the Daytona 500, NASCAR's crown jewel - "The Great American Race". But within the confines of the 2.5-mile, high-banked, tri-oval track is a road course, a course celebrated its 45rd Anniversary of international sports car racing in 2007. Daytona International Speedway opened its gates in 1959. In addition to the oval, its creator, Bill France Sr., constructed a road racing circuit. The unique layout combined much of the track's high-speed oval with a twisting road course that wound its way through the speedway's mammoth infield parking area. France did so because he had an interest in sports car racing. Several years earlier, the founder of NASCAR stock car racing had also promoted sports car races at a nearby airfield.
Club racing was conducted during the road course's first three years of existence. Then, in 1962, the first Daytona Continental was held, a three-hour race with a world-class field of cars and drivers. In 1966, the race's format was expanded to 24 hours. As a result, The Rolex 24 at Daytona rose in stature to become one of the three most prestigious events on today's international sports car endurance racing calendar, alongside the 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans. It has also provided the stage for some of Porsche's greatest racing achievements.
Two years before Porsche tallied its first overall win at Le Mans, co-drivers Vic Elford and Jochen Neerpasch led a three-car Porsche factory entry sweep of the top three finishing positions in the 1968 Daytona event. Since then, Porsche powered cars have scored 18 more overall victories, far more than any other manufacturer, in more than half of all Daytona 24 Hour races run to date.
The list winning cars in these events reads like a chronology of famous Porsche racing models from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. From the Porsche 907 (1968), to the 917 (1970, 1971), to the Porsche 911 Carrera (1973, 1974, 1977), to the Porsche 935 (1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983), to the Porsche 962 (1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1995) and the Porsche 911 GT3 RS (2003), all are recognized as some of the most innovative, durable, and highest performing sports racing cars of their day. They and the talented drivers who drove them around the high banking and serpentine infield thrilled Daytona 24 Hour fans with their performance and helped establish Porsche's rich legacy in international sports car endurance racing. Perhaps the most revered of these models is the Porsche 917. In addition to winning the 24 Hours of Daytona twice, the powerful 12-cylinder machine with Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen at the controls established a race record average speed for the event of 114.866 miles per hour. That record, set in 1970, still stands today.
The 1984 event witnessed the debut of the Porsche 962. Although co-drivers Mario and Michael Andretti would retire the factory entry with gearbox problems while leading, the initial performance of Porsche's latest prototype gave a strong indication of its future winning potential.
Over the next ten years, Porsche 962-engined cars would capture six victories in the Daytona 24 Hour race. Several of them were classic battles. In 1986, the famed Lowenbrau Special, co-driven by Al Holbert, Derek Bell, and Al Unser Jr., scored the first of its back-to-back Daytona wins after a race-long duel with a similar Porsche 962 co-driven by A.J. Foyt, Danny Sullivan, and Arie Luyendyk. In 1989, the 962 co-driven by John Andretti, Bob Wollek, and Derek Bell came out on top after another torrid struggle with a Jaguar XJR-9 co-driven by Price Cobb, John Neilsen, Andy Wallace, and Jan Lammers.
Hurley Haywood, who has won the event six times (five overall), had his most recent Daytona victory in 1991. He shared the driving duties in the Joest Racing Porsche 962C with Bob Wollek, John Winter, Frank Jelinski, and Henri Pescarolo.
In recent years, Porsche's racing activities at Daytona have centered on its customer racing program for the highly successful Porsche 911 GT3 R/RS/RSR and its 911 GT3 Cup racers, with the recent addition of Porsche-powered prototypes. No less than 23 of these factory-built turn-key race cars made their debut at the 2000 race, with the Haberthur Racing entry co-driven by Gabrio Rosa, Fabio Rosa, Fabio Babini and Luca Drudi taking home the victory in the GT Class. The following year, the Petersen Motorsports 911 GT3 RS co-driven by Mike Fitzgerald, Randy Pobst, Christian Menzel and Lucas Luhr, stunned the racing world by finishing second overall in the 24-hour contest and first in the GT category. In 2002, The Racers Group 911 GT3 RS co-driven by Jorg Bergmeister, Michael Schrom, Timo Bernard, and owner Kevin Buckler captured GT Class honors. Their victory marked a record 54th win (class and overall) by a Porsche in the Daytona 24 Hour, and the 28th win by a 911-based race car. That total is up to 61 class wins and 20 wins overall, with The Racer's Group - Buckler/Bernhard/Bergmeister/Schrom - outlasting all the new prototypes and posting the first overall win for a GT-class car since 1977.
2005 also brought a new GT class to Daytona with new rules, and that meant a new Porsche would be running for glory. The Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, which runs in the Porsche Michelin Supercup series, was the car of choice, with the Farnbacher-Loles Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of Wolf Henzler/Pierre Ehret/Dirk Farnbacher/Shawn Price taking the GT class in this near-production Porsche 911 in 2005; the Turbo Performance Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car of Ian Baas/Randy Pobst/Spencer Pumpelly/Michael Levitas winning the GT class in 2006; and the Alegra Motorsports 911 GT3 Cup of Carlos de Quesada, Scooter Gabel, Marc Basseng, and Jean-Francois Dumoulin winning GT in 2007.