Reportage: 24 hours from Daytona 2024: High tension on the party mile

The 24 Hours of Daytona is one of the most traditional long-distance races in the world.

Reportage: 24 hours from Daytona 2024: High tension on the party mile

The 24 Hours of Daytona is one of the most traditional long-distance races in the world. Along with the classics at Le Mans and at the Nürburgring, there is no racing event that excites more fans. This year, the classic on the east coast of Florida received special attention because the new LMDh prototypes were at the start for the first time. With four brands at the start of the new racing class, by next year it should be more than twice as many. For the first time, the racing cars of the prototype class can compete in the worldwide WEC, which also includes the races in Le Mans or Spa, as well as in the American IMSA series. Unlike the WEC flagship LMP1, which is dominated by Toyota after Porsche and Audi left, the running costs for the teams should be kept within limits. With well-known brands, the long-distance championship should once again become what it once was and, for the first time, electrify in a contemporary way.

While the car manufacturers are celebrating the hybrid models with their new technology, the fans at the major event in Florida are not concerned. “It's my 17th time here at the 24 Hours,” laughs 48-year-old Megan, “otherwise I wouldn't go to any car race. But Daytona is a show - you only get that here. You meet so many fans that you already know. The mood – unique.” The new racing bank LMDh, which is only called GTP in the official regulations, doesn't know her better. Pete, who came to Daytona with his two sons, is no different as a die-hard Cadillac fan: "Daytona is set for us every January and this time we're in the infield with a motorhome for the first time - because my boys wanted it that way. The new GTP racers look great and the sound is great. It's great that Porsche and BMW are back; only Ferrari is missing.”

He can be happy, because Ferrari is currently testing at the Sebring racetrack, not even 200 kilometers away, and will also be entering the new LMDh class like other brands within the next twelve months. So that as many brands as possible come, the costs have been significantly reduced compared to the hypercars of the LMP1 class, and yet gentle electrification has made its way. This should enable the individual manufacturers to market the new racing series worldwide and based on their own product portfolio in accordance with their electrical strategy. It's no wonder that the latest series electric vehicles rush through the live broadcasts with the BMW i4 or the Cadillac Lyriq. But in contrast to the electrified production models from Honda / Acura, BMW, Porsche or Cadillac, the technology of the racing cars is still young; no team had enough time to prepare themselves and the vehicles perfectly.

In order to get the electrification of the prototype cars of the GTP class off the ground, the combustion engines are combined with a standard electric motor from Bosch. The overall performance of the system must not exceed 500 kW / 680 hp with a racing weight of just over one ton. The new racing class of the LMDh caused great interest among the car manufacturers due to the significantly lower costs and the possible uses on all continents. With BMW, Porsche, Cadillac (GM) and Acura (Honda) four major manufacturers with works teams were at the start of the season at Daytona. Jumping in late, BMW decided to only compete in the American IMSA series this season. In 2024, the WRT team will then go to the worldwide WEC, where the Bavarians will meet other prestigious competitors from brands such as Ferrari, Peugeot, Alpine (Renault) and Lamborghini. Audi should also compete in the new hybrid class, but then decided to enter Formula 1 from 2026 and, unlike Alpine, does not have a double burden.

The Daytona race has been a spectacular fan festival for more than half a century. While the gigantic main grandstand is only full at the start, most of the up to 100,000 visitors celebrate in the infield of the gigantic high-speed oval on the campsites. Due to the fact that the 24-hour race is a combination of an oval and a street course inside, the fans can get just a few meters away from the exciting racing action. The noise is deafening, the maneuvers are spectacular – the fans, beer in hand and steak on the grill, look with one eye at the respective section of the route and with the other eye at the large screen, which can be folded out when you have your own mobile home. This is motorsport in the USA.

Meanwhile, the teams of the 61 vehicles, thundering through the banked curves day and night at speeds of up to 320 km/h, are sweating. The technicians and fitters of the new hybrid cars in particular had their hands full, because the loads at the 24-hour race in Daytona are gigantic. The racing cars from Acura, Cadillac, Porsche and BMW are equally spectacular and with Acura's initial superiority with the ARX-06, which gets its 500 kW / 680 hybrid hp from a small 2.4 liter V6 engine, which as with all LMDh racers are supported by a 50 kilowatt standard motor, it was over quickly. While BMW had to say goodbye to its number 25 from the front of the race right at the start and was only able to lag behind the other brands, the result in the GTP league, which was given central attention, was put into perspective as the race went on.

Porsche, initially in the leading trio for a long time, had to fall further behind due to technical problems and, after 24 hours, had no chance of winning the race, just like BMW. The finish line after 24 hours and 783 laps: Two Acuras (Honda) in front of three Cadillacs and the first BMW in sixth place. In the end, Porsche only managed 15th place at Daytona, 34 laps down. The Acura ARX-06 with the starting number 60 (Blomqvist / Braun / Pagenaud / Catroneves) as the fastest GTP vehicle in the field was ultimately able to beat its sister model with the number 10 (Albuquerque / Taylor / Deletraz / Hartley) and the first of the three Cadillacs V-LMDh with start number 01 (van der Zande / Bourdais / Dixon) prevail. But as important as the victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona 2023 is – the kilometers raced must have been at least as important for all teams. Maybe even priceless, because it's about nothing less than the future of motorsport with electric power.