As I said in my recap of the last Rolex 24 we went to, being at a race is definitely my happy place. There’s something about the sound of a race engine roaring to life, or a race car flying by me that I absolutely love. Last weekend Bayley and I, along with her best friend, made the trek to this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. There are plenty of places where you can read coverage of the race itself, including my one of favorite sites, Racer.com, so I’ll stick to covering our experience. The race itself was great, with a lot of action on track, and a crazy last few laps. Being a fan of Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, I was happy to see them cross the stripe first for the overall victory, but I’d have loved to see my favorite GTD team, Flying Lizard, finish higher up the order. No matter, they fought hard the entire time to get back up to 10th in class after some early clutch issues, and were still pushing hard when the clock hit zero on Sunday afternoon.
This race weekend was a much different experience than any past IndyCar or sports car race we’ve been to. Normally I just get the standard 3-4 day weekend package with grandstand seats for whatever race we’re going to, but this time I splurged a little and went with the Audi Motorsport Experience tickets. We’ve never done a race on any sort of hospitality tickets, and looking back, I couldn’t be happier with the choice, Audi took great care of us all weekend. The tickets themselves included access to a number of things we’d never had access to at a race before that will all be covered here, and we loved every minute of it.
When we got to Daytona on Friday evening we went straight to the track. Even though the Continental Tire Series race had just ended, I had business to attend to in the garage area before the teams called it a night, and we wanted to hit Tijuana Flats for dinner after that, which is right across the street from the track. Walking the garage at a track off-hours definitely reminds you that this is a team sport. While the drivers may be off doing appearances or resting up for the race, the crews are usually hard at work getting the car ready.
Come Saturday morning, our normal race weekend plan kicked in. Bayley knows that I like to get to the track as early as possible, so that meant getting to the Audi Boardwalk Club, the heart of their hospitality setup located in the middle of the infield, as soon as we could. We left the hotel around 7:20am and got to the Audi car corral about 20 minutes later. They’d included two parking passes with our tickets, so my daughter parked her Jeep over with the other non-Audi cars, while I parked my little TT roadster in line next to a beautiful R8.
Once we had all of our stuff, we hopped on the Audi golf cart shuttles, which took us pretty much wherever we needed to go over the course of the weekend, and headed to the Boardwalk Club to get signed in. These tickets included a few behind the scenes things that we wanted to be sure and get spots for:
- Hot lap
- Audi paddock (garage) tour
- Hot pit tour during the race
When we initially signed up, we were on the 11am hot lap list, which was pretty long. Right after we went and sat down in the Boardwalk Club to enjoy some breakfast, one of the girls from the front desk came over and asked if we wanted to switch to the 8:30 hot lap, as they had a couple of openings. We enthusiastically agreed, and hopped on one of the carts to head to the IMSA (series) hauler to sign our lives away.
The hot lap is exactly what it sounds like. A lap around the track at speed. Since we were with Audi, that obviously meant doing the lap in an Audi, specifically a new S3 (the blue one below). It was pretty wet out, and even started raining a bit harder as we were standing on pit road waiting for our turn. We expected them to shut it down, considering all the high speed infield turns, as well as the steep speedway turns. Nope. The line of hot lap cars came in, and we hopped right in and took off. It was an absolute blast, with our driver telling us that they weren’t even holding back in the wet, the cars were gripping just fine. Coming off of turn 7 (speedway turn 2) on to the back straight, we were doing almost 120mph in a street car. So. Much. Fun. In addition to the pics below, I’ve got video of the hot lap up on YouTube beneath them.
Once the hot lap was over, we walked around the garage a bit before heading back to the Boardwalk Club. Our first two activities were almost back to back, with the paddock tours scheduled for 9:30am. On arrival, we once again boarded a golf cart shuttle and headed back to the garage area. This time around, we were getting a behind the scenes tour of the garages for both Audi teams, Flying Lizard and Paul Miller Racing, along with a tour of the Audi Customer Racing parts hauler. We all had a blast. In addition to getting to see the crew of my favorite car at work (the #45), our guide Mark did a great job of explaining things along the way and answering questions as they came up. The guys in the Audi hauler were really cool, too. The hauler is equipped with two spare R8 chassis and enough parts to build a couple more cars. They just sit there and wait for one of the teams to come over needing a part. A good race for the Audi teams means the guys in the parts hauler have no work :).
Once our paddock tours ended, we were left to do whatever we wanted until later that evening, as our last scheduled event was the hot pit tour at 9pm. We walked around for a bit, checking out the final activity in the garages, and headed back over to the Boardwalk Club for lunch. One of the nice things about these tickets is that they included all meals, as well as snacks overnight. All of the meals were outstanding. Our lunch menu on Saturday included some delicious weiner schnitzel and German potato salad, among other items. During lunch, the drivers for both of the Audi teams arrived for the pre-race driver meet and greet for Audi hospitality guests. Each of the teams were on stage for a few minutes talking about how their car was running, what they expected out of the race, and doing a short Q&A. Definitely a nice touch.
Once we were done with lunch, we headed over to the autograph session. We’d gotten some Audi flags at the Boardwalk Club, and decided to get them signed by all 8 Audi drivers. The autograph tables are divided into stations, with something like 6 tables per station. Fortunately both of the Audi teams were at the same station, so we only had to stand in one line, but on the flip side, Patrick Dempsey’s team was also in the same station, which meant it’d have a very long line. We got there a little early and waited in line near the front, but it was a really long line by the time the session started. I feel bad for the Dempsey fans in line, too. About 10 minutes before the session started, someone with his team walked by to let anyone waiting for him know that Dempsey would be a no-show for autographs (no reason was given), and would be replaced by Hurley Haywood. While it was cool to see a legend like that sit in last minute, I’d bet less than half of those waiting for Dempsey even know who Haywood is. Regardless, we got what we came for. In addition to the smaller flag, I also got a flag I bought at the 2012 race signed by the entire 2015 Rolex 24 Flying Lizard team this weekend. Drivers, crew, everyone. Of the few pieces of autographed memorabilia I have, this is easily a favorite. The picture of me holding that flag was shot very early Sunday morning, so ignore how rough I look 🙂
Our autographed flags in hand, we hopped a golf cart to the car corral to switch out some stuff before the race started. Our plan was to watch the start from the Audi suite on the front stretch. None of us had watched a race from a suite before, and while I normally like to be closer to the track during a race, this was actually a great spot. We had an excellent view of the pits and front stretch from the seats in front of the suite, and Audi staff were on hand inside the suite offering up drinks and snacks, all included with our tickets.
I’m not good at sitting in one place for any length of time, so after a couple of hours enjoying the action from the suite, we hopped a cart and headed back to the infield to watch the race from the Ferris wheel. This is one of the coolest places to see the race from, especially at night. We did both a day and a night ride, fun stuff.
After the ride and a walk through the carnival games area, we headed back to the Boardwalk Club for what was easily the best meal of the weekend. Inside, Audi’s chef had a long table with things like roasted potatoes, penne Gorgonzola, and beef tenderloin. Outside they had a table with a large amount of smoked sausage and corn on the cob, along with a table of oysters. Did I mention Audi took really good care of us all weekend? To top it all off, they had a delicious wall of dessert inside.
Not long after dinner we did break my main rule of the Rolex 24: once you’re in the track, you’re in until it’s over. With the kids heading back to college after the race, my daughter had her cat Luna with us (who lives with her in her dorm at Eckerd), and he was back in the hotel room alone, so we left for a little while to go check on him. We couldn’t stay long, however, as our last scheduled event was on tap at 9:15pm, the hot pit tour. We left the track a little after 7:30pm and got back about 8:45pm. Upon arriving, we took a cart straight back to the Boardwalk Club to check in for our pit tour.
When we got to the pits, they gave us IMSA visitor hard-cards and some headsets so we could talk to Mark. Because of how busy the Paul Miller Racing guys were (fighting for the lead in GTD at the time), we only got to tour the Flying Lizard pits, but it was a blast. We hung out in there for a little over 10 minutes and got to see one of their pits stops, along with the final pit stop of the #70 SpeedSource Mazda prototype before it retired with a fatal oil pump issue. It was all very cool to watch, those crews really bust their butts. The last pic below is the Mazda in for its stop.
After the pit tour, we decided to hang out in the Boardwalk Club for a while and watch the 10pm fireworks. This is always a highlight of the evening, one that everyone attending should make a point to watch. Race cars and fireworks. What could be better? I’ve got videos of the fireworks as seen from the patio at the Boardwalk Club here, and here. Looking at the last one, the smoke from the finale must have been blinding for the drivers as they came down the backstretch. Shortly after the fireworks, the staff put out some sliders for everyone who was still there. Not that we needed more food, but hey, might as well get our money’s worth, right?
Our last move of Saturday night was grabbing a cart and heading back to the front stretch suite to watch the race from there for a while. The suite closed at midnight, so by the time we got over there, I think we only stayed for about 45 minutes before heading back to the infield as Saturday ended. It was well worth the cart ride, the suite provided an outstanding view of the track at night.
I think that about covers our Saturday at the track. We really enjoyed all of the special events Audi put together, and were enjoying the race as well. Next up in part 2: Sunday at the Rolex 24!