DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 26, 2014)- While many racing teams tend to blame their foibles on mechanical gremlins during the famed Rolex 24 at Daytona, Magnus Racing can firmly lay the blame on something even more treacherous… an opossum.
Despite this, the team would still cross the checkered flag to see 11th place.
“We’re always very excited to get letters after a race,” stated Magnus Racing team owner and co-driver John Potter. “Normally they’re from happy fans, congratulatory notes from the series, but we may be the first team in IMSA history to get a letter from PETA. Regardless, the fact that we still managed to see the finish line after such a crazed race is incredible, and I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”
Starting from the fourth row in the No. 44 Flex-Box/Children’s Tumor Foundation Porsche 911 GT America, driver Andy Lally would take the green flag on the historic twice-around-the-clock event. Getting to the green flag, however, was no easy feat for the Magnus crew.
During Friday’s final practice session, the team would suffer a surprise issue with the gearbox, cutting their final practice short to examine the problem. Having put an all-new gearbox in the car prior, the team was faced with the arduous task of completely rebuilding their transmission during the final hours of race preparation, putting in a long day and with no opportunity to try the car on-track before the race began.
With nearly 100 children and families on site from the Children’s Tumor Foundation rooting for the car, which featured the foundation’s logo as well as 111 names of “NF Heroes” on the rear bumper, the team had even extra motivation to ensure the car was perfect.
With the race well under way, the opening series of stints were business-as-usual for the No. 44 team. Despite a small issue with the front splitter, drivers Andy Lally, John Potter and Marco Seefried ran a successful series of opening stints including a strong double stint by Potter. Still holding pace with the lead pack and on the lead lap, by time the team’s fourth driver, Martin Ragginger, took the reigns all eyes would turn toward the team’s gearbox.
With Seefried reporting an occasional harshness during upshifts, the problem would continue for Ragginger who did his best to manage to a worsening problem. As the stint wore on, the problem continued to grow with sixth gear failing completely and the car eventually losing drive outright. The car was able to limp to the garage for repairs, however, any hopes for a second victory were gone.
Swapping out the gearbox in nearly 45 minutes, an incredible effort all to itself, the team was back out for action. Knowing a victory was not possible, the focus instead shifted to ensuring points for the team, with John Potter getting back in the car following Ragginger’s stint.
According to this year’s rules for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the team’s designated silver driver needed to drive approximately 4.5 hours in order to score points for the team. With Potter serving this role, the Salt Lake City resident would drive an additional double stint as the night wore on, with the team appearing to be back to normal as the midnight hour approached.
With Potter fulfilling the time requirements by time 12PM hit, all focus was now on simply finishing the race, wanting to not only maximize their finishing points in an attrition-filled race, but equally important to show well for the many families on hand from the Children’s Tumor Foundation.
Continuing through their driver rotation, all was routine as the team went deep into the night hours, hitting the halfway point of the race and slowly climbing up the charts as attrition wore on.
Unfortunately, a rising gearbox temperature created a new sense of alarm within the team and once again bringing the car in at 3AM for further repairs. Following another 30 minutes, the No. 44 was back out and seemingly poised to run the second half of the race at a comfortable pace.
That was until Andy Lally jumped in for the early morning stint. Lally, a notable animal rights advocate and devout vegan, was running behind one of the Viper GT3-R machines when sudden contact with “something” on the road would create a significant dent in the front of the car and radiator. After evaluating the vehicle, the team elected to stay out and monitor the situation.
With the car seemingly OK, the team continued on for the next several stints until rising temperatures and a resulting plume of smoke erupted from the car as the morning hours continued.
Returning to the garage for a third round, more visits than any other time in team history, the crew immediately went to work to diagnose the issue. Upon lifting up the front hood of the car, the team discovered a problem that they’d never seen in any of their combined years of racing… an opossum.
Yes, you read that right, an opossum. As it turned out, when Lally was chasing the Viper in the early morning hours, the “debris” that went through the car was an opossum which had unfortunately found its way on the track and through the front end of the Magnus Porsche.
(PHOTOS BELOW: WARNING- THEY'RE GRAPHIC)
Magnus Racing, known for its irreverent live webcast and fun social media presence, elected to name the deceased “Ballast,” and with repairs made chose to finish the race under the theme #AvengeBallast.
Making quick repairs for the third time, an impressive Magnus crew once again sent the car on its way, where the drivers would cycle through, with John Potter driving the final stint to the checkered flag.
Despite the challenges, and literal marsupial sacrifice, the team was able to continue their perfect record of finishes at the race, now seeing the checkered flag for all six Rolex 24 events they’ve competed in. This also continues Andy Lally’s streak of 12 straight finishes at the Rolex.
While the event will likely go down as one of the weirdest for the team, it was nonetheless another testament to the commitment and preparation of all involved.
“It’s a cliché to say the race is all about preparation, but nonetheless true,” continued Potter. “Everyone has put their heart and soul into this during the winter, and I’m glad we were at least able to see the finish. We really wanted to deliver for the Children’s Tumor Foundation, and it is truly special to know just how many young children and families are rooting for you.”
For Andy Lally, keeping his streak alive highlights an odd race.
“This was definitely one of the weirdest ones I’ve been a part of,” stated Lally. “The guys had no shortage of challenges, but they jumped to it every time, and it’s an amazing level of commitment. When I was behind the Viper I knew I hit something, but when I looked in my mirrors I didn’t see anything behind me so it was very odd. I had no idea that we’d picked up a passenger in the process, and it’s unfortunate on a number of levels. Regardless, I’m glad we could see the finish and I look forward to the rest of the season.”
For Marco Seefried, who until this race had been on the podium every time he’d driven with the team, the theme of a strange race continued.
“It was a very odd race for sure,” stated Seefried. “I think we all thought we had a shot this weekend, so to have so many strange events was unexpected. It’s really too bad as the car was quite good, but this is the nature of this kind of racing. Regardless, I thank John Potter and everyone on the Magnus Racing team for such a great experience, I look forward to the next one.”
For Martin Ragginger, making his debut with the team, the sentiment is shared.
“It’s very unfortunate to have the race we did,” stated Ragginger. “The car was quite good, we were very strong. I was really impressed with the whole Magnus team and I thought we had a really good shot, but obviously racing is unpredictable and this is just part of it. Regardless I appreciate the opportunity and hope they find success this season.”
Despite the team’s struggles on-track, the off-track programs synonymous with the team proved successful yet again. Introducing this year’s annual movie poster, the “John Potter and Order of the Rolex” theme proved a massive success via social media and in the autograph line, and the annual pit side webcast held once again, with nearly 50,000 followers enjoying the interactive and irreverent experience. The highly unusual opossum sacrifice was equally noteworthy, with Andy Lally’s initial tweet being retweeted by thousands, and the #AvengeBallast hashtag trending among the loyal sportscar fan base.
With several weeks between the Rolex 24 and the next big event, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the team is already back at work in preparation for Round Two of the series.
PHOTOS ARE BELOW, WE WARNED YOU.
SERIOUSLY. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.