Hard to believe, but it’s been 18 years since Andy Lally ran in the Rolex 24 At Daytona for the first time.
The 25-year-old from Long Island had been spectating at the Daytona enduro since 1996 — the Florida climate sure beats New York at that time of year — but he landed a ride in 2001, driving for fellow Formula 2000 driver Mike Johnson in a brand-new Nissan-powered Lola B2K.
“Mike had two of the 10 cars in SRP II that year, and it was a brand-new class,” Lally recalled. “That was the era when you had to take a real good look at your car, and figure out the weak links, and then drive around them. Now, you just drive 99.99 percent all the time.
“For that car, we knew we had some issues in the gearbox and the half-shafts, some things in the drive train were our weak links. Our team engineer, Brian Anderson, basically had us driving to a lap time, from the very first practice and even in qualifying. And that time was two seconds off the pace. It was very annoying to do, but he would yell at us if we even ran a little bit faster. He was smart. We drove around in fifth for the first two hours. Guys just started dropping here and there. We didn’t have a big, scrappy battle, we just inherited the lead by being the safest — and smartest — guys out there.”
Lally won the new class by 23 laps, joined in the No. 21 Nissan Lola by Paul Macey, Martin Henderson and Peter Seldon.
“Of my five wins [in the Rolex 24], that was the most unique,” Lally said. “We really had to play and drive to the car, instead of being the fastest thing on track and drive our butts off.”
Ten years later, smart driving to the car helped Lally to another class victory, when he drove the No. 67 The Racer’s Group Porsche GT3 Cup with Spencer Pumpelly, Steve Bertheau, Wolf Henzler and NASCAR’s Brendan Gaughan.
“We lost the clutch six or eight hours into the race, and that was real tricky,” Lally said. “It was a sequential box, but we still had a clutch off the floor and it was engaged the whole time. You could just disengage it a little bit so the crew could bump it and get it running and take off, but they had to bump us off after every stop. It was insane to do that for 18 hours, and we still ended up winning it. Big testament to the crew for keeping their calm, keeping their torque and grunt to do that. They were pretty worn out after that one.”
That was the last time Lally and long-time buddy Pumpelly drove together. This weekend, the two are reunited in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3, joined by team owner John Potter and Marco Mapelli.
It’s been 18 years since his first trip to victory lane at Daytona, and now Lally is looking forward to winning his class in the event for the sixth time.