DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Jan. 29 — They not only survived North America’s greatest test of endurance sports cars, they excelled in it.
Snow Racing’s Universal Industrial Sales (UIS) Porsche 911 GT America #58 prepared and serviced by Wright Motorsports finished third in the GT Daytona class in the 52nd annual Rolex 24 Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
The inaugural event in the IMSA Tudor United SportsCar Championship featured 29 entries in the GTD class among 67 total entries. Portions of the event were broadcast live on Fox, Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2.
The event posed challenges before, during and after the race for Snow Racing, which is based in Lehi, Utah, and Wright Motorsports, which is based in Batavia, Ohio. However, at the end of the twice-around-the-clock classic their three drivers — Madison Snow of Lehi, Utah; Jan Heylen of Tampa, Fla., and Marco Seefried of Amerbach, Germany — were standing on the podium in victory lane at the storied speedway.
One of the first challenges was that of time, as the brand-new Porsche only arrived in Wright Motorsports’ shops a few weeks before the race. But thanks to Wright Motorsports’ expertise with Porsches, they made the show and Heylen qualified 16th for the race on Thursday with a time of 1:47.649 for the 3.56-mile road course. He almost went as fast during the race when he set the team’s fastest race lap on lap 140 with a 1:48.856.
The team ran its own race and it did things its way. It was one of only two GTD teams to use only three drivers, not four or even five. It was confident that the trio it picked would be up to the task, even though one of them, Snow, 18, was the youngest driver in the entire field for the second consecutive year. He has been racing for years, however, and he’s the reigning IMSA GT3 Cup champion driving for Snow Racing/Wright Motorsports, so the team knew he’d be more than up to the task.
He and his co-drivers not only stayed in contention throughout the race, they all led at one point. The only time they dropped out of the top five was when they made routine pit stops under green. More often than not they were in second or third when they were in the top five too.
In the early going they had some trouble in the pits due to a faulty fuel valve, but the pit crew solved that problem and the rest of the stops were much faster.
There were close calls on the track, but little contact. Snow was too close for comfort when Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli crashed violently in an accident that will be on YouTube for years, sending both drivers to the hospital and delaying the race for about an hour. The UIS Porsche was the first car in line directly behind that crash, but even with the blinding sun in his eyes Snow dodged the accident and most of its flying debris.
Survival was on everyone’s mind throughout the race, as the team’s first goal was to finish. The second goal was to be in a position to race at the end, and it achieved that too. The only time the entry wasn’t in second or third in the last seven hours of the race was after a routine pit stop.
There was drama on the very last lap when the leading GTD car, the Level 5 Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia #555 of Alessandro Pier Guidi, and the second-place car, the Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS #45 of Markus Winkelhock, raced together so closely that the Audi went off course in the infield portion of the course. There was always the possibility they would take each other out in the heat of battle, which might have given the victory to the UIS Porsche. Heylen was driving at the end and he had the task of playing offense and defense simultaneously. Actually the two leaders never made contact, and Heylen was only 0.159 of a second behind the Audi at the checkered flag.
There was even drama after the race, as initially IMSA penalized the Ferrari for its last-lap maneuvers. That moved the UIS Porsche up to second place, but several hours after the race IMSA rescinded the penalty so the #58 did finish third.
The UIS Porsche was the highest-finishing Porsche in the class by far; the next-highest one placed eighth.
Madison Snow: “We had a great race, but it was a very difficult one. The Porsche 991 is a brand-new car, and Audi and Ferrari have had a few years to develop their cars. We knew they had an advantage based upon the speed they had shown in qualifying.
“It was an honor running with Jan and Marco in this race. They are both amazing race car drivers that helped me improve myself to become faster though the weekend. And most of all they are amazing to be around; the entire team is. We had such a fun time there with everyone. It was a great opportunity to get to run the Daytona 24 and finish on the podium.”
Marco Seefried: “The race was awesome. After qualifying I didn’t expect such a result. We saw that the Audis and the Ferraris were quite strong, and a few of the manufacturers didn’t show their performance at the Roar test. So to us with the Porsche it was very challenging.
Jan Heylen: “Big thank you to Snow Racing and Wright Motorsports and everybody involved for making this happen! It was a great team effort to get the car ready in time for the test and the race. And what a team effort throughout the race! We had a bunch of stuff go on during the race, but the team just worked their way through it and never gave up.
Photo Credit: Bob Chapman & Joe Jennings