Fernando Alonso's participation in the Daytona 24 Hours has attracted the attention of race fans who might not otherwise have followed the race. It may not be as familiar as that other famous enduro, Le Mans, but the event none the less has a storied 55-year history, and has attracted the top names in the sport – including McLaren.
Here’s what you need to know...
1. The Florida city of Daytona became synonymous with speed in the early 1900s, when its beach was used for record attempts. Between 1927 and 1935, Britons Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell set a succession of world land speed records, before the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah became the venue of choice. From 1937, stock car races were held at Daytona on a course that combined a beachfront public road with a return leg on the sand.
2. Beach event promoter and NASCAR founder Bill France first made plans for a permanent venue in 1953, and construction began on a site next to the airport, a few miles inland from the beach, in 1957. The Daytona International Speedway, designed as a 2.5-mile tri-oval, hosted its first 500-mile NASCAR race in 1959.
3. Keen to keep his facility busy and showcase other categories, France also created a 3.8-mile road course. It used most of the tri-oval, plus an infield section featuring a series of tight and twisty turns. Later a chicane was added on the back stretch. Although some corners have been re-profiled over the years, with the last major changes coming in 2003, the character of the track remains essentially the same.
4. The road course first hosted a major sportscar race in February 1962, initially under the Daytona Continental name; ever since, the venue’s winter event has been regarded as the start of the international racing season. The first two races were held over a three-hour duration, and were won by a solo driver. Dan Gurney triumphed in the inaugural event, against a field that included veteran Stirling Moss, newcomer Jim Clark, and Indy 500 winner AJ Foyt. The 1964 and ‘65 races were run over an unusual 2000kms distance, with two drivers per car.
5. In 1966 France introduced the 24 Hours format, instantly linking the race to Le Mans while also differentiating it from the long established Sebring 12 Hours, the other leg of what became sportscar racing’s “Triple Crown.” The race has been run over that duration ever since, with the sole exception of 1972, when it reduced to six hours. There was no event in 1974 as motor sport was forced to respond to the energy crisis.
6. Bruce McLaren was part of Ford’s mighty works effort at Daytona in 1966 and 1967. In the first year the Ford GT MkII claimed the top three places, while Bruce finished fifth with close friend and countryman Chris Amon. The following year, when McLaren was sharing with Belgian F1 driver Lucien Bianchi, all the Ford GT MkIIs were hit by transmission problems, due to an issue with heat treatment of the output shafts. Having been fitted with an older spec of transmission at a pit stop Bruce’s car was the sole MkII survivor in seventh, despite further issues with a blown head gasket and overheating.
7. McLaren has fielded an entry in the Daytona 24 Hours – but not with its own chassis. In 1977 McLaren North America teamed up with BMW to run the German manufacturer’s 320 programme in the IMSA series. David Hobbs contested the autumn sprint race at Daytona that year, before returning for the 24 Hours in 1978, where he was partnered by F1 legend and occasional BMW racer Ronnie Peterson. The pair qualified third but retired early with engine problems.
8. Including the early shorter races, a total of 37 drivers who started at least one Grand Prix have also won at Daytona. The only World Champions to triumph were Phil Hill in 1964 and Mario Andretti in 1972 – but neither of those were full 24 Hour races, which means that Fernando Alonso has the chance to become the first champ to win the round-the-clock event. The only Grand Prix winners to have won the 24 Hours are Lorenzo Bandini, Jo Siffert, Thierry Boutsen and Juan Pablo Montoya, with the last-named scoring three successes thus far.
9. Eight drivers who raced for the works McLaren F1 team have won at Daytona. Brian Redman, Jackie Oliver, Derek Bell, Martin Brundle and Juan Pablo Montoya all triumphed in the 24 Hours, while Dan Gurney and Jacky Ickx won shorter versions of the event. In addition, McLaren F1 privateers Mark Donohue and Vic Elford both won the 24 Hours.
10. Porsche has won Daytona overall more times than any other manufacturer, with 18 successes since 1968 – plus four more as an engine supplier. Among drivers the record for most wins is five, shared by Hurley Haywood and Scott Pruett.