Daytona GX Champ
Napleton’s Cayman takes the inaugural race in a new Grand Am class
This year’s Rolex 24 almost marked the first time a Porsche hasn’t made the podium in any class in many a year. Fortunately for me, and a few other diehard Porsche fans, the strange, new and misunderstood GX class kept Porsche’s streak alive, with Caymans sweeping the podium.
Napleton Racing built and entered our specially built 3.8-liter Cayman. Napleton’s claim to fame in motorsports is the creation of the Cayman Interseries. I have done one Interseries race, at the last Rennsport Reunion at Laguna Seca, and I have to say it was the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel in a very long time.
This year’s Daytona ride came about due to Ron Barnaba, Napleton Porsche’s GM, who convinced Ed Napleton (owner, of course) on November 2 that the Rolex 24 was something they should do. Somehow they built a car in about six weeks, just in time for the January test days, and then refined it further for the race a few weeks later. Using the knowledge gained from their Interseries experience, they created a car that was not only the fastest in the class but also the most reliable. It was the reliability we weren’t sure of until it was over and really was the most nerve-wracking aspect of the whole experience. I was constantly worrying about what/when it was going to break.
The race was also like a reunion for me. Ron was a friend from when I had started with Brumos Racing back in 2002. At the time, he was Brumos Porsche’s GM. While building his successful Cayman Interseries concept at Napleton, he had hired Isaac Fritsche as his crew chief (also crew chief on this Rolex win). Isaac was also on my first Daytona Prototype crew. And finally, for this project they brought in the experience of Michael Colucci, who was the manager of that same early Brumos DP program up until about 2010. It was sort of like getting the band back together for me.
The driver lineup was strong, too. Shane Lewis was involved from the beginning and started this race a week after his Dubai 24-hour win. Jim Norman had been in the Rolex Series GT ranks through 2012, and we had met when our paths crossed in airports more than anywhere else. I hadn’t met Nelson Canache before this program, but he proved himself on the track (even if we couldn’t get him to meetings on time).
More than ever, the drivers had it very easy for this race. The team did all the heavy lifting in November through to the race start. And remember that big flu outbreak? It hit the shop hard, affecting everyone just before or after the January test, but they persevered and arrived well prepared. Surprisingly, they hadn’t all done a 24-hour race, let alone as one unit. Mike and Isaac’s experience and sense of calm resonated through the team, and it was more or less like clockwork…right to the checkered flag with a ten-lap advantage over second place.
This felt more like my 1998 Le Mans win than my last Rolex 24 win. It was a crew’s race: They did the hard work, and it showed with domination. I almost feel guilty holding on to my new fine Rolex timepiece…almost.