Originally created 02/03/03

'Little Porsche' perfect in 24 hour victory



DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Sports cars from the Daytona Prototype and GT Super classifications had faster engines and sleeker body styles in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

But a four-man team in the slower GT class walked away with the victory in the most grueling sports car race in North America.

The Racers Group Porsche GT3 RS of Kevin Buckler, Michael Schrom, Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmeister traded the speed associated with bigger, more powerful engines for the proven reliability of the smaller, race-proven Porsche engine.

They parlayed it into a nine-lap victory on the 3.54-mile road course - the biggest win in the twice-around-the-clock race at the Daytona International Speedway since a Nissan 300ZX, another car from one of the lower divisions, won by 24 laps in 1994.

"We kept our mouths shut and our heads down," Buckler said. "We had a little battle (Saturday) night with one of the (Brumos) Daytona Prototypes where we were 30 seconds apart from each other. We were biting our nails the whole time."

There have been upsets at Daytona in the past, including two other wins by lower class cars in the last three marathons. But Sunday's win was the first for the GT class, the third of four Grand American Road Racing Association divisions, since 1977.

Compared to college football, it was like Slippery Rock beating Ohio State for the national championship.

GT cars also finished second, third and sixth.

"There were a lot of good GT teams," Buckler said. "We knew we had a tiny chance, but the guys did what they always do. As the race stretched on, we just stayed consistent and didn't make any mistakes. The little Porsche was perfect."

It wasn't the fastest car in the race but it was the only one that didn't have to make any unscheduled repairs. The team completed 695 laps - 2,474.2 miles, or roughly the distance between Daytona Beach and San Francisco.

The first non-GT car was the Daytona Prototype Ford Multimatic of Scott Maxwell, David Brabham and David Empringham in fourth place, 16 laps behind.

The winning team never looked in their rearview mirror. They knew they were among the leaders in the first six hours and the uncontested leader during the final 16 hours, but they never allowed themselves to break away from their game plan.

"I thought we could win during the last two or three hours, but not the sixth hour," Bernhard said. "I thought just getting a class win would be good. To win overall, it's a dream come true."

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.