DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 6 – The Bell Motorsports/Feeds the Need Racing Kodak EasyShare DORAN JE4 Pontiac #54 retired from the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway just a few minutes before midnight Saturday due to engine problems.
The car did just 12 minutes shy of half of the event, which it won last year.
The premature retirement was extremely disappointing to everyone connected with the team because it had rallied courageously all day after other problems at the start of the race.
After dropping to the rear of the field at the start, the crew was poised to crack the top 10 when the engine expired.
Ralf Kelleners was the last driver of the car in the race. He said he had some warning of a problem because the car had been overheating.
“We cleaned out the radiator, but then it got worse,” he said. “When we brought it in, everything was filled with oil.”
Nothing went quite right for the team Saturday. Terry Borcheller had problems immediately when the brake bias adjuster got locked on the pace laps.
The crew got that problem fixed, but at the one-hour mark Borcheller was in 47th place. He tried to claw his way back up the scoreboard, but said the car was very difficult to drive.
“For some reason the brake bias was locked to the rear,” Borcheller said right after that first stint. “On the pace laps when I was trying to get the brakes warmed up, they just locked up; the adjuster wasn’t working. It would just spin the rear wheels. We came in and the crew got the cable freed up and solved that, but since then the car is just a nightmare to drive. Everything feels wrong. It’s hard to be objective and even say what’s wrong because everything is so bad right now; nothing feels right.”
Christian Fittipaldi said the car had a very low level of overall grip during his first stint. “It’s very easy to lock up the brakes and spin,” he said. “In the beginning the car isn’t that bad, but towards the end of your stint [as the tires wear] it’s pretty bad.”
Borcheller, Fittipaldi and their co-drivers, Paul tracy and Ralf Kelleners, all tried their best, as did the entire team, and by 7 p.m. Saturday night the entry was in 14th place, only five laps down.
Kelleners said the car was better in the cooler evening temperatures than it was during the day. He also noted that the team had a soft brake pedal later in the race, but that cleared up.
tracy was up to 12th when he had a flat left rear tire on the superstretch around 9 p.m.
The entry climbed as high as 11th, 10 laps down, by 11 p.m. before the engine problems forced it out of the race.
The team will shake off this one and concentrate on the next event, scheduled for Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla. March 5.