DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Shane Lewis, co-driver of the No. 16 Napleton Racing Rolex GX Cayman, won the pole position in the competition debut of the class and the car.
While most of the cars in this very new class were not ready for prime time, the Napleton Cayman was not only ready, it was extremely able—Lewis lapped Daytona International Speedway four seconds faster than the next-quickest car.
The SpeedSource Mazdas, for which the class was created and which had been introduced with much media fanfare, spent much of the practice and qualifying sessions in the garage—not unusual for brand new and hastily built racing vehicles.
Not so the Napleton car—it was ready to go and Lewis made it go, all the way to the front of the class grid for the most prestigious endurance race of the Grand Am Rolex season, the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Lewis did a great job driving the car, and at the post-qualifying press conference, he could have explained what techniques he used to shave tenths of seconds off his time, what strategy he used to deal with traffic—the usual speech, and all information that the fans want to know.
But Shane Lewis took the opportunity to say something a bit different.
Lewis started out by joking with the reporters and photographers gathered in the media center.
“You guys [addressing assembled media] are also going to be up for how many hours? You’re going to get up at six in the morning, have some breakfast, you’re going to come here—by the way, who thought of starting this race at three o’clock? Where did that come from? Anybody? Unbelievable.”
Of course Lewis knows it is the traditional start time of the Le Mans 24, but he also sees the absurdity of starting a day of events and entertainment at nine a.m. and then starting a 24-hour race in mid-afternoon. But his joking had a more important point.
“So you guys are going to be up s many hours as I’m going to be, through all the banter and the autograph sessions and everything that’s going to take place.
“You could say, ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter where you start. It doesn’t matter where you start—it’s 24 hours.’
“I’m telling you it does matter where you start to the crew. The pole position here wasn’t for me, it wasn’t for anybody else except for the hard hours that the Napleton team put in.”
Lewis explained that the GX class was originally conceived by Mazda Motorsports in conjunction with Hrand Am. Mazda’s highly successful RX8 was out of production and soon would be ineligible; the manufacturer wanted a to campaign a new car, but they needed that new car to be something relevant to what the company was producing—not sports cars, but sporty sedans, featuring Mazda’s Skyactiv clean diesel engine.
Mazda essentially proposed a class built around its Mazda6 diesel sedan, three of which will be racing at the Rolex 24. Teams like Napleton Racing, after reading the rules, decided the Porsche Cayman would be a perfect fit.
“When the rules were set up in November—think of what it takes to build a car from the ground up, and to do that from November. These guys spent countless hours and hours, so this particular pole—yes, it’s awesome to start up front, but just like you guys are going to be in for massive amounts of hours, so are they, and this pole is for them.”
Lewis is a seasoned racer—he won his first Rolex class victory in 2002. He knows who really makes the car fast, who really wins the races, and who does the back-to-back all-nighters so the driver can hoist the trophy and kiss the girls the next day. He made sure that everyone else understood too.
Racing is a team sport, and just like in football, the best quarterback is worthless without a god line, receivers and running backs—the guys who get beat up every play and rarely hear their names mentioned.The mechanics, the crew: the guys who unload, haul wheels to the tire tent, fetch parts from the parts truck, and lie on the ground, either frozen or baking, while wrenching on blazing hot engines and transmissions; the guys who stay up for three days fixing the car their driver wrecked in practice so he can make the race; the guys who get cut and burned, get fingers crushed, and never hear any applause—those guys got some of the recognition they deserve.
Shane Lewis showed some real class by pointing out who really won the GX class pole.
The 51st Grand Am Rolex 24 at Daytona starts at 3:30 pm.m. ET on Saturday Jan. 26, but the racing starts Friday with Continental Tire and Ferrari Challenge events. Get your tickets now through Grand-Am.com.
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