Rolex 24 at Daytona: The five greatest races

Dan Gurney bump starts his broken No. 96 Lotus 19 across the finish line to become the first winner of the 3 Hour Daytona Continental race.

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With just days to go until the green flag at the 2015 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, we count down five of the greatest races in the history of the endurance classic.

1962: Gurney rolls to victory:

The first endurance sports car race at Daytona was the 1962 Daytona Continental, a three-hour race that paved the way for the eventual move to 24 hours in 1966. The inaugural event attracted an all-star field that included the reigning Formula One World Champion (Phil Hill) and reigning Indy 500 winner (A.J. Foyt), plus many of the stars of international sports car racing and even NASCAR stock cars.

At the end, popular Californian Dan Gurney had the engine expire in his Lotus Climax 19B just shy of the finish line. Knowing he could not make another lap, he parked his car high on the track before the flag stand, and then coasted down across the line when time officially expired.

1986: A true test of endurance:

The Lowenbrau Porsche 962 team of Al Holbert, Derek Bell and Al Unser Jr. lost 22 laps early on Sunday, giving Jim Busby’s Porsche 962 a brief lead before that team broke a halfshaft.

Preston Henn’s Porsche 962, with A.J. Foyt, Danny Sullivan and Arie Luyendyk, took over the lead, challenged by Jim Busby’s Porsche 962, with Jochen Mass, Derek Warwick, Darren Brassfield and Busby.

Henn’s team experienced a series of problems that allowed both the Busby and Holbert Porsches to get back into contention. A late stop by the Henn car returned the lead to Holbert, who won by one minute, 49 seconds over Foyt – with the Busby car third, another 10 seconds behind. It was the fastest Daytona 24 to date – with the Holbert team completing 2,534.72 miles and averaging 105.484 mph.

1998: Perseverance pays off:

The winning Momo team gathers in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway. Gianpiero Moretti, Arie Luyendyk, Mauro Baldi and Didier Theys co-drove a Ferrari 333SP to the win in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Gianpiero Moretti first ran in the Daytona in 1970, and had been a regular since 1979 – when his team nearly won. For 1998, he had a new Ferrari 333SP, and teamed with Mauro Baldi, Didier Theys and Arie Luyendyk. The Dyson team seemed set to repeat its 1997 victory, leading comfortably with three hours remaining. Then the Dyson Ford began smoking and slowed by six seconds per lap. The team attempted to nurse the car home, but it suddenly went up in smoke – ending its chances of winning. That gave the lead to Moretti’s MOMO Ferrari, and the veteran drove the final stint in a very popular victory.

2007: 24-Hour sprint race:

(From left) Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya and Salvador Duran celebrate after winning the Rolex 24 on Jan. 28, 2007 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Twenty-one hours into the 2007 Rolex 24, a sprint race broke out among the three top teams. Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, SunTrust Racing and SAMAX raced nose to tail and side by side in a torrid battle all the way to the checkered flag. The Ganassi team prevailed, with Formula One veteran Juan Pablo Montoya joining Scott Pruett and Salvador Duran to give the team its second consecutive victory.

Upset-minded SAMAX had to settle for second, with Peter Baron fielding a Pontiac-powered Riley for Ryan Dalziel, Darren Manning, Patrick Carpentier and Milka Duno. The SunTrust team encountered late problems and took third, with car owner Wayne Taylor joined by NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon, Max Angelelli and Jan Magnussen.

2009: Sprint to the finish:

The No. 58 Brumos Porsche leads the No. 01 TELMEX Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley in the closing stages of the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 25, 2009 in Daytona Beach, Fla.

The 2007 race set the stage for future Rolex 24s, all of which featured tight competition all the way to the checkered flag. But no race was closer than the 2009 epic.

David Donohue took the lead (the 53rd lead change of the race) with less than one hour remaining, and led the final 25 laps while being hounded all the way by Juan Pablo Montoya. While Montoya seemed to have the faster car, he could not get around Donohue in the infield. At the checkered flag, Donohue won in the No. 59 Brumos Porsche/Riley shared by Darren Law, Buddy Rice and Antonio Garcia by a mere .167 seconds.

Montoya had to settle for second, joined by Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas in the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley. Hurley Haywood – a five-time overall winner of the Rolex 24 – finished third for Brumos, which put two cars on the podium to kick off its final season in the Rolex Series. In all, four cars finished on the lead lap, within 12 seconds of each other, in perhaps the most competitive Rolex 24 to date.