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Daytona Rekindles the Passion

The 2024 motorsport season kicks off with Ferrari drivers battling for the top spots
Words: Giulio Masperi
The racing arena roars back to life as the new season kicks into gear. The Daytona 24 Hours, the opening round of the American IMSA SportsCar Championship, is set to take place on 27-28 January. Besides being a great star-spangled endurance “classic”, the race has an added value on the calendar: kicking off in the first month of the year, the racing scene welcomes back its leading lights following a winter break that has fuelled both the passion and anticipation of the fans.

The Conquest Racing team’s Ferrari 296 GT3 in action during qualifying at Roar Before the 24

Five overall victories and 16 class triumphs contribute to Daytona’s roll of honour for the Maranello-based manufacturer. The most iconic? Undoubtedly that of the Ferrari 330 P3/P4 driven by Lorenzo Bandini and Chris Amon in 1967, the very same year of the legendary side-by-side parade finish completed by the 330 P4 of Mike Parkes and Ludovico Scarfiotti, and the 412 P of Pedro Rodriguez and Jean Guichet, coming second and third at the chequered flag. 

This year the Prancing Horse will bring no fewer than five Ferrari 296 GT3s and seven official drivers into the Daytona International Speedway spotlight in the series-derived classes. In GTD Pro, the Risi Competizione team relies on Daniel Serra and Davide Rigon – specialists in stateside racing as well as winners of the Endurance Cup in 2022 – alongside Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado, crowned – together with Antonio Giovinazzi – the ‘kings’ of the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Miguel Molina, driving the AF Corse Ferrari 296 GT3, prepares for qualifying in the GTD class

In the GTD class, Miguel Molina shares the AF Corse car with Simon Mann, François Heriau and Kei Cozzolino; Alessio Rovera will race courtesy of Triarsi Competizione with Onofrio Triarsi, Charles Scardina and Riccardo Agostini; Antonio Fuoco returns to America with Cetilar Racing, alongside Roberto Lacorte, Giorgio Sernagiotto and Eddie Cheever III. Rounding out the Ferrari representation will be the Conquest Racing team featuring Manny Franco, Albert Costa Balboa, Alessandro Balzan and Cédric Sbirrazzuoli.

The starting grid for the 24 Hours was established at the Roar Before the 24 – the weekend dedicated to testing and qualifying. In GTD Pro, Serra and his teammates will start fifth, while in GTD, Costa, Fuoco, Rovera and Molina qualified their Ferraris in sixth, seventh, eighth and eleventh places respectively.

Image one: Driver focus. Image two: the AF Corse Ferrari in attack mode. Image three: Antonio Fuoco prepares for his stint in the Cetilar Racing GTD class car. Image four: the Cetilar Racing 296 GT3 on track. Image five: racing into the night

“What is Daytona? It’s a sort of post-winter awakening, a captivating race where tradition dictates that the outcome remains wide open until the final hour,” says Pier Guidi, who in 2014 won in Florida in the GTD class in the Prancing Horse’s most recent victory. The 40-year-old Italian driver adds: “There’s a special atmosphere here in great American style. For example, there are no real pits, but tents set up on the other side of a concrete wall, where the team works. When you come in for refuelling and the driver change, you have to do everything as fast as possible, including the athletic manoeuvre of getting over the wall to minimize time loss.”

And the racing lasts for an entire day, like at Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps and the Nürburgring, to name the other great 24-hour races. But Daytona stands out in numerous ways, perhaps most notably with the iconic banking that features 31° curves where the Ferrari 296 GT3s can fully showcase their performance capabilities.

The Triarsi Competizione 296 GT3, racing in the GTD class, blasts into the sunset at Daytona

“It’s impossible to describe in words what a driver feels on the banking, and even the simulator doesn’t get that feeling across perfectly,” says Davide Rigon. “It is here that you can make the difference. For example, after a tyre change, with cold tyres, if these inclined corners are wet it becomes complicated to handle the car. You can’t lift your foot off the accelerator, otherwise it gets dangerous, especially in traffic. But if you give it full throttle you have to have a lot of courage. Those are delicate but electrifying moments.”

In Florida, where the 296 GT3 officially debuted in January 2023, the ambitions of the Ferrari crews run high. The dream of standing on the top step of the podium is woven together with the realization of the efforts undertaken in recent months. Daniel Serra is convinced of this: “We will strive for victory by taking advantage of the potential of our car and the harmony of our team. There’s a great feeling between Davide, Alessandro and James, with a common thread uniting us all: when our helmets are on, we aim to be the fastest.”

Cover image: the five Ferrari 296 GT3s racing at Daytona this January pictured on track