Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sputtering Success Dyson's Team Holds on for Win in 24 Hours

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sputtering Success Dyson's Team Holds on for Win in 24 Hours

Article excerpt

DAYTONA BEACH -- Smoke poured from the engine in the final laps

of the Rolex 24 yesterday, leaving a trail of apprehension and

desperation for the Dyson Racing Team.

More than 23 hours of grueling endurance had come to one

nerve-racking hour. With each crippling trip around Daytona

International Speedway, the Dyson Ford MK III moved closer to

ending one of the sport's more confounding droughts.

And finishing one of the more memorable 24 Hours of Daytona.

Rob Dyson, one of sports car racing's more likable but hardluck

owner-drivers, dodged what would have been a heartbreaking

defeat to win the 35th IMSA Rolex 24.

"It's hard to describe," a tearful Dyson said while co-driver

Butch Leitzinger pulled the Ford into Victory Lane after the

final, hectic laps. "You always think about what it would be

like to win. But you can't prepare for something like this."

He almost didn't have to. The car began having engine problems

at the 23-hour mark and was spewing smoke for the final hour

while the second-place Axiom Ferrari desperately tried to make

up a lost lap. Any prolonged time in the pits would have cost

Dyson the race.

"I didn't think we could really catch him," said Andy Evans,

driver of the Axiom Ferrari on the final laps. "He was doing the

same lap times and keeping everything steady."

Somehow, Leitzinger maneuvered the car -- which was overheating

and had lost all its dashboard readings -- over the final laps

and won the event by one lap and 14.891 seconds at an average

speed of 102.292 mph. Three of the seven drivers in the car --

Leitzinger, John Paul Jr., and Andy Wallace -- won a Rolex title

for the second time.

The focus, however, was on Dyson. For years, he had tried to

keep up financially with the prototype cars that had dominated

the sport. When IMSA moved to the less expensive World Sports

Cars in 1994, Dyson made his move.

Last year, his two cars finished 20th and 72nd, and he began

this year's race as one of a handful of favorites. His top car,

though, went out at the eight-hour mark while dominating the

event for the previous five hours.

When the defending champion Danka Oldsmobile fell off the pace

at 4 a.m., Dyson's second car took control and never

relinquished the lead. The victory ended years of frustration

for Dyson, who began racing at Daytona in 1986, and had

disappointing finishes 1990 (first car out) and 1993

(runner-up).

James Weaver, and John Schneider also drove the car, but no

driver was more important than Leitzinger.

"The motor kept sounding worse and worse and the gap we had

wasn't big," Leitzinger said. "I was pretty worried about it. I

was trying to keep as much pressure on them as possible, and

still try and be sympathetic to the car. …

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