The Veteran Is Chasing a Sixth Class Win in the Iconic Race and Will Make A Record 21st Straight Start on Saturday
By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Most folks might expect a guy who has won five Rolex watches at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and three more timepieces as an IMSA champion to have a dedicated “watch” vault in his home. But those folks don’t really know Andy Lally, five-time class winner in the celebrated 24-hour race and three-time season conqueror.
“I kept the first one,” Lally, who will be the winningest active driver in the 2023 Rolex 24, says of his watches collected over the years since 2001. “I still wear it on a semi-daily basis.”
And the rest?
“All the other ones I’ve given away to people who have helped me coming through the ranks,” Lally explains. “So the seven watches (given away): one to my mom, my dad, my stepdad, my little sister, my first-ever car sponsor – his name is Walter – and then my soccer coach, who is the guy who helped me get out of go-karts and into cars by introducing me to this car owner (Walter).”
And number seven? That went to Mike Johnson, who runs the Archangel Motorsports team with which Lally tallied his first Daytona win 22 years ago in the SRP II class. Of all his Rolex 24 victories, it remains particularly meaningful to the 47-year-old Lally.
“Obviously, your first is extremely memorable,” he says. “At the time I was very young and it was almost overwhelming. I had three older gentlemen teammates who didn’t want to drive so much in the wet and it rained that year, so I drove over half of the race. So mentally I was gone and the fact that we were in victory lane was overwhelming and just incredible. That was also the year that Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were in the Corvette in victory lane with us, so that was surreal.”
Lally added GT class wins in 2009, ’11 and ’12. The latter was the 50th anniversary race.
“It was my first race with Magnus Racing and it was the largest-ever class at the Rolex 24,” Lally recalls. “We had like 35 or 36 or 37 cars in that class. When you win a class with five or six cars in it, it’s still an awesome accomplishment, but to win the biggest-ever class was cool. And to have it on the 50th anniversary back when there were only two classes – Daytona Prototype and GT – that was extremely special.”
All of which doesn’t diminish any of Lally’s other victories with The Racers Group (’09 and ’11) and Magnus Racing (’16 in GT Daytona, podium photo at right).
“It’s career defining,” he says, “definitely something that I’m incredibly proud of and fortunate because it means that I’ve been able to work with many good teams over many, many years. Decades, literally. There’ve been some amazing events along with some heartbreakers. Along with five wins there’s five second-place finishes, so there’s a whole lot of ‘what-ifs’ that make you wonder if it was possible to have 10 wins.”
Atop the “what-if” list was a runner-up finish in 2006 with The Racers Group when he was still seeking a second Rolex timepiece.
“We dominated the race and should have won,” he says, “but our pit speed limiter got stuck as we pulled out of the pits and were stuck doing 45 mph for an entire lap. We had to stop and literally swap steering wheels and lost a lap. Then we came back from that to still finish second, so that was a heartbreaker. It was the first 24-hour race for GM’s new Pontiac GTO and we were really looking forward to it. We wound up winning the championship but we missed (winning) the Daytona race. That was definitely one that got away.”
Lally’s most recent second-place finish came just a year ago with Magnus in the GTD class. It provides ample proof that he still has what it takes to win another Rolex this year, which would give Lally six victories and leave him second only to Scott Pruett’s 10 in the 24-hour race.
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, assuming the No. 44 Magnus Aston Martin Vantage GT3 he’ll share with John Potter, Nicki Thiim and long-time running mate Spencer Pumpelly takes the green flag, he’ll leapfrog legendary Hurley Haywood, the five-time overall race winner, to stand alone as the driver with the most consecutive Rolex 24 starts.
After winning his class as a Rolex 24 rookie in 2001, Lally missed the race the following year. He’s been in every one since 2003.
“Hurley did 20 races, then took a year or two off. This will be my 21st (in a row),” he says. “He’s obviously such a big name and such a cool guy; it’s cool to even be mentioned in the same breath. But most wins for active drivers, most podiums, most pretty much everything down the line – it’s pretty neat.”
While optimistic about his chances, Lally is nothing if not realistic.
“It’s going to be extremely tough,” he says. “GT is always the biggest class in the field. It’s always the most competitive. It always draws the most amount of talent from around the planet from ex-F1 drivers to IndyCar drivers, all the international drivers who race everything from Le Mans to DTM and even some stock car guys. It’s always neat.
“I’ve got two wins and two second places since I’ve been with Magnus, and obviously the boss wants a third Rolex for the squad. We tested, we’ve got the same car from last year, we think we’ve made some incremental advancements. … It’s probably not the best car for Daytona, but it’s a pretty good car.”
Good enough to earn another watch? He isn’t sure, but anyone who thinks for a nanosecond that he wouldn’t try as hard as ever to get a sixth Rolex 24 win – and ninth watch – just doesn’t know Andy Lally.