Beautiful clear and warm conditions kicked off the Daytona 24 Hour race week and the Doran team was anxiously awaiting the first day of practice and qualifying. “The McDonalds car was running nice when we tested here a few weeks ago, despite freezing cold conditions,” said Gidley. “And the good feeling of the car continued when we first rolled out this weekend.” In qualifying the first day, Memo put the #77 McDonalds car solidly 11th on the grid. “I was pretty happy in qualifying because even though we were not the fastest car, the McDonalds car felt really solid,” said Gidley.
Even at that, with another day of practice before the start of the race on Saturday, the team went to work to get a little more speed out of the car. And ultimately, the practice times on Friday had the McDonalds car sitting 7th fastest. “Kevin made two really good changes to the car on Friday practice that improved the car nicely,” said Gidley. “Other than that, we just went through the motions, bedding brakes, cycling drivers in for practice, working on driver changes. With the speed of the car on Friday, and our good progress with all the other details that needs to get done for a long race like Daytona, I was feeling really confident for the race.”
When race day did roll around on Saturday, and in typical Daytona 24 fashion, conditions had gone from perfect and dry to heavy downpours and it was obvious the start of the race would be very treacherous. “One of the things I love about this race is the unpredictability of anything and everything,” said Gidley. “When I woke up Saturday morning to heavy downpours, I could only think to myself, ok…here we go!”
Because of the horribly conditions, the race was started under yellow and the entire field followed behind the pace car for a number of laps to access the conditions of the track. When the race did go green, Gidley immediately jumped from eleventh to eighth by the end of the first lap. Then every lap he continued to slice through the field, and by the fifteenth lap, Gidley and the bright red McDonalds #77 leading.
With rain known as the great equalizer, Memo then put on a clinic in the wet conditions as he pulled away to a six second lead until the first caution came out, lapping a second faster than anybody in the field. “I really enjoy driving in the wet and was having an awesome time slicing up through the field,” said Gidley. “There is nothing like the feeling you get from being in first, and looking at a clear track ahead of you, in typical McDonalds style, I really was luv’n it!”
After a fantastic first hour, the McDonalds car then settled into a nice top ten pace with no real drama. “In a race like this, protecting the car and being as easy on it as possible while still maintaining a fast pace is what will ultimately win you this race,” said Gidley.
Unfortunately, also in typical Daytona 24 fashion, on hour six a problem surfaced. The car was pulled into the garage with a broken ring and pinion in the gearbox. “I don’t know how many people realize the magnitude of what the mechanics fixed on the car in a short time,” said Gidley. “They literally replaced the entire back half of the car in a little over an hour, an amazing feat!”
With the McDonalds car back out on the track and many laps down, now it was important to have a trouble free run and hope good reliability from here on out would improve their position. “Not only was there still water on the track, it was dark and now the temperature had dropped dramatically which made the first few laps coming out of every pit stop on cold tires extremely treacherous,” said Gidley. “My co-drivers, Fabrizzio, Brad, and Derek did a really nice job in really tough conditions.”
Regardless, the McDonalds team drove on and continued to pick off cars one at a time. And after a long and grueling twenty two hours, the McDonalds team had moved into tenth place in class, and would stay that way until the checkered flag fell two hours later. “It feels great after that broken gearbox to recover and finish tenth,” said Gidley. “For the last few months everybody on the Doran team has been working very hard in preparation for this event and it was nice that we ran strong at the end.”
And when asked about his experiences at this year race. “This is the Daytona 24 hour experience…exciting and unpredictable!” said Gidley. “I have been dreaming and working hard to win this race and put that Rolex watch on my wrist for a number of years. But even with all the hard work I put in, a little luck…or bad luck like we had this year can really hurt the chances of winning. Regardless, it was a wicked good time and I enjoyed it. I want to thank my Doran team, McDonalds, and my co-drivers Fabrizzio, Brad and Derek, who all did an outstanding job. One day my neighborhood will see me driving around, hanging my arm out the window of my truck wearing my Rolex watch, just not this year.”