The 38-year-old Scot, who twice finished runner-up in the Atlantic Championship, graduated to Champ Car but has made a home in sportscars for the past dozen years. He won the Rolex 24 with Action Express Racing back in 2010, and won the LMP2 class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans two years later with Starworks.
Dalziel said that as soon as he visited Kyle Tilley’s team, he became aware that it was a potential winner, despite the team pulling out of the final three rounds of the 2020 season following a shunt in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“I just came into this race really excited about being a part of this program,” said Dalziel, for whom this was the 16th Rolex 24. “When I went to the shop for my first orientation I just knew there was something special about the group we had.
“We didn’t get any favors. This was execution and hard work from all the crew and drivers. The engineers just gave us a really fast car and we just kept unlapping ourselves every time we ended up in trouble.”
Tilley, who will compete alongside Dwight Merriman fulltime this year, revealed on IMSA Radio mid-race that Dalziel will rejoin the team for the three other Michelin Endurance Cup rounds this year – next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring, Watkins Glen 6 Hours and Petit Le Mans.
After the race, he also paid tribute to Owen, the six-year-old who designed the car’s livery but admitted his overwhelming feeling was “relief”.
He commented: “Those final hours were probably the most stressful three hours ever. I can’t believe it: we just won Daytona.
“Winning with Owen’s livery just makes it even cooler. The whole car has looked awesome ever since we put the wrap on. It’s been a fun project. Super cool to have Owen involved and then put the car and his design in Victory Lane. I’m just blown away.”
Ten LMP2 cars started the race, and there was strong pace shown by Cetilar Racing’s Dallara, DragonSpeed’s #82 Oreca-Gibson and WIN Autosport’s similar car.
However, after 14 hours the class battle had distilled to a two-car fight between Era Motorsport’s Tilley, Merriman, Dalziel and Paul-Loup Chatin and the Tower Motorsport by Starworks car pedaled by John Farano, Gabriel Aubry, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Timothe Buret.
Heightening the tension in the closing stages was that Tower Motorsports was on an off-sequence fuel strategy, and with 45 minutes to go, made a short pitstop to emerge from the pits five seconds ahead of the Era car which required a full top-up.
One extra caution period could have allowed Tower to remain ahead, but with just five laps to go, the #8 headed for the pits for a splash-n-dash after leading a total of 266 laps. Chatin thus hit the front in the Era car which had led for a total of 189 laps and won by 19.5sec. The third-in-class DragonSpeed car was four laps behind.
“I can’t believe it,” said Merriman. “Everybody on the team did such a great job. We had a lot of little things in the race to overcome. Strategy was brilliant. The car was great. The crew did a great job and the drivers did, too.
Chatin described the result as “one of the best race days of my life.”
He added: “I’m so happy to be part of the Era Motorsport team. They gave me the opportunity to be here for my first Rolex at Daytona. And we won, it’s just incredible.
“All the team did a great job. Dwight, Kyle, and Ryan drove super-well during all of the race. There were no mistakes and I think this is the key. Just amazing to be here.”
#18 Era Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07: Paul-Loup Chatin, Ryan Dalziel, Kyle Tilley, Dwight Merriman
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images