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A dream of winning crumples in a heap

Largo resident Edouard Sezionale watches helplessly as his teammate is wrecked by another driver.


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001

DAYTONA BEACH -- Edouard Sezionale leaned against a work table in his garage Saturday as crew members looked over every part of his No. 78 Mader Norma SportsRacer.

The nose piece and rear assemblage were on the ground at the front and legs capped with fire-resistant shoes shot straight up from the cockpit. Behind Sezionale, the whine of stressed motors filled the air. But the 48-year old Largo resident heard none of it as he intently watched the work, silently seething that there was any work at all.

This was not the way his team planned to spend the third hour of the 24 Hours of the Daytona.

"We're here because the other guy made a mistake," Sezionale said. "If that guy doesn't make a mistake, we're still driving."

At the tail end of the second hour, his co-driver, John Macaluso, went to pass the No. 91 Porsche heading into Turn1. Macaluso decided he couldn't complete the pass and backed off to get back in line.

The No. 15 Dodge Viper, driving in the slower GTS classification, moved up and tapped Macaluso's left rear quarterpanel. The left rear tire blew, sending No. 78 into a spin through the grass. Macaluso broke his right thumb, ending his driving duties for the weekend.

The car's frame wasn't damaged but Sezionale and his team were forced to change the front and rear wings and adjust the balance of the car. The car reappeared on the track about two hours later, a repair that took far too much time for the veteran driver.

"The repair is fast, but I wanted to check everything else while we're in here," Sezionale said. "Just to make sure everything was fine. Certainly driving with only three drivers makes it harder but ... "

Sezionale, who plans to run his prototype full-time in the Grand Am Series this season, qualified 17th overall at 118.293 mph. He avoided a 30-car brakefest 15 seconds into the race and said the car felt good.

Then came the wreck and Sezionale, who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995, saw his chances of winning his first Daytona race in six tries fly out the window. The closest he has come to a checkered flag was when his team retired at 1 a.m. two years ago with a faulty engine.

"There are a lot of accidents here. This track is very hard on the cars. And the cars are very different from each other," Sezionale said. "It means if you want to finish the race, you have to be very nice to the car.

"There are a lot of different cars and a lot of difference between the cars. We're faster than a lot of the cars here and that makes it difficult because speed can make it a problem."

But the traffic is something Sezionale knew was going to be a factor this weekend. That's one of the trademarks of Daytona and the drivers know it when they get in the cockpit.

"If I compare this with Le Mans, the biggest difference is the traffic," Sezionale said. "Here we have (80) cars on a 4-mile track. Le Mans, you have 48 cars on a 9-mile track."

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