Daytona and Rolex are great names that denote technical excellence and commitment to being the best. Daytona has also become a synonym for speed and endurance.
The International Motor Sports Association WeatherTech Sports Car Championship is a series of motor races held over three weeks each year. The competition begins in late January at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, with the highlight of the series, the Rolex 24. For 24 hours, the cars speed around a 5.7km-long track, as they have done for 55 years. The 56th Rolex 24 at Daytona will be run on January 27 and 28.
Top endurance racing drivers from around the world compete in teams, the members of each team taking turns to drive its finely tuned car. Each driver is an ace and each car is a triumph of engineering. The trophy they vie for is the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona. Since 1963, the Cosmograph Daytona watch has been inextricably linked with motor racing, the watch and the sport sharing their salient qualities and strengths.
Rolex has been associated with the 24-hour race at Daytona for 26 years but the watchmaker’s link with Daytona goes back to 1935, when Sir Malcolm Campbell set a land speed record of 445.5kph on the Daytona Beach Road Course, driving a version of his famous Bluebird. Campbell’s watch of choice was a Rolex Oyster. He sent a telegram to the watchmaker, saying: “Rolex watch worn yesterday during record attempt and still going splendidly notwithstanding rough usage received”.
Campbell was by no means the only legend of motor sport to choose a Rolex. Rolex watches are the official timepieces of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile World Endurance Championship.
Tom Kristensen has won at Le Mans nine times. “Rolex’s involvement in the motor sport world is unique,” Kristensen says. “It’s the Rolex way, driven by a passion for innovation and excellence. These are values the motor sport world shares. Watches are considered very much a piece of art and technology at the very highest level. For me, as a racing driver, there is a great link between watches and motor sport, and the legendary Rolex Daytona perfectly encapsulates this, not only as the ultimate driver’s watch but also as the most coveted trophy in our sport.”
Scott Pruett has won the Rolex 24 at Daytona five times, wearing a Cosmograph Daytona with the date, the race logo and the word “Winner” engraved on the caseback. “It’s all about the watch,” Pruett says.
And, of course, there is Paul Newman, who combined a love of endurance racing with his celebrated career as a film actor. In the late 1960s the actor’s wife, Joanne Woodward, gave him a Cosmograph Daytona, reference number 6239, with the words “Drive Carefully Me” engraved on it. Newman gave it to a friend in 1984. In October this year the watch, which cost US$300, will be auctioned and is expected to fetch more than US$1 million.
The Newman watch, model reference number 6239, has what collectors call an “exotic” dial. All subsequent Rolex Cosmograph Daytonas with such a dial were given the appellation “Paul Newman”. A gold Cosmograph Daytona Paul Newman, reference number 6263 from 1969, sold for more than US$3.7 million in May this year.
Today there is a waiting list for the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. Demand is greatest for the stainless steel models. The watch was designed in 1963 for racing drivers and its association with motor racing gives it an aura of glamour. In 1965, the word “Daytona” was added to the dial.
An important characteristic of the timepiece is its legibility. Black counters on a silver-coloured dial or steel-coloured counters on a black dial make it easy to read at a glance. The indispensable tachymeter allows drivers to calculate average speed over distance. The tachymeter is read on the bezel rather than the dial.