CART Toyota Atlantic Championship to be well-represented in Rolex 24 at Daytona by former series champion Empringham and '99 runner-up Wilden INDIANAPOLIS (January 31, 2003) - The annual Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway serves as the...
CART Toyota Atlantic Championship to be well-represented in Rolex 24 at Daytona by former series champion Empringham and '99 runner-up Wilden
INDIANAPOLIS (January 31, 2003) - The annual Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway serves as the kick-off for the racing season in the United States, and the grueling contest draws competitors from all walks of motorsports life.
This weekend's 24-hour endurance race is no exception, as the 45-car field will once again feature drivers who have made names for themselves in Champ Car and NASCAR, in addition to the usual complement of sports car racing greats. However, this year's field will also feature driver coaches from two Atlantic teams-two-time CART Toyota Atlantic champion David Empringham and 1999 championship runner-up Kenny Wilden.
Both drivers have good seats for the start of tomorrow's race, as the #88 Multimatic/Dynamic Suspensions, Inside Track Motorsports News Ford/Multimatic that Empringham will share with David Brabham and Scott Maxwell was the fastest qualifier in the Daytona Prototype class and will be starting from the pole position with a best lap of 1:50.512 (115.969 mph). However, the GTS Class #40 Xtremelens/Performance Friction/Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette that is being driven by Wilden, four-time overall Daytona winner Derek Bell, Justin Bell, and Simon Gregg was the fastest overall qualifier at 1:49.394 (117.155 mph), but will start seventh, as Grand American rules require that all Daytona Prototype cars start at the head of the field. For his part, Wilden is excited about the prospects for his team this weekend.
"Obviously, having Derek and Justin's experience with the Corvette factory team-and Simon was a class winner in 2000 at Daytona-I think we're going to push hard for the overall win this weekend," Wilden said. "With all of the prototype cars coming in, there's a lot of uncertainty on whether or not they can make it 24 hours. It's certainly an honor for me to be with such great drivers, and I've won 24-hour races at Mosport in the past as well."
Empringham believes that his team also stands a good chance, despite the fact that they got a relatively late start in their preparations for the race.
"I'm excited to go back to Daytona in the top class with a team and driver line-up that can win the overall race," said Empringham. "Our test January 2-5 at Daytona was the first test for the new Prototype car. Reliability was fantastic which is obviously really important for the 24 hour race. We were not the fastest in the test due to some handling and motor issues but we must not forget that our main competitors have been testing since November. The car has spent two days on Yates' Chassis Dyno and two days at Multimatic's Shaker. Judging from the work that has been and will be completed before the race, I'm hopeful that I'll be wearing a new Rolex February 2nd!"
In addition to competing at Daytona, Wilden and Empringham remain active in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. Wilden is the director of driver development for Michael Shank Racing, with whom he won two races and three pole positions in 1998 and '99, and finished second in the '99 series championship. Empringham, meanwhile, was the series champion in 1993 and '94 and stands fourth on the all-time Toyota Atlantic win list with 11 career victories. He currently serves as driver coach for Sierra Sierra Enterprises and driver Marc DeVellis.
In addition to Wilden and Empringham, 1999 Toyota Atlantic champion Anthony Lazzaro, and 1986 Atlantic Division champion Scott Goodyear will also be competing in this weekend's event. Three-time Champ Car champion and current Toyota Atlantic team owner Bobby Rahal-who also competed in Atlantic in the '70s-will be the grand marshal of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship is one of the world's premier open-wheel development series and the top rung on the Champ Car "Ladder System." The series boasts $100,000 race purses and a one million dollar points fund. It is also noted for its long history of graduating its stars into Champ Car competition. Drivers who have graduated from Atlantic are current Champ Car competitors Jimmy Vasser, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Patrick Lemarie, and Rodolfo Lavin as well as former Champ Car champions Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve.