LEFTOVERS - ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA TEST NOTES DURAN ES MUY EXCELENTE Hired for a one-off run at the Jan. 27-28 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona, Salvator Duran was driving the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates (CGRWFS) Lexus Riley around...
LEFTOVERS - ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA TEST NOTES
DURAN ES MUY EXCELENTE
Hired for a one-off run at the Jan. 27-28 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona, Salvator Duran was driving the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates (CGRWFS) Lexus Riley around the 3.56-mile track when team owner Chip Ganassi laid considerable praise on the young driver during a back-of-the-hauler conversation.
Teamed with Scott Pruett and Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 01 blue-on-white No. 01 Telmex Lexus Riley, the native Mexican wasted no time in coming up to speed and it didn't escape Ganassi's notice (does anything?).
"Hey, how about that Duran?" Ganassi asked a reporter who, not knowing to whom the owner was referring, asked Ganassi to repeat the unfamiliar name.
"He's really smooth; putting down some really good numbers and driving smart. I'm impressed"
While Ganassi understands this racing-business game as well as anyone today, Duran will nevertheless have to go his own way once the Rolex 24 is finished.
But clearly, Ganassi's mental wheels are churning to find the dollars to keep Duran close to CGRWFS.
Y JUAN PABLO, TAMBIEN
United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Juan Pablo Montoya is clearly enjoying his newest role at CGRWFS -- evidently whatever role such may be.
Reprising a relationship that saw the impassioned Colombian win a CART championship at CGRWFS (ah, the good ol' days of cohesive open-wheel-racing) and later go on to score 30 Formula One podiums in 95 starts (seven wins among them), this guy -- who really doesn't have a lot to prove even if he might think so -- is just flat-out having fun.
Here for the Rolex test with spouse Connie Freydell, son Sebastian and newest family edition, Paulina (born just seven days shy of her father's 31st birthday), the man looks totally relaxed.
Montoya's teamed with ageless 2004 DP driving champ Scott Pruett and Duran.
Meanwhile, "The Other CGRWFS Guys," defending Rolex 24 champs Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon, who are teamed with Pruett teammate-to-be Memo Rojas (imagine that, two "Memo's" -- the other being Memo Gidley -- in the same series at the same time) put down the fastest time in the fourth session of the three-day test with a 1:43.997 time at a 123.234 mph average speed.
SUNTRUST ON A MISSION
The No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac-powered Riley sat on top of the Rolex 24's cumulative test charts with the tests' lowest overall lap time (143.483, 123.846 mph) when all was said and done Saturday.
Better yet for them: consistency. At the end of the three-day-long test the team clocked the fastest times by the close of four of the test's eight Rolex Series test sessions. Not too shabby for a team that hadn't fully organized until well into November.
2005 Rolex 24 winner and that season's eventual champs of just about everything "Daytona Prototype," Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli have this year welcomed drivers Jan Magnussen and Jeff Gordon into the fold.
Magnussen will do most of the regular-season races with Angelelli while Taylor fills in as a third driver as needed.
Certainly, almost anyone connected with racing is somewhat aware of the accomplishments attained by all the team's drivers -- at the least knowing of their skillful abilities - but sportscar types might only be most familiar with Taylor's, Angelelli's and Magnussen's driving records.
Here's Gordon's road course rap sheet. Sweeping the two road courses on that year's Nextel Cup's schedule, Gordon in 1999 became NASCAR's most prolific Cup road-race winner.
After his first road race win in 1997 at Watkins Glen, Gordon has since averaged nearly one win each year since.
In a series that admittedly has at least a few drivers who openly disdain road course events and wouldn't shed a tear should they be forever banned, there are some genuine road course threats with whom Gordon's had to race in Nextel Cup. On top of that, many series owners are well known for their propensity to bench Cup regulars in favor of supposed "ringers" - who really can't be true "ringers" when everyone already knows they're road course specialists, anyway.
Whatever, when Angelelli was asked what he thought of Gordon's driving style, he replied, "I didn't know what to expect but, of course, I was unsure."
"The very first time he went out I looked at his times and it was like I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
"He's very, very good."
A long-ago Skip Barber Racing School graduate, Gordon has largely downplayed his efforts, particularly noting his need to "fine tune" this or that driving aspect.
"If he does, he'll be faster than me," Max said.
For Gordon's part, he said, "Man, I could just kick myself for not doing this years ago. I'm having so much fun."
He really is.
For Gordon being in the Rolex 24, give a tip of the hat to one Jon Edwards who years ago dragged Gordon to the Rolex 24 and for years since insisting Gordon needed to get in a sportscar race.
THE REST OF TEST'S BEST
Bill Auberlen, Matthew Alhadeff, Gene Sigal and Karl Wendlinger's No. 05 Sigalsport BMW-powered Riley twice recorded fastest test-session times (sessions two and six).
The remaining final team to claim a top session time: the SAMAX No. 7 Pontiac-Riley of Tom Kimber-Smith, Tomas Enge and Jeff Bucknum (remember Ronnie Bucknum? They're related) in the test's final session.
JORG AT WORK -- 2006 Rolex Series DP driving champion Jorg Bergmeister has yet to sign a contract with Porsche -- saying he feels "it's 99-percent" certain -- but he nonetheless was driving Alex Job Racing's No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Porsche-Crawford at the Rolex test.
Now a member of the team that produced more than a fair share of jaw-dropping last year, Bergmeister is paired for the season (if everything "Porsche" comes together) with Patrick Long. Long was one-half of the 2006 Ruby Tuesday driving duo who are one point had the driving points lead that Bergmeister would later win.
There were reports of small "gremlins" affecting the Ruby Tuesday at the test but AJR's track record strongly suggests the car will be ready come race time. For the Rolex 24 the squad's third driving member is France's Romain Dumas.
Eddie Cheever has made an overture to buy an existing Daytona Prototype constructor, thereby considerably expanding his involvement and adding to his role within the series.
Jim Matthews and Bill Riley's new team, Riley-Matthews Racing fried two engines, each having disparate causes which might not allow for simplified analysis.
Though at the first of the week having signaled his inability to take part in the test, Jimmie Johnson wasn't easily sitting on the sidelines and was preparing to head for Daytona late Friday to join the test Saturday when he got the word that the team was stowing the No. 91 Lowe's Home Improvement Pontiac-Riley in the transporter ("hauler" in NASCAR parlance) and heading home.
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME IS STILL A ROSE
In the cumulative results, the fastest non-Riley chassis was the 11th-fast No. 19 Finlay Motorsports Ford-Crawford of Rob Finlay, Michael Valiante, Bobby Labonte and Michael McDowell. Overall, it was the fastest Crawford chassis, too.
Yep, THAT Bobby Labonte, who won a 2000 Nextel Cup championship and who currently runs the No. 43 Cheerio's Dodge for Richard Petty Enterprises.
Of the 28 DPs at the test, 19 of the chassis were originally designed by Bob Riley -- who's got to be one of the most under-recognized designers ever -- with the remaining nine chassis being six Crawfords; two Fabcars and one Doran.
Less than a one-second lap-time spanned the top-ten cars and less than two-seconds for the fastest 18 cars.
MOST TALKED ABOUT
1) Times were when the best Rolex 24 strategy was chilling and letting the race come back to a somewhat slower-paced but steady team.
That's not the case anymore, according to a number of DP race strategists and team managers up and down pit road.
"You've just got too many cars of very similar ability and reliability," Brumos Racing No. 58 Porsche-Riley team manager Mike Colucci said with a heavy sigh, summing up what most everyone else had to say.
"It's going to be a sprint race the whole way."
2) According to Rolex Series officials, gone for the Rolex 24 this year is Pit Road City -- the wooden-framed, white-tarp covered structures that have for years been erected for the Rolex 24, running from one end of pit road to the other.
Built by Daytona International Speedway work crews so as to replace a variety of ragtag structures teams in the past erected -- many without consideration to local building codes or physics -- the sturdier Speedway structures offered protection from the elements, places to hang gear and met other needs.
Teams now will only be able to use comparatively flimsy, metal-framed tent-like foldouts often found anywhere from backyard picnics to car racing paddocks.
If not properly secured, the lightweight tents easily become unguided parachutes when wind so dictates and, according to those subjected to the decree, they won't be able to use nail guns or the like to secure tent footers.
"I've seen rain going horizontal here and I can't wait to ruin tens-of-thousands of dollars in electronics if wind and rain happen this year," one team owner sarcastically said.
"And many of my really dedicated guys choose to stay in the pits for the whole race. It's an endurance race, remember? The lack of protection will make it even harder on these guys and, of course, mistakes are more prone happen the more wore out someone becomes. It's a serious accident waiting to happen and for what?"
GT DARK HORSE
Tom Nastasi, Alex Tagliani, Guy Cosmo and Lou Gigliotti are teamed for the Rolex 24 in Brian Nott's No. 15 Black Forest Motorsports Ford Mustang Cobra GT.
None are lightweight drivers and Nott - who has won a number of championships in various car classes, including Grand-Am Cup, now Koni Challenge - isn't known for slacking, either.
Putting in the 8th-fastest GT-class time at the Rolex 24 test they're not exactly getting a lot of attention right now. They will.
CRAWFORD'S FIRST AND LAST 2007 RACE
If something doesn't drastically change -- and few in the Crawford Composites camp think it will -- after the Rolex 24 Jan and Max Crawford and daughter Katie Wallace will be coming to future Rolex Series races as a constructor support team and not as a factory team running a Crawford DP03.
Who knows what standard Crawford drivers Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger will do, if anything, in the Rolex Series after the Rolex 24.
The Crawford gang had a lot going for it until Honda/Acura reportedly vetoed Danica Patrick's Rolex 24 participation -- and a few other drivers, to boot -- which in domino-like fashion then caused the loss of a sponsorship package that would've put Patrick, Tony Stewart, Allan McNish and Jan Lammers in the company car. Wow, what a team that would've been.
OSWALDO NEGRI GETS HOT
I had to put this a little farther down the page because ... well, just because.
In early December, Oswaldo Negri, a tenacious, talented Brazilian scrapper who kinda reminds me of Rocky the Squirrel (would that make co-driver Mark Patterson Bullwinkle?) raced in Brazil's Granja Viana kart race.
Some very serious talent turns out annually for the 10-hour enduro and Ozz, as he's known in paddock shorthand, was running up front when he noticed a wet, burning sensation at the bottom of his driver's suit at the point where it nestled in the Kart's seat.
It was fuel.
Long story short, it increasingly got worse and eventually caused him to pit when the fuel emptied from the tank with Ozz still unawares of the source of his discomfort.
Forced by the burning sensation to do something, anything, Ozz stripped himself of his driver's suit and underwear, which with the increased evaporation only caused Ozz even more stress.
Though embarrassed by the location of his discomfort, he wisely called for medical help.
Both responders were female.
Applying a counteracting cream over vast areas of his otherwise private region, the very dedicated husband and father was left to concentrate on thinking about every statistic in every possible sport in which he's ever had an inclination to participate or observe.
Fortunately, it worked.
It's a brave new world in a lot of places out there.
-- DC Williams, exclusively for Motorsport.com