DC's ROLEX 24 PICKS - GT
Last heard, there are 43 Grand Touring cars in a 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona field that gets the green at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
It's gonna be a darn good race within the race.
The 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona's defending GT champs aren't defending. At least, not as the No. 36 TPC Racing Porsche that finished first in GT and ninth overall.
One TPC driver, Michael Levitas, is totally AWOL. Three of his 2006 driving mates - Ian Bass, Randy Pobst and Spencer Pumpelly - each have landed in other GT teams.
Pobst traded last year's Porsche for the one of the race's four Mazda RX-8s in the field, the No. 70 SpeedSource backed by Mazda.
The other two stuck with the car that brung 'em to last year's dance: Porsche.
Baas settled into the No. 29 At Speed Motorsports Porsche, which nailed Test Days' fastest overall GT lap time. The unknown is the rest of the team -- who at least do a bit of Kart racing. While Baas may well capture the pole, it's likely that'll be the team's sole 2007 Rolex 24 highlight -- at least on paper.
Pumpelly is teamed with 2006 Rolex 24 second-place GT finisher and eventual Rolex Series GT driving champ Andy Lally in TRG's only five-driver team among the five Porsches it brought this year.
That's right, no TRG Pontiacs. In a classic "he said she said" breakup, Pontiac saddled up with Banner Racing and took its GM contract drivers -- Kelly Collins, Paul Edwards and Andy Pilgrim -- and GM team engineers along.
The No. 07 team's three talented drivers - Pilgrim's won a Rolex 24 overall (2004) and in class (2002) -- simply won't be enough to overcome a new team's deficiencies.
TRG, on the other hand, this week landed more race team members in Daytona than were on Columbus' Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.
Buckler, who as a driver took Rolex 24 honors with GT-class and overall victories in 2002 and 2003, respectively, is among the five drivers listed for the No. 66 - the remaining two are RJ Valentine and Mark Greenberg.
Buckler's not driven much the last couple of years competitively, but he still is driven. I wouldn't put it past him to win just for old time's sake.
It would be easiest to pick TRG's 66 for a podium if not for TRG's No. 64 Porsche, led by 1996 Rolex 24 overall winner Jim Pace. Along for the 64's race are Jim Lowe, Ralf Kelleners and Johannes van Overbeek - a pretty solid team.
Then there are the THREE MORE TRG Porsches, numbered 65, 67 and 68.
I dunno, in something that goes back to Southern Boys hanging with Southern Boys, I got to go with Pace's team as being the best of the TRG lot but, whatever, it's pretty safe bet at least one of the five TRG teams make the podium.
In another case of going back to "roots," Synergy's No. 81 Porsche GT3 Cup race car is a sturdy entrant because Synergy, having dropped its DP effort, is fully focused on a car class it well knows.
When businessman Steve Johnson is compared to the team's other really hot shoes - Patrick Huisman, Richard Westbrook, Richard Lietz -- he's the only weak driving link. But at the very least the former NFL tight end knows how to gut it out.
One more thing: while there are some "gentlemen" drivers at the Rolex 24, Johnson ain't one of them. Such is not to imply the Virginian doesn't have manners (forbid a Southerner being absent of such). Rather, the 6'-6" giant among usually diminutive race car drivers is used to taking a ball and running with it.
There's a good chance he and his teammates will do just that because Synergy's Cole Scrogham, too long absent of a major victory, is hungry.
Among the nine manufacturers vying for this year's GT crown is a well known but rare Rolex Series GT participant: Ford.
Blackforest Motorsports' No. 15 Mustang Cobra GT is FoMoCo's official unofficial factory team and is managed by a wily sort, Brian Nott -- whose schooling on how to win endurance races started back when he was a member of John Wyer's late-1960's Gulf Ford GT40 program.
Wyer would later head the Porsche 917K team of Pedro Rodriguez, Leo Kinnunen and Brian Redman, which won the 1970 Daytona 24. So, Nott knows the way to the Rolex 24 Victory Lane, even if it's since moved a couple of times.
(Bonus Trivia: The team's official name was J.W. Automotive, which most people believe stood for "John Wyer . . ." It didn't. But that's another story - and answer - for another day.)
Nott's organizational skills are second to none and are complemented by a talented driving crew consisting of Guy Cosmo, Tom Nastasi and (ChampCar's) Alex Tagliani.
The tallest hurdle this team faces is keeping a rein on itself as faster cars reach for the lead. If the team remembers it's a 24-hour race - and not unduly be placed in jeopardy by others' actions - it'll win.
Coming up: Picking the DPs
--Commentary Written Exclusively for Motorsport.com by DC Williams