Daytona Test Days 1 and 2 Gossip
Ah, the buzz factory at Daytona International Speedway is in top gear during the annual three-day competitors' test for the Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16.
With the 46th Rolex 24 at Daytona only 21 days away, there are some pretty serious-looking folks here. Indeed, track and sanctioning body officials have more than once verbally pointed out "This isn't a race, it's another few weeks off" to drivers whose adrenaline is getting the better part of discretion.
Unfortunately, the test has been conducted in weather that Chambers-of-Commerce usually disavow. Most drivers have noted the contrast, correctly remembering the November and December tests were conducted in far warmer temperatures. Sunday's weather is predicted to be in the mid-70's, though.
Maybe it was the chill that led to a couple or three first-day Pirelli tire "issues," two of which struck each of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates' cars Friday. Issues, however, which seemed largely absent Saturday.
On Friday, Juan Pablo Montoya was rolling through pit out when he went off course in his No. 01 Telmex Lexus-Riley.
Such has happened to a lot of drivers, even the best, over the years but, still, hearing about it, people (generally those who think they can race anytime, anywhere, but have never even been in a race car) look at each other and either think or say, "Cold tires; rookie! Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!"
According to those involved, a post-mortem evaluation showed his right-front "sticker" tire apparently had separated structurally while traveling down pit road and, as JPM turned the wheel for a lazy left turn, the car just plowed straight ahead.
Salvador Duran, 2007 Rolex 24 winner with Scott Pruett and JPM, was in his No. 02 Target Lexus-Riley when he experienced a slightly higher-rated pucker moment as his (also) right-front tire started coming apart while at speed in the DIS tri-oval.
Neither driver was injured but Duran was plainly shaken even after changing into street clothes. Today, for some undetermined reason, Duran just looked mad - certainly distracted - as the team finished the afternoon session with Scott Dixon posting a 1:41.911 lap at 125.757 mph.
Dixon's an interesting type to watch as he strolls through the paddock. Actually, he doesn't really stroll. Upright with perfect posture, he's so poised that it looks as though he's floating across the asphalt. If there is any such thing as royalty in open-wheel, Dixon is easily should be considered among it.
Back to getting mangled: One of Krohn Racing's two new Auto-Proto Lolas was at the end of the front straight Friday when it did a quick half-loop and pancaked the car's left side on the concrete wall.
A single-car incident, the No. 76 Pontiac-Lola took heavy primary and secondary hits that hurt the car so much observers needed only to see it, even on the wrecker, to know it wouldn't be back on the track Saturday or Sunday. Official word later confirmed the observations. Driver Ricardo Zonda was transported to nearby Halifax Health center for an evaluation which revealed all was as well as could be expected, saved a bruised ego virtually every driver has nurtured at one time or another.
On Saturday, Kurt Busch was tooling down the backstretch in his Penske-Taylor No. 9 Toshiba Pontiac Riley when the car decided to park along the outside wall, impacting the left rear and gave the Penske IRL-derived crew something to do for the next few hours. Some sporty car types said Busch was merely seeking the various ways to park the car as early as possible during the Rolex 24.
NEW GEN-2 DPs ON TRACK
Five cars got new Riley MkXX bodywork in mid-December; four are at this weekend's DIS test.
Mike Shank Racing's Ford-powered Nos. 6 and 60 (more about MSR, below); Aim Auto sports' Exchange Traded and Barrick Gold No. 61, regular-season drivers are Brian Frisselle and Mark Wilkins, and likewise Ford-powered; and the Pontiac-powered No. 91 "factory" Riley-Matthews Motorsports car with regulars Marc Goossens and team co-owner Jim Matthews.
The Riley-Matthews car chased two days worth of electrical gremlins and kept the team from chasing chassis setups. The issue - a faulty engine wiring harness - apparently had been finally isolated late Saturday and the team hoped Sunday would give them at least one day to work on setup. Still, in another three weeks, they'll be coming into Daytona behind the curve.
The fifth (completely) new Riley, which will get on-track at the season's second race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, is back in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates' race shop in Indianapolis.
"Bottom line," CGRwFS director Mike Hull said, "we've got tons of data on the older car, we know its reliability as well as its weaknesses. We don't have that same knowledge with the new car. The Rolex 24 is far too important of a race to be deploying a brand new car."
There are a lot of seasoned Rolex 24 At Daytona professionals who are picking one of the two CGRwFS teams to pull off an owner three-peat win. Ganassi, on hand during Saturday's daylight hours (flying home to watch the Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers NFL wildcard game Saturday night), is loose, happy, confident and in a butt-kicking mood - three-weeks hence.
Ford wunderkind NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Colin Braun, here for the Rolex 24, cut the No. 61 Exchange and Barrick Gold team's fastest lap Saturday, boosting it to third-fastest in the final afternoon session. Transponder identification difficulties erroneously credited Brian Frisselle with the time, a 1:41.584 at 126.162 mph average.
Say what you will about Braun, he's the real deal. Braun is so into his new Craftsman Series Roush Fenway Racing team that he's even spent 12-hours straight in the wind tunnel (well, not actually in it - except when he was taping the grill, etc.) as the team tested his truck in preparation for the stock car (truck?) portions of Daytona's upcoming Speedweeks, which the Rolex 24 At Daytona annually kicks off.
Ford Racing's Dan Davis isn't even remotely or cautiously optimistic about Braun: "He's going to be setting a lot of records before his racing days are over."
Eddie Cheever's new No. 51 Pontiac-Coyote got out just before Friday afternoon's first practice session was called and got in all of about three laps.
It was kind of fun watching Cheever - who look liked an expectant father - as his team's technicians, joined by a handful of Picchio personnel, scrambled to get the No. 51 ready to roll.
"Golf would be less stressful right now," Cheever said Friday during one of his many paces past this journalist.
Saturday wasn't much different for the 1998 Indianapolis 500-winning driver-turned-sportscar-owner and began mumbling something about hitting the brewskies soon after the No. 39 Royal Crown's brand new $53,000 transmission died while the newer No. 51 "had engine issues," according to Cheever.
Cheever finally threw away his unused bottle of Grecian Formula 16 - the use of which he'd contemplated for the purpose of hiding the gray that came with ownership. The problem: each day brought new gray.
Having not a single cent invested in his program, however, this reporter can objectively remember how the Royal Crown team started coming on as 2007 progressed and won't be surprised with its success in 2008.
(Like me, does anyone else who remembers The Kinks likewise sing at least a bar or two of that tune every time "Lola" is mentioned?)
Krohn Racing's new Pontiac-powered Pro-Auto Lolas came in 19th (No. 76) and 20th (No. 75) on the charts after turning best times in the 1:44 area Friday. I think it fair to say, the team would like to find better. However, by Saturday afternoon, the remaining No. 75 had slipped to 19th fastest, posting a 1:43.06 lap at 123.461 mph.
Team engineer Jeff Braun (yep, Colin's father) admittedly is perplexed for now but has vowed to figure it out.
Note to Jeff Braun: "Hey, Mr. Braun, it's a brand-spanking-new prototype. Each I've ever seen requires contending with a learning curve, whether it be worked out privately or publicly."
MSR "MORE" HERE
Posting a fifth-fastest overall time Friday, the No. 06 Mike Shank Racing Ford-Riley took "fastest" honors for the seven teams here with new DP Gen-2 bodywork.
On Saturday afternoon, the No. 6 car was sitting at the top of the charts, period, with a 1:41.555 lap at 126.198 mph.
"All of us are working collaboratively on its set-up," driver John Pew said. "No one driver is determining its set-up."
The car's 2008 Rolex 24 at Daytona driving team members - Pew, Ian James, AJ Allmendinger and Burt Frisselle -- each have each gotten visible seat time in the all-new Riley MkXX.
MSR took delivery of the No. 6 car's chassis and a Gen-1 DP body in early December, which the team tested at the closed DIS Riley test held Dec. 10 and 11.
MSR's No. 60 Ford-Riley, which turned in Friday's 8th-fastest time, is using an older chassis with updated MKXX bodywork.
No. 60 regulars Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri - who've been an item for 2.5-seasons now - are being supplemented by Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal for the Rolex 24. A tanned Bobby Rahal was on hand Saturday checking it out. Perhaps coincidentally, Danica Patrick also was on the grounds all day, though she didn't come in with Rahal.
In conversations over the past two days with Mike Shank, Pew, James, Patterson and The Ozz, it's pretty clear the team as a whole is really pumped about 2008.
(Ozz, good buddy of fellow Brazilian Helio Castroneves, also revealed the "Dancing With The Stars" winner has been providing Ozz some dancing lessons at home.)
The Ford engines are new to Shank this year and, when one thinks about it, probably altogether new to Shank's entire racing life but it's already been a fruitful relationship, according to Shank, whose engineers have had a plethora of tools previously unavailable to MSR.
Without getting too bogged down in technical buzz words and details, an MSR race car has been subjected to a variety of wind, road and race conditions that can analyze airflow (duh); shake heck out of the car (now THAT's a great technical term); and, simulate actual track surfaces -- one of the keys to last year's success for the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings' No. 99 Pontiac-Riley. Speaking of which . . .
Have been on the quiet side.
Bob Stallings' No. 99 GAINSCO Pontiac-Riley was well down the timesheet at the end of practice Saturday afternoon, landing in 13th with a 1:43.04 lap at 124.386 mph then rebounded to close the night session with a 1:42.020.
We'll have to better investigate just what these guys are up to.
DC Williams for motorsport.com