DC's ROLEX 24 PICKS: DP
Where in heck does one start to pick this year's Rolex 24 best?
Years ago, when there was no such thing as a Daytona Prototype, picking three or four outstanding cars out of three or four outstanding cars was easy.
Given a couple of other relatively benign aspects, in the past one just looked for the best driving combinations for the best overall picks.
If you had a car full of guys who each had won the race, then you could put them on top. The next car would have the second greater number of race-winning guys and so on until the list was finished.
Today, mucking up the ease with one can make picks is a touch of NASCAR's Nextel Cup in the Rolex Series' DP class.
Remember when NASCAR's Wood Brothers went to the Indy 500? Automobile racing the world over changed that Memorial Day.
Outside of the driver being on the track and its racing groove, what's the single greatest factor that'll determine the outcome of how well that driver will do in the race?
Such is not to say teams have been unimportant. It is to say they're now more important than ever.
Relatively slow pit stops and driver changes will have to get faster. Some will complain; others will find a way and win.
Having drivers AND teams in mind, here's my 2006 Rolex 24 picks and, puh-leeze, pole positions ain't worth didley: only six polesitters in 45 races have gone on to win.
No. 01 Telmex Chip Ganassi With Felix Sabates Lexus-Riley
Salvador Duran, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Pruett
A lot of attention has been focused on Montoya while Pruett remains the consummate professional. Still, information is easily found on Pruett -- especially that he is a 1994 Rolex 24 overall winner and earned a Rolex Series DP driving title in 2004 and only just missed subsequent titles. The sleeper on this team is Duran, who impressed a not-too-easily impressed Chip Ganassi after coming to the team by way of a "suggestion" by team sponsor principal Carlos Slim Jr., whose enthusiasm for and knowledge of racing is considerable.
Besides, CGRWFS team orders are to one-up last year's first-place finish. If you can't figure that one out ... Even odds
No. 02 Target Chip Ganassi With Felix Sabates Lexus-Riley
Scott Dixon, Memo Rojas, Dan Wheldon
Dixon and Wheldon (with another guy not in the race) upped the price of playing last year with a pace that detractors in a galaxy way out there and long ago said would never happen in a Daytona Prototype. Rojas will team with Pruett for the rest of the season in the 01 Telmex car. It's just tough to repeat in the 24 and, besides, there are some drivers who feel Dixon's driving style of last year left unfinished business on the table for this year. Even odds, despite team orders.
No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley
Shane Lewis, Randy Ruhlman, Graham Rahal, Elliott Forbes Robinson
Perhaps in an effort to improve the team's prospects of a Rahal adding another Rolex 24 trophy to that already in the family (Bobby Rahal, 1981), EFR became a late but wise addition to the team's Rolex 24 lineup. But this one of those teams who must have excellent pit stops to contend because the entire driver lineup isn't a question, at all. 4 to 1
No. 05 Luggage Express Team Sigalsport BMW BMW-Riley
Bill Auberlen, Matthew Alhadeff, Gene Sigal, Karl Wendlinger
Great engine; Auberlen is one of the best in sportscar racing today, and yesterday and, probably, tomorrow. A former early, mid-90's Sauber F1 driver, Wendlinger won the FIA GT championship with Olivier Beretta in 1999. 10 to 1
No.06 Michael Shank Racing Lexus-Riley
AJ Allmendinger, Ian James, Paul Tracy, Henri Zogaib
Teamed in MSR's No. 60 in 2006 Rolex 24, Allmendinger pushed hard and fast, playing a considerable role in that team's second-place finish -- but so, too, did every other driver on that team. Excellent engineering and pit-side abilities notwithstanding, MSR must bulletproof this car because Tracy will attempt to drive its wheels off and Zogaib is likely to put 'em off every now and again. 5 to 1
No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac-Riley
Max Angelelli, Jeff Gordon, Jan Magnussen, Wayne Taylor
Historically, first-year teams just don't do well in the Rolex 24. It doesn't matter if the team's drivers are champions of the world and, for what it's worth, all these drivers rate in that league - including the guy who ordinarily races on ovals, 'cause he's NASCAR's best on road courses, too. It's the TEAM, dummy. And Taylor has assembled one helluva team. The man is, well, consumed. And, really, that's what brings success. Still, can't go any better than EVEN
No. 11 SAMAX Pontiac-Riley
Patrick Carpentier, Ryan Dalziel, Milka Duno, Darren Manning
Everyone is aware of this team's weakest link, including that link. It hasn't anything to with being a woman; it has to do with seat time. In an October DIS test at which Riley-Matthews' No. 91 was also present, I watched as Duno put in over 200 laps of practice. I personally saw the lap charts. IF Duno has learned to brake a little earlier (she tends to go too deep into Turn 1 -- try THAT sometime, every time) the team will do well because it's got some darn good drivers. Team behind the team itself is solid. 5-1
No. 16 Howard Motorsports Pontiac-Crawford
Chris Dyson, Rob Dyson, Oliver Gavin, Guy Smith
If Dyson Racing paid as much attention to this Rolex 24 At Daytona as it has paid to past Rolex 24s (winning in '97, '99) -- or as much attention as it pays to its new LMP2 Porsche cars -- there would be little doubt that the team would be among the best out there. But it isn't. It's little more than a father/son outing with a couple of good friends along for the Sunday ride. I wish them my butt-kicking best, but such is only likely to happen elsewhere; not here. 8-1
No. 19 Finlay Motorsports Ford-Crawford
Rob Finlay, Bobby Labonte, Michael McDowell, Michael Valiante
Down from the 2006 season's two cars -- one of which ran beautifully in the 2006 Rolex 12 At Daytona, Part II -- the Brothers Cameron are back and are among the industry's best at their respective posts. McDowell's full-time ride at Finlay is gone, along with Memo Gidley, as a result of one car going away, and would like to make this one-off gig a good one. Ironically, it was Gidley and McDowell who produced topmost podium finishes for the team (Mexico, 2005 for both; and a 2006 VIR points-paying qualifier for McDowell while Gidley was healing from his LBGP crash). Yet, Finlay and Valiante shouldn't be discounted, as the two tied for ninth in 2006 DP driver points. 2000 Nextel Cup champ Labonte won't hurt the team -- despite what he may say at times -- and as long as no one else hurts them, count on the team to well acquit themselves. 4 to 1.
No. 20 Howard Motorsports Pontiac Riley
Butch Leitzinger, Tony Stewart Andy Wallace
Flat out, these guys are my pick to win. Here's why: Leitzinger -- three overall Rolex 24 titles; Wallace - two overall and one class Rolex 24s; Stewart -- wins and/or has championships in 21 different types of race cars. These three -- their first time together -- were snakebit last year, finishing 30th, but other than that, Max and Jan Crawford have produced some darn competitive cars for competitors who really drive them. Katie needs to make sure the pits hum. Though plenty of stuff can be said, no more needs to be. It's time. 4 to 5
No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Porsche-Crawford
Jorg Bergmeister, Romain Dumas Patrick Long
About the only thing I can think of that might hurt this team is Bergmeister getting into, for him, a cramped Crawford cockpit. While accomplished drivers Long and Dumas fit nicely, like Boris Said (who turned down a Crawford ride last year because he didn't fit), Bergmeister has pushed the Crawford's driver compartment to its limits. This isn't an unimportant point. One almost instantaneously knows when his or her passenger car seat settings have been changed. Bergmeister is driving, say, eight hours (1/3) of the race in a potentially odd position. Yet, I understand AJR's been working to resolve the issue and, besides, Bergmeister's a pro. As long as an odd sitting position doesn't bring on cramps -- especially at the wrong time -- the Ruby Tuesday is a contender. 3 to 5
No. 39 Cheever Racing Porsche-Crawford
Eddie Cheever Jr., Emmanuel Collard, Christian Fittipaldi; Sascha Maassen
In the 2006 race Cheever ran a Lexus engine but saw the Porsche light burn bright before practice had ended, switching to that engine as soon as possible thereafter. Collard (who copped a Rolex Daytona watch for his fist-place finish in 2005 in the SunTrust car) and Maassen are the factory Porsche-bots. The team might do better than its 2006 17th-place finish, but not much. 12-1
No. 47 Querencia Golf Club TruSpeed Motorsports Porsche-Riley
Timo Bernhard, Charles Morgan, Rob Morgan, BJ Zacharias
This team possesses a lot of motorsports knowledge, experience and history. Morgan Dollar in NASCAR comes to mind, and the father/son Morgan combinations, together or apart, have three Rolex 24 class wins to their credit, stretching back to last century (don't I just love to throw that one in every now again - it sounds, like, sooo long ago). Bernhard was a member of the Little GT Porsche that could (TRG) which won the 2003 Rolex 24 at the dawn of the DP and did it the year before in-class, again with TRG. Driver coach/consultant Zacharias -- who's won racing titles in his own right -- works mostly in the materiel side of the racing industry -- Wright Tuning (catchy) -- but just because one is talented enough to coach a very talented Tiger Woods (Butch Harmon and, more recently, Hank Haney) it doesn't mean the coach -- as a player -- is on a par with the industry's best. It's another father/son outing, but one that wouldn't surprise me with a top-10 finish - but it won't be first. 9 to 1
No. 58 Red Bull Porsche-Riley
David Donohue, Darren Law, Buddy Rice, Scott Sharp
No. 59 Kendall Brumos Porsche-Riley
Joao Barbosa, JC France, Hurley Haywood, Roberto Moreno
At the early-January DIS/Rolex 24 test days, Brumos Racing head Bob Snodgrass said, "I promise you a podium finish." I believe him. If not for a late-race bump and run by the race's eventual winner (Scott Dixon was rumored to be at the wheel but I think it was Casey Mears) the 58-car would've likely produced a podium finish in the team's now-replaced Fabcar chassis. As it was, the car scored a 4th-place while its No. 59 sister car finished 39th. A haggard Haywood was ready to retire -- at least from a full season's worth of racing -- at the end of 2006. He found new life when the team switched to Riley. I think Haywood's had the chance to teach his charge a few things about endurance racing and they might just pay off this year. The 58's nosed its way into the top-10 in 2005, giving it consecutive top-10 Rolex 24 finishes. EVEN odds on one of them doing what Snodgrass promised; 3 to 1 on the other. You figure which one goes with which.
No. 60 Fresh From Florida MSR Lexus-Riley
Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr., Oswaldo Negri, Mark Patterson
It's Mike Shank who regularly hangs with the open-wheel types, because that's where his initial shot at racing took him as a driver. Figuring out he could spend less money as an owner and team manager (the latter is the service he performs for team-owner Patterson), Shank started fielding open-wheel teams. The CART breakup is the defining factor in sending Shank to the Rolex Series, something for which the Rolex Series should be profoundly grateful. Shank doesn't hang with the likes of Hornish 'cause he's a shabby guy; he knows how to prep cars. And he'll have done it again this year for the surprise of 2006 (for some, but not yours truly). While an anchor (as in: extra weight; drag) for the 60-car, Patterson can and does hold his own -- without struggling (though he'll claim otherwise) -- against guys who get paid big bucks to drive. Using a force-field bubble to keep others from t-boning them, they'll again find the podium - but only enough to make Patterson want to come back for another shot in 2008. 3 to 5
No. 75 Krohn Racing Ford-Riley
Colin Braun, JJ Lehto, Max Papis
No. 76 Krohn Racing Ford-Riley
Nic Jonsson, Tracy Krohn, Boris Said
Yep, your eyes do not deceive. The driver combinations, if you don't already know, are correct. This will flat-out be some fun racing -- especially if the 75 and 10 cars are on the lead lap with 30-minutes to go AND each car has a "Max" at the wheel. Speaking of someone on a mission, Krohn is, too. Having learned my lesson last year, these teams are also assuredly podium quality. The question is: at whom will they be mad enough to make 'em wanna get there this year? Still, the 75 gets a 3-5 and the 76 gets a 2-5 (Oops! There it is!)
No. 77 Kodak Ford-Doran
Memo Gidley, Fabrizio Gollin, Michel Jourdain, Oriol Servia
Kevin Doran last found his way to Daytona International Speedway's Victory Lane with what also was the end of the evolutionary chain of the WSC/LMP/SRP line -- at least insofar as the Rolex Series was concerned. His Doran JE4 design would win the 2004 Rolex 24, then has since come close with numerous top-5 and top-10 finishes probably in part owed by the car's sturdiness. Having left the Finlay camp, Gidley hopes to use his setup expertise to help get Doran back on track. But such will likely come -- if at all -- only after the Rolex 24 as the veritable last-minute pickup team isn't likely to have the ability to quickly meld into a contender this year. Too bad. 15-1
No. 91 Lowe's Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac-Riley
Marc Goossens, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Jimmie Johnson, Jim Matthews
After his 2005 second-place finish Johnson has a demonstrated ability to get around this track, so he's unlikely to be a liability. "Busted" for letting off some post-season steam, Johnson's all business again as are Goossens and Matthews, who often have teamed and done well in doing so over the years. Bill Riley would like nothing better than to reprise his 2005 winning Rolex 24 role as team manager and race strategist.
A new team, too, in name, it's nonetheless a very experienced one running slightly different car colors.
Last, but not least ...
No. 99 Gainsco Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac-Riley
Jon Fogarty, Alex Gurney, Jimmy Vasser, Bob Stallings
When will these guys show what they got? Not for just a brief moment or two; or even for 20 laps. This was a quality team when it came into the series at Laguna Seca in 2005; they remain a quality team. So, maybe this is the year. Even though they're good, I don't think it'll be the 24 where they'll shine brightest so far. Such will come later in 2007 and, I will bet, more frequently than in the past. Then they'll get a Ferrari engine. In a prove it me: 2 to 1
Rumble on, Gents.
--DC Williams, Exclusively for Motorsports.com