After three days of testing, about the only thing proved was that the outcome of next month's Grand American Rolex Series season opening Daytona Rolex 24 will be a crap shoot. In fact, so tight were the times that the top 14 Daytona Prototypes - of the 31 present - were within two seconds of each other. The leading GT Porsche production car entries were equally close.
Still, those in that bracket and those in the 1:48 bracket included almost all of the pre-race Rolex favorites, with everyone taking turns at outrunning everyone else by a hundredth or two. Ultimately, the first after Taylor and company was the Krohn Racing/TRG Pontiac Riley of Max Papis, Jorg Bergmeister and Oliver Gavin at 1:47.182, followed by the CITGO- Howard Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford of Andy Wallace, Jan Lammers and Tony Stewart.
Rounding out the top five were two of Chip Ganassi's Lexus powered Rileys: the Target-sponsored example of Casey Mears, Scott Dixon and Darren Manning fourth with the CompUSA entry of Scott Pruett, Luis Diaz and Ryan Briscoe fifth. The former trio turned in a lap at 1:47.654, while the latter three tripped the clocks at 1:48.038.
While there were no serious incidents throughout the weekend, the most spectacular unplanned exit was that of 79-year-old Paul Newman whose Crawford caught fire when he attempted to restart after spinning in the infield. Newman escaped unhurt, but the rear section of the car was severely damaged. Even so, team members said the Crawford, which will be co- driven by Mike Brockman, should be ready in time for next month's event.
In all, 58 cars of the 70 expected for the race itself turned out over the weekend. The driver line-up includes Nextel Cup titleists Stewart, Bobby and Terry Labonte as well as IRL champion Scott Dixon and his Champ Car counterpart Paul Tracy. Add in former F1 shoe Jan Magnussen and the reigning Grand-Am kings Pruett and Papis - now racing against each other - and the scope of what has been achieved by the Grand-Am since the format revamping at in 2003 becomes apparent.
Whatever happens during the first week in February, one thing is clear, this year's Rolex 24 should be anything but dull. - Bill Oursler