Rolex 24 winner quickest in opening day practice on California Speedway's new road course
FONTANA, Calif. (March 21, 2002) -- Two-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Didier Theys clocked the quickest time during the opening day of Rolex Sports Car Series practice on California Speedway's new road course. Theys' piloted the #27 Doran Lista Judd-powered Dallara to a 1:31.179 lap time at 111.341 mph on the 2.81-mile, 21-turn road course, while defending series champion James Weaver posted the second fastest time of the day in the #16 Thetford/Norcold Judd Crawford of Dyson Racing Team at 1:32.525/109.722 mph.
"We're trying to find a good balance," Theys remarked. "We were fighting a little bit of an understeer this morning, but the car is good. If we don't find more front grip mechanically tomorrow, we'll put more downforce on it. But really, everything is going quite well so far."
Lap times were slower during the first two practice sessions of the day while teams and drivers familiarized themselves with the new road course. Post-practice driver briefings were extended as crews worked to find the best setup.
"This course is very challenging and even tricky. I think people are struggling with their setup a little bit," commented Los Angeles' Cort Wagner, who was one of the few drivers asked to test the track last year during the developmental stages. Wagner and fellow-Angelino Bill Auberlen are teamed up this weekend in the #33 Ferrari of Washington Ferrari 360 GT and were quickest during practice in the GT class with a 1:39.857 lap time at 101.665 mph.
Terry Borcheller, in the #8 Rand Racing Nissan Lola, posted the fastest time in the first practice session, but the team dropped back to third quickest by the end of the day after the larger prototypes improved their times in the final sessions. Ralf Kelleners bested his teammate's time in the third session to grab the quickest SportsRacing Prototype II class lap at 1:34.238/107.727.
"At first (the track) seemed easy, but then you figure out its not too easy because the grip level is not too high," Kelleners remarked. "You've got a lot of different corners. A lot of times we are using first and second gear, which in our car is not so easy to handle because the power kicks in and you have quite a bit of work to control the car."
Local Riverside team K&N Filters Racing led the GTS class with its #12 Ultima GTR recording a 1:39.958 lap at 101.563 mph. The #48 Heritage Motorsports Mustang was quickest in the American GT class at 1:39.346/102.188 mph.
Lazzaro Out for Three Weeks With Injury Rand Racing driver Anthony Lazzaro will have to sit out both the Rolex Sports Car Series and Indy Racing League races this weekend due to an injury suffered during a crash at last weekend's IRL race in Phoenix. Lazzaro was scheduled to pull double duty at this weekend's event, as he did earlier this month when he ran in both the Rolex Series and IRL races on the same day at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Doctors report Lazzaro suffered a slight vertebrae fracture during the accident and will be out for three to four weeks for recovery. Ralf Kelleners will replace Lazzaro in the #8 Nissan Lola this weekend.
Saleen Heads Back to the Shop For Repairs The #5 Park Place Racing Saleen S7R sustained severe damage when it hit a temporary barrier as it exited the infield road course and moved onto the trioval during the second practice session of the day. Defending GTS driver champion Chris Bingham was behind the wheel during the incident. Luckily, Saleen's headquarters are located in nearby Irvine, and crew chief Curt Orimston reported the team would take the car to the manufacturer for repairs.
Practice sessions will continue on Friday at 2:15 p.m., with Grand American 400 qualifying at 4 p.m. The green flag will fall on the inaugural Grand American 400 on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Tickets are currently available online for the event at www.californiaspeedway.com or by calling the Speedway ticket office at 800-944-RACE (7223). Saturday's Grand American 400 will also be broadcast live on SPEED Channel at 3:30 p.m. ET (12:30 p.m. PT).