Daytona 24: Apple Motorsports preview

York, Pa.-Based Apple Motorsports Team Wants a Different Outcome In This Year's Rolex 24 at Daytona Jan. 28-29 YORK, Pa., Jan. 19 - When the Apple Motorsports team left Daytona International Speedway after competing in the Rolex 24-hour...

York, Pa.-Based Apple Motorsports Team Wants a Different Outcome In This Year's Rolex 24 at Daytona Jan. 28-29

YORK, Pa., Jan. 19 - When the Apple Motorsports team left Daytona International Speedway after competing in the Rolex 24-hour endurance sports car race last year, it did so leaving unfinished business in the Florida coastal town. The York, Pa.-based team's members were unfulfilled when their immaculate bright-white Porsche was hit from behind during a caution period, leaving them with no other choice but to postpone their quest to win North America's most prestigious endurance sports car race.

Last year, when Gary Stewart assembled the Apple Motorsports team, which includes his three nephews - Rob Stewart III, Dave Stewart and Bob Gilbert, who all live in York, Pa. - for the Rolex 24, he had nothing to prove. Gary had won the Rolex 24 race before, earning the 1999 GTT class victory driving a Ford Mustang Cobra.

The 2005 effort was all about giving his three nephews an opportunity to sample the sweet taste of victory that he had experienced six years earlier, but unfortunately bad luck struck first.

After being waved past the pace car during a caution period, the Apple Motorsports Porsche was hit from behind by another car.

They were running seventh in class at the time, but through no fault of their own the Stewarts found themselves three hours into the twice-around-the-clock classic with a car deemed unsafe to continue.

When the No. 93 Apple Motorsports Porsche withdrew early in last year's event, it was quite apparent that the Stewarts would be back.

"We were really unfulfilled last year by going out early," said Dave Stewart, who was driving at the time. "That really disappointed us. When someone tail-ends you like that it's really disappointing. I had never been knocked out of a race under yellow before. We got a wave-around from the pace car, so it had been yellow for several laps."

No words were needed to convey the disappointment that hung thick in the air as the crew collected the car and loaded it on the transporter for the long trip back to York, Pa.

Now that disappointment has been replaced by optimism, and that optimism has been supplemented with preparation. The Stewarts are returning to Daytona to challenge for the GT class victory in this year's race, slated for Jan. 28-29.

The Apple Motorsports crew took two 400-horsepower Porsche GT3 Cup cars to Daytona for testing the first week of January. Having two cars at the test allowed the drivers to gain valuable seat time. "It went really well," said Gilbert. "I thought our times were pretty good. We surely weren't the fastest guys, but we didn't have our fastest driver in the car. We didn't push the cars real hard. I think the cars can go faster. We just have to keep out of trouble."

This year the Apple contingent will team with professional race car driver Tony Ave of Mooresville, N.C. behind the wheel of the No. 93 Porsche for the big race. It's not the first time that Ave has worked with the Stewarts; he and Gary co-drove a Riley & Scott Camaro in the Trans-Am series in 1995.

If it has wheels on it, Ave has driven it fast. He has competed in everything from USAC midgets to NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. In his one-off appearance in 2004 NEXTEL Cup competition, Ave started 42nd at Watkins Glen, N.Y., picking up nine places to finish 31st. His single effort in the Indy Racing League Indy Pro series netted a podium finish at Phoenix International Raceway in 2003. Ave has also competed in the Toyota Atlantic series and of course Trans-Am.

Gary and his nephews have been busy since their last appearance at Daytona, spending most of their time racing in the SRF (Spec Racer Ford) class in Sports Car Club of America competition. SRF is an enclosed-wheel, open-cockpit, purpose-built race car powered by a 1.9-liter Ford engine.

"We ran some PCA events but we mostly ran our Spec Racers in SCCA," Rob Stewart reported. Competing in the 13-hour endurance event at Virginia International Raceway last year, Gary, Rob and Dave Stewart and Bob Gilbert earned a hard-fought third-place finish. "That was really a lot of fun," said Rob.

In addition to renting the challenging road circuit at Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia for testing the Apple Motorsports Porsche, the team ran in Porsche Club of America (PCA) events at Summit Point, Watkins Glen, N.Y. and Virginia International Raceway. "We used the PCA events to get some seat time," said Gilbert. "When we rented Summit Point we used that time to test shocks" and other components on the cars.

While the Apple Motorsports team is taking both cars to Daytona, the team is expected to run one car in the race, using the other as a back-up. Veteran crew chief Mike Goss is back with the team for 2006. Goss, who grew up around the rough-and-tumble world of short-track racing, will be assisted by Lee Stauffer, the well-known crew chief of Bob Stewart's Apple Motorsports sprint car. Gary and Bob Stewart are brothers who compete in two different worlds of motorsports. Bob's sons Dave and Rob are competing with Uncle Gary in the Rolex 24.

Preparation is the key to success in endurance sports car racing. The Stewarts did their homework last year and were well prepared to produce a good result. Last year's homework, along with the preparation for this year's event, should produce an accumulative effect, leaving the team full of optimism as they challenge the world's top drivers in the nation's most prestigious sports car race.

Fans can check out all the action by attending the Rolex 24 in person Jan. 28-29 in Daytona Beach, Fla. or watching SPEED's live coverage. The network plans to show the race in three parts this year: from noon until 6 p.m. and from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28, and from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29. All times are Eastern.

In addition to the television coverage, live timing and scoring is available online at grandamerican.com.

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Tony Ave , Gary Stewart , Dave Stewart , Rob Stewart