Daytona 24: Apple Motorsports Thursday report

Apple Motorsports Off to a Good Start at Daytona Thursday DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Jan. 26 - The York, Pa.-based Apple Motorsports team was 45th in provisional qualifying Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. The top 30 grid ...

Apple Motorsports Off to a Good Start at Daytona Thursday

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Jan. 26 - The York, Pa.-based Apple Motorsports team was 45th in provisional qualifying Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. The top 30 grid positions were set on Thursday, so the team will have a chance to improve its starting spot during final qualifying in a 20-minute session Friday at 11:40 a.m.

Tony Ave of Mooresville, N.C. was behind the wheel of the TPC Racing/Apple Motorsports Porsche No. 93 during Thursday's qualifying session, recording a lap at 1:57.255 (109.300 mph). When the field of 70 cars takes the green flag at noon on Saturday, Ave will share the Apple Motorsports Porsche with Gary Stewart and his three nephews, Dave and Rob Stewart and Bob Gilbert. All except for Ave reside in York, Pa.

Competing in the Rolex 24, the nation's most prestigious endurance sports car race, requires patience, skill and most of all painstakingly detailed preparation. Although it's not required, the Apple Motorsports team took advantage of an open test for all competitors during the first week in January. "We did a lot of work at the shop after we returned from the open test earlier this month," said crew chief Mike Goss. "Today we were pretty good right out of the trailer and we're happy with the car. We've just been making small little tweaks on the car."

The Apple Motorsports Porsche was running seventh early in the 2005 race when it was hit from behind. Returning to Daytona with the same car, Goss said, "The big thing is that the car has improved every time we've brought it out. That goes back to last year and the open test a few weeks ago."

In addition to the first round of qualifying, two practice sessions allowed "everybody to cycle through the car today except for Gary," Goss continued, "and we'll get him in the car tonight. Everybody reported that the car was really comfortable and stable, and that's what we need for a 24-hour endurance race."

Dave Stewart attributed much of the team's improvement to Ave. "We've been working on the car a lot," said Dave. "Tony Ave, our professional driver, has really helped us fine tune the car. Michael Levitas of TPC has helped too. Combining the efforts of Apple Motorsports and TPC of Baltimore has made the car very comfortable to drive."

TPC Racing has entered a second Porsche for drivers Michael Levitas of Baltimore; Randy Pobst, from Gainesville, Ga.; Ian Baas of Noblesville, Ind. and Spencer Pumpelly of Mason Neck, Va. The two teams will share resources in the pits during the race.

The Apple Motorsports Porsche is a finely tuned race car that can react differently when shared by more than one driver. Assembling a team of drivers with similar styles is a key to success in endurance racing. "Our styles are all pretty similar because we've all grown up racing the same kind of cars," said Rob Stewart. "My brother Dave is a little smoother than I am and I'm a little more aggressive, but overall we're pretty close on driving styles."

The Stewarts were pleased to find that Ave's style agreed with their own. "Tony's driving style is close to ours," Rob said. "Actually, we've learned a lot from Tony. While testing at Summit Point Raceway (in West Virginia) we put a second seat in the car and that gave us an opportunity to see first hand some of the things that Tony was doing."

Although Ave had hoped for a bit more speed during qualifying, the car is handling well. "We've been tuning on the car since the test and it's the best it has been," said Ave. "We didn't quite have it fast enough for qualifying but we'll have a good race car. Tonight and tomorrow we'll work on long runs and make sure the car stays under us for a full fuel load. Reliability-wise we are in really good shape. If the car's running and it's in one piece when the sun comes up, you've got a shot to win."

Veteran sprint car crew chief Lee Stauffer is in the Daytona pits helping the Apple Motorsports Porsche effort this weekend. Stauffer is the crew chief for the Apple Motorsports sprint car team that competes in the ultra-competitive central Pennsylvania sprint car circuit. Owned by Gary's brother, Bob Stewart, the No. 12 Apple Motorsports sprint car is nationally known.

"We learn a lot every time the car goes out," said Stauffer. "I wish we had more track time, but we are lucky to have Tony Ave in our camp; he's a great racer and very seasoned. I think we'll make a lot more gains tonight during the night practice. I'm looking forward to that."

The dirt tracks of central Pennsylvania are worlds apart from the paddock at Daytona International Speedway. Everything is different, said Stauffer, who was clearly enjoying himself. "It's the technology, the rules and everything that you have to go through just to enter the car and get into the track," he said. "Normally I just pull my trailer in, give them 20 bucks, drop the rear door down, fire up the motor and we're gone.

"It's interesting and it's a good experience for me. I'm enjoying it a lot."

Fans can check out all the action by attending the Rolex 24 in person this weekend in Daytona Beach, Fla. or by 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 and from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. All times are Eastern.

Live timing and scoring is available online at grandamerican.com. More information is available at restartcommunications.com.

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Tony Ave , Randy Pobst , Spencer Pumpelly , Michael Levitas , Ian Baas , Dave Stewart , Rob Stewart