Daytona 24: Dayton, Knoop preview

Dayton and Knoop are 'One-Offs' with a Mission In Rolex 24 at Daytona Jan. 28-29 DANBURY, Conn., Jan. 20 - Duncan Dayton and Rick Knoop may be "one-offs" at the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway Jan. 28-29, but they're "one-offs" with a...

Dayton and Knoop are 'One-Offs' with a Mission In Rolex 24 at Daytona Jan. 28-29

DANBURY, Conn., Jan. 20 - Duncan Dayton and Rick Knoop may be "one-offs" at the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway Jan. 28-29, but they're "one-offs" with a mission.

"One-offs" like Dayton and Knoop will be at this year's Rolex 24 are non-series regulars - drivers who will compete in selected events rather than all 14 races on the Rolex series' 2006 schedule. The addition of "one-offs" to the Rolex 24 each year is an important part of its appeal to the fans, as drivers who are stars in other series join the Rolex series regulars for their longest race of the year. All sorts of NASCAR stock car, Indy Car and Champ Car drivers are entered, as are stars from other forms of sports car racing. And of course lots of happy fans are the goal of the promoters, TV networks and sponsors.

"One-offs" are also important to the racing teams for a very practical reason. Most Rolex series races are about two hours and 45 minutes long, not 24 hours, and additional drivers are needed to take turns at the wheel.

The "one-offs" like Dayton and Knoop have their reasons to want to run the race too. There is the long and storied history of the event; next weekend's race is the 44th running of the twice-around-the-clock classic. There are more than 13 hours of live SPEED TV coverage. There is the fact that there is no place in America quite like Daytona International Speedway. And of course Daytona is in Florida, where the weather permits racing in the winter, a reason quite attractive to anyone who shoveled snow today.

Since many other series don't start for many more weeks, if not months, running in the Rolex 24 helps drivers stay sharp and it helps give some added reality to their winter training regimen. There is the opportunity to give their regular sponsors exposure at another big race. Some stars with factory ties are brought in to help their respective factory's efforts. And then there are the two reasons that are reason enough for most drivers: the Rolex 24 is hard to win so it's a big challenge, and it's an opportunity to go very fast in a very neat car.

Dayton and Knoop share most of the above reasons and especially those last two, which is why they're delighted to be half of the driver roster for the Essex Racing Crawford Ford No. 5, one of 32 Daytona Prototypes in the 73-car race. They'll share the car with Jim Matthews of Chapel Hill, N.C. and Brian DeVries of Grand Rapids, Mich.

Dayton, of Danbury, Conn., and Knoop, of Laguna Beach, Calif., have both participated in the Rolex 24 many times in the past. Knoop even finished third overall here twice (1983 and 1985). But the primary reason that they want to compete at Daytona this year is that it's a great tune-up for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which will be held a little further south of Daytona in Sebring, Fla., on March 18. That race is part of the American Le Mans Series, and Dayton's team, Highcroft Racing, plans to compete in all 10 events on that series' schedule with a Lola, a car which is not eligible to compete in the Rolex 24 anymore due to rules changes. Knoop will be one of the drivers for Dayton's team at Sebring.

"The ALMS is my main focus this year, but we're both very pleased to be part of the Essex Racing team for the Rolex 24," said Dayton, who will be making his seventh Rolex 24 start. His best finish so far is fifth overall in 1999, although victory was certainly in sight in 2002. That's the year he and his co-drivers of the Intersport Lola led both overall and in the top class, called Sports Racing Prototype at the time, for 10 hours until the car's halfshaft broke just four hours from the finish while it had a seven-lap lead.

"I want to compliment the Essex team for their preparation of the car," Dayton said following three days of testing at Daytona earlier this month. "With the help of our engineer, Chris Crawford, we were able to make strong progress with the set-up of the car despite the start-and-stop nature of testing."

Dayton said that one of the biggest challenges of the race will be staying out of trouble. "One of our drivers was hit four times on one lap, which was a little ridiculous," he pointed out.

"Our car is starting to reveal its true potential," he continued. "This is a 24-hour race, and we're trying to prepare for that reality. We're hoping to be able to run our own pace and not get sucked into a dogfight. We want to go fast at 9 on Sunday morning, not during testing.

"I also want to thank [team owner] Michael Gue for the quality job he's doing," Dayton added. "I feel very positive about our driver line-up. Jim Matthews is a very experienced, very fast driver, and I know Brian DeVries very well through vintage racing. Rick and I are both very pleased to be driving with them at the Rolex."

Knoop is making his tenth start in the Rolex 24, albeit his first one in 20 years, as his racing career has taken him in other directions. He and Dayton became friends through their vintage racing activities.

The son of Fred Knoop, a former top West Coast SCCA driver and racer of historic cars, Knoop won his class (GTO) and was third overall in the 1983 Rolex 24 in the Mederer/Oku Mazda RX-7 with co-drivers Pete Halsmer and Bob Reed. He was also third overall and third in GTP in the 1985 Rolex 24 paired with Jim Busby and Jochen Mass in a Porsche 962.

Knoop drove a Daytona Prototype for the first time at the Rolex test.

When asked his first impressions of the car, he said, "It's a very durable car, and I'm adjusting to it. I was kind of surprised about how heavy it is. It's heavier than I thought it would be, so that's a big adjustment.

"The track is a little different now," he noted. "The chicane is much slower, but the infield is pretty much the same. It's been repaved, obviously."

The track's state-of-the-art lighting system wasn't installed the last time Knoop raced here either. "The lights will be totally different than when I was here the last time, but I'm really looking forward to racing here now at night," he said. "It's almost like daylight now, which is a big improvement.

"I'm just really happy to be here," he emphasized.

SPEED plans to show the race in three parts: 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.

For those who can't bear to wait until 8 a.m. on Sunday to see which cars made it through the night, live timing and scoring will be available on-line at grandamerican.com.

Dayton and Knoop, along with their fellow co-drivers and the rest of the Essex Racing team, certainly hope that the No. 5 will still be running not only then, but also at the finish a little after noon that Sunday.

-linda mansfield-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Duncan Dayton , Brian DeVries , Pete Halsmer , Jim Matthews , Jochen Mass , Rick Knoop , Bob Reed