Daytona 24: Round one preview

Motorsports World Fixed on Daytona International Speedway as 44th Rolex 24 At Daytona Nears DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 24, 2006) -- As teams make their final preparations before descending upon the World Center of Racing Thursday for the 44th...

Motorsports World Fixed on Daytona International Speedway as 44th Rolex 24 At Daytona Nears

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 24, 2006) -- As teams make their final preparations before descending upon the World Center of Racing Thursday for the 44th Rolex 24 At Daytona, Round 1 of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve (LIVE on SPEED Channel, January 28, 12 p.m. -- 6 p.m. & 8 p.m.- 11 p.m.; January 29, 8 a.m. -- 12:30 p.m.), the motorsports world is eager to kick off the 2006 racing schedule with the twice-around-the-clock classic that features some of its brightest stars.

The world's greatest sports car pilots--including Scott Pruett, Max Papis, Hurley Haywood and the 2005 Rolex Series Daytona Prototype co-champions, Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli--will test their mettle against defending NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Tony Stewart, reigning Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon, and 2003 Champ Car World Series champion Paul Tracy, in North America's premier endurance race.

Taylor and Angelelli captured 2005's top sports car honors with an impressive five victories to their credit. With an overall victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona alongside Emmanuel Collard--who is returning to the SunTrust team in 2006 with Australian Ryan Briscoe for the race--the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley co-drivers maintained the momentum throughout the 14-race campaign, claiming victories at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Barber Motorsports Park, and a pair of sprint races at Watkins Glen International. The duo will undoubtedly have the bull's-eye on their backs in 2006, as a host of formidable opponents have assembled in hopes of not only dethroning the SunTrust team from the top of the Daytona Prototype category, but also by garnering an overall victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

When looking for a team that has a car and driver lineup strong enough to endure 24 hours and come out on top, one needs not look any further than the trio in the No. 4 The Boss Snowplow Pontiac Crawford for Howard-Boss Motorsports--Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger and Stewart. Stewart's Rolex 24 heartbreaks have been well documented, coming within just hours of winning each of the past two years. This year, however, his teammates may turn out to be the reason why stock car racing's best driver may finally taste victory champagne at the Rolex 24. Both Leitzinger and Wallace are three-time overall Rolex 24 At Daytona winners and the reliability and strength of each pilot may prove to be a winning concoction.

Another Howard-Boss Motorsports entry that has made noise on the airwaves and the wire in recent weeks is the No. 2 Callaway Golf Pontiac Crawford of recently-retired NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace, 2005 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick, two-time Rolex 24 At Daytona overall race winner Jan Lammers (1988, 1990) and Scotland's Alan McNish--the GT1 class Rolex 24 winner in 1998. Wallace, the 1989 NEXTEL Cup champion, retired from full-time stock car racing at the end of 2005, but has always had the Rolex 24 At Daytona on his "to do" list. Patrick is one of only two women entered in a field of more than 200 drivers for the Rolex 24, while McNish and Lammers rank with the world's best in sports car racing.

Over the years, Chip Ganassi Racing has become synonymous with victory in nearly every form of motorsports, which is perhaps the biggest reason why one of its two entries could claim overall victory this weekend. The No. 01 CompUSA Lexus Riley will co-driven by 2004 Daytona Prototype co-champions--and former Rolex 24 At Daytona overall winners--Pruett and Papis, as well as Mexican superstar Luis Diaz, a three-time Rolex Series overall race winner. Ganassi's other entry, the No. 02 Target Lexus Riley, will be shared by drivers with open wheel and stock car fame. Wheldon, who captured the 2005 IRL crown with six victories, including his first Indy 500 title, will be joined by IndyCar Series teammate--and 2005 race winner--Scott Dixon, as well as NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver Casey Mears. All three drivers have experience on the 3.56-mile, 14-turn road course, having competed in last year's Rolex 24.

Another team eager to start the campaign with a victory is Cheever Racing, which has assembled a two-car assault for the Rolex 24. The No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve Lexus Crawford has a good chance of claiming the overall race win, as 2004 Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Christian Fittipaldi joins open-wheel star Patrick Carpentier and team owner and 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever. The team's No. 51 NetVu Video Lexus Crawford will be shared by Englishmen Tommy Erdos, Mike Newton and Warren Hughes, as well as Swede Stefan Johansson in another formidable driver lineup.

A local team that could make some noise in its "home" race is the No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Pontiac Crawford. Rolex Series regular--and 2002 Rolex 24 AGT class winner--Doug Goad will be joined by 2000 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Bobby Labonte, Harold Primat and Larry Oberto for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Labonte made four Rolex Series starts last year, with a best finish of ninth in the 2005 Rolex 24.

Brumos Racing looks to regain its championship form in 2006, and with an evolution chassis in both the No. 58 and No. 59 Porsche Fabcars that proved lightning quick at Daytona Test Days earlier this month, there is no reason why the team's resurgence can't start at the Rolex 24. The No. 58 Red Bull entry will be co-driven by Darren Law, David Donohue and Sascha Maassen, a trio with enough speed and stamina to charge to the checkered flag. Haywood, a five-time Rolex 24 At Daytona overall winner, headlines the No. 59 Porsche lineup, as he will be joined by regular teammate JC France, NASCAR Busch North and Whelen Modified Tour star Ted Christopher and Portuguese hotshoe Joao Barbosa.

The No. 12 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Pontiac Riley has also assembled an all-star cast, as team owner and driver Adrian Fernandez joins regular teammate Mario Haberfeld of Brazil and 1996 Rolex 24 At Daytona overall winner Scott Sharp. Fernandez, a superstar in his native Mexico, would like nothing more than to claim a victory in his first career Rolex Series start.

Tracy, a Champ Car superstar, joins fellow open-wheel phenoms A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson in a pair of Lexus Rileys for Michael Shank Racing. Tracy will co-drive the No. 6 Graydon Elliott Capital/Mears Motor Coach Lexus Riley with fellow Canadian Ken Wilden, as well as Mike Borkowski and Paul Mears Jr. The No. 6 Fusion Racing with MSR machine has switched from a Pontiac to a Lexus powerplant for the 2006 campaign. Allmendinger and Wilson, RuSPORT teammates in the Champ Car World Series, will team with Brazilian Oswaldo Negri Jr. and Mark Patterson in the No. 60 Flight Options Lexus Riley.

Two of Fittipaldi's co-drivers in the 2004 Rolex 24 At Daytona--Terry Borcheller and Forest Barber--have joined forces again in 2006, looking to add a second overall trophy to their collection. The duo will be joined by Harrison Brix and Michel Jourdain Jr. in the No. 77 Kodak/Feeds The Need Ford Doran for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Jourdain joins fellow countrymen Diaz and Fernandez to make up the strongest--and most popular--Mexican contingency in Rolex 24 history.

Another team that will feature a two-car attack on the Rolex 24 field is Finlay Motorsports. Fresh off a victory in the 2005 season finale at Mexico City and armed with a new engine and chassis, the No. 19 Ford Crawford looks to build on its momentum with a win this weekend. Team regulars Michael McDowell and Memo Gidley will be joined by open-wheel pilot Alex Barron, constructing a fast and exciting trio of young drivers. Finlay's second entry--the No. 28 Make A Wish/Z-Line Designs Ford Crawford--will compete in the full 2006 Rolex Series schedule and will be driven full-time by team owner Rob Finlay and Michael Valiante. The duo will be joined by 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice and Bryan Herta for the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

This year's Rolex 24 At Daytona--which features drivers from more than 20 countries worldwide--is sure to attract international recognition. One team with an all-international driver lineup that will garner plenty of attention is the No. 7 CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley. Three-time Rolex Series overall race winner Milka Duno, of Venezuela, will be joined by Scottish IRL superstar Dario Franchitti, as well as his brother, Marino, a talented sports car racer, and Northern Ireland's Kevin McGarrity. The foursome undoubtedly has what it takes to compete for the overall race win.

A team that came into Daytona Test Days three weeks ago and turned heads with its lightning quick laps is the No. 23 Shred-it Porsche Crawford for Alex Job Racing. Porsche factory drivers Patrick Long, Lucas Luhr and Mike Rockenfeller will share the machine for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, and if the car can prove as reliable as it is fast, the team could turn more heads than anyone. Luhr's 1:43.431 (123.909 mph) around the Daytona road course was the fastest of the three-day sessions. Luhr knows how to turn quick laps into Rolex 24 glory, having been a part of the GT class winning White Lightning Racing team in 2001.

A strategy that may pay off this weekend might be to fly under the radar, turn lap times consistent with the lead pack, avoid contact and unscheduled stops, and be patient while the rest of the field makes mistakes and falls out of contention. The No. 89 Pacific Coast Motorsports Pontiac Riley may just be the team that fits this bill, as Ryan Dalziel and Alex Figge, the full-time drivers of the No. 89 machine, will be joined by Jon Fogarty and David Empringham--the defending Grand-Am Cup GS class champion--for the Rolex 24.

Ideally, patience in the Rolex 24 At Daytona is just as vital as a reliable car. But in 2006, with so many teams considered serious contenders for the overall victory, many teams may be looking to make a move early. Three teams with lightning-quick driver lineups and strong cars that can endure the grueling race length are: Burt Frisselle, Brian Frisselle and Patrick Huisman in the brand new No. 8 Rx.com Porsche Doran for Synergy Racing; two-time Rolex Series GTS champion Chris Bingham, Randy Ruhlman and sports car ace--and 2001 Rolex 24 overall winner--Ron Fellows in the No. 40 Derhaag Motorsports Pontiac Riley; and Alex Gurney, Jimmy Vasser, Rocky Moran Jr. and Bob Stallings in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Wells Fargo Bank Pontiac Riley. Gurney's father, Dan, was the overall winner in the first installment of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the three-hour Continental in 1962, while Moran's father, Rocky Moran, was an overall winner in 1993.

NBC Sports television personality--and four-time Rolex 24 At Daytona class winner--Wally Dallenbach Jr. is entered in 2006 with his brother, Paul, as well as George Robinson and Darin Brassfield in the No. 84 Robinson Racing Pontiac Riley. Wally Dallenbach claimed his last Rolex 24 class win in 1993, a GTS victory with Robby Gordon, Robbie Buhl and Tommy Kendall in a Roush Racing Ford Mustang.

A staple of sports car racing across the globe is its multi-class format. For over 40 years, the Rolex 24 At Daytona has recognized not only overall champions, but also race winners from a multitude of categories, and 2006 is no different. With a car count nearing 40 in the production-based GT category, roughly 150 drivers have the opportunity to add their names to the list of 40 former class winners entered in this year's Rolex 24 At Daytona.

At the top of the list are three of the four drivers who claimed the GT class victory in last season's Rolex 24 At Daytona. Wolf Henzler--who was victorious in both of his 2005 Rolex Series starts--is back in 2006 in the No. 72 NEC/Rembrandt Charms Porsche GT3 for Tafel Racing. Henzler will co-drive this weekend with Robin Liddell--the 2004 GT class winner in the Rolex 24--Johannes van Overbeek and 17-year-old Graham Rahal. Rahal, the son of legendary open-wheel driver Bobby Rahal, is making his Rolex Series debut.

Two of Henzler's co-drivers from a year ago, Pierre Ehret and Dominik Farnbacher, have joined forces again this year, sharing the No. 83 Farnbacher Loles Racing/Flamingo Porsche GT3 with Marc Basseng and Mike Fitzgerald, a two-time Rolex 24 GT class winner (2001, 2004).

Craig Stanton, the reigning GT champion, is back with Synergy Racing for the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona, sharing the familiar No. 80 SHOES FOR CREWS Porsche GT3 with former teammate David Murry and Leh Keen. Stanton's best finish in 2005 was second, but with a strong driver lineup and many friends on the track, the possibility to claim victory is present.

Stanton's friends on the track include the three other Porsche GT3 entries by Synergy Racing. Danny Marshall, Steve Marshall, Hal Prewitt and John Pew will share the No. 81 Porsche; Don Kitch Jr., Chris Pennington, Don Gagne and Chris Pallis will co-drive the No. 86 Microsoft/Who's Calling Porsche GT3; and David Gaylord, Will Diefenbach and Ken and Wes Hill will co-drive the No. 87 Strobe Data/Kid's Country Porsche GT3. Kitch claimed the SRPII class win in the Rolex 24 in 2003.

Another team that has assembled a multi-car assault for the Rolex 24 At Daytona is TRG. Team owner Kevin Buckler is the 2003 Rolex 24 overall winner and the 2002 GT class race winner, and will field six different machines in this year's classic. The team's No. 64 and No. 65 Pontiac GTO.Rs have proven to be plenty quick since their introduction at Daytona International Speedway in the Brumos Porsche 250 last June, and this will be the first 24-hour test for the multiple race winners.

Defending GT class runners-up Andy Lally and Marc Bunting will be joined by RJ Valentine and Johnny O'Connell in the No. 65 F1 Air/Alpine Bagel/iRise Pontiac GTO.R. Both Lally and O'Connell claimed Rolex 24 class victories in 2001, as Lally won in the SRPII category and O'Connell claimed the GTS crown, which was also the overall win. Lally and Bunting claimed two GT class victories a year ago, and are eager to avenge their one-point defeat in the final GT standings to Stanton last year.

Paul Edwards and Jan Magnussen, who claimed three class wins in just seven 2005 starts, will co-drive the No. 64 TRG/iRise Pontiac GTO.R with Kelly Collins and Andy Pilgrim for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Pilgrim was the fourth member of the Bell Motorsports team that claimed the overall Rolex 24 victory in 2004, and also won the race in the AGT class in 2002 and the GTS-1 class in 1997. Collins has a class victory of his own in the Rolex 24, a GT3 class win in 1999.

Two-time Rolex 24 At Daytona class winner Jim Pace highlights the driver lineup in the four TRG Porsche GT3s. Pace joined Sharp and Taylor for the 1996 overall victory, and also won the race in the GTU class in 1990. This year, he will share the No. 68 Bernie Robbins Fine Jewelry/Neuromonitoring Tech/Surgical RS/Feldscher/Century 21/Kelly's/HTS Porsche GT3 with Revere Greist and Jim Lowe.

Another driver that has celebrated victories after the Rolex 24 At Daytona is Bill Auberlen. The 1998 GT3 class winner and 1997 GTS-3 class race winner is also a two-time Rolex Series GT class champion, and will share one of the two Sigalsport BMW entries--the No. 05 Alhadeff Motorsports/Motul/enVista BMW M3--with Matt Alhadeff, Tom Milner and Justin Marks.

Challenging the cagey veterans will be a host of newcomers, looking to clinch a spot in the Rolex 24 record book in their first attempt. The two-time defending Grand-Am Cup Series ST class team champion No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 has stepped up to Rolex Series GT competition in 2006. Regular drivers Sylvain Tremblay and David Haskell look to prove that they belong early in the season, and the Rolex 24 At Daytona is the biggest stage to do so. The duo will be joined by Jeff Altenburg and Nick Ham for the twice-around-the-clock classic.

With so many teams and so many drivers capable of outlasting the others cars in their classes, the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona has all the makings to be a classic. Only in the Rolex 24 can starry-eyed teenagers trade paint with their heroes from generations past, and watch as sports car racing's biggest names are joined on the track by the world's elite drivers from all disciplines of motorsports.

The green flag waves on the 44th Rolex 24 At Daytona just minutes after 12:00 NOON ET on Saturday, January 28, and will conclude 24 hours later. On track activity begins Thursday, January 26, with a Rolex Series practice at 10:00 a.m. The Grand-Am Cup Series will kick off its season with a practice session Thursday at 11:45 a.m., and the green flag waves for the Grand-Am Cup 200, Friday, January 27, at 2:15 p.m.

Live timing and scoring, as well as audio webcasts in both English and Spanish, will be available on Grand American's official website throughout the race weekend, www.grandamerican.com.

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Andy Wallace , Milka Duno , Jan Lammers , Chris Bingham , Wally Dallenbach , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Alex Gurney , Ryan Dalziel , Paul Edwards , Mario Haberfeld , Justin Wilson , Stefan Johansson , Jan Magnussen , Butch Leitzinger , Robby Gordon , Eddie Cheever , Casey Mears , Robbie Buhl , Scott Sharp , Jimmy Vasser , Memo Gidley , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Patrick Carpentier , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Bryan Herta , Jon Fogarty , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Andy Pilgrim , Emmanuel Collard , Wayne Taylor , Kevin McGarrity , David Murry , Graham Rahal , Bill Auberlen , Michael Valiante , Rocky Moran Jr. , Alex Barron , Sascha Maassen , Kelly Collins , Lucas Luhr , Luis Diaz , Dan Wheldon , Patrick Huisman , Randy Ruhlman , Kevin Buckler , Doug Goad , David Haskell , Andy Lally , Terry Borcheller , Hurley Haywood , Darren Law , George Robinson , Michael McDowell , JC France , David Empringham , Harold Primat , Max Angelelli , Pierre Ehret , Joao Barbosa , Sylvain Tremblay , Warren Hughes , Patrick Long , Buddy Rice , Justin Marks , Ryan Briscoe , Alex Figge , Burt Frisselle , Jeff Altenburg , Ken Wilden , Darin Brassfield , Jim Pace , Mike Newton , Larry Oberto , Craig Stanton , Don Kitch Jr. , Paul Mears Jr. , Forest Barber , David Gaylord , Steve Marshall , Oswaldo Negri Jr. , Danny Marshall , Marc Bunting , Chip Ganassi , Mike Rockenfeller , John Pew , Mark Patterson , Harrison Brix , Lehman Keen , Don Gagne , Chris Pallis , Dominik Farnbacher , Rob Finlay , Bob Stallings , Rocky Moran , Alex Job , Marc Basseng , Ted Christopher , Jim Lowe , Revere Greist , Wes Hill , Danica Patrick , Michel Jourdain , Tommy Kendall , Hal Prewitt
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Alex Job Racing , SpeedSource