COSTA MESA, Calif. (January 22, 2007) -- With a competitive field of 70 cars entered, including 28 Daytona Prototypes, the Rolex 24 at Daytona will be harder to win than ever before. Always a difficult race to win under the best of circumstances, the number of recognizable names in the field will mean the team that pulls off the victory will not only have the fewest hurdles to jump throughout 24 hours of competition, but will also have to defeat some stiff competition on the track.
Thirty-one of the 70 cars entered will have at least one driver on board with a previous victory in the twice-around-the-clock classic. TruSpeed Motorsports has assembled a team of four drivers in its No. 47 Querencia Golf Club, Los Cabos/TruSpeed Motor Cars/Wright Motorsports/VelocityVille.com Porsche Riley for this year's running of the Rolex 24, three of whom have tasted victory and another who has been tantalizingly close.
Charles Morgan has a pair of Rolex 24 class wins in his long and storied career, going to victory lane in 1989 (GTP-Light) and 1996 (GTS-1). Rob Morgan has earned one victory, also in 1996 (GTS-1) and finished second overall in 1997. German Timo Bernhard was part of the team that scored the overall win driving a GT class machine in 2003 and he also picked up a class win in 2002 (GT). The fourth member of the team, B.J. Zacharias, has yet to taste the victory champagne but was putting pressure on Bernhard in 2002 before settling for a fourth-place finish.
Even though the team has extensive experience and success in the Rolex 24, there are so many variables in play as the race unfolds that it proves difficult to foresee all potential circumstances. And contrary to the sprint races that make up a sizeable portion of the Grand Am schedule, restraint and a steady pace pay dividends in the 24.
"For the driver the mental aspect is tough," said Rob Morgan. "You can't make any mistakes. You can't put the car in a bad situation. That is where you are going to lose the race as a driver is making a mental mistake. You get out there and you think you need to make up positions right off the bat like it's a sprint race and that's not what wins this race."
While there are many stars of American and international motorsports in the field, many of the big names have little or no experience in endurance racing. TruSpeed Motorsports has endurance experience behind the wheel and experience behind pit wall.
"The biggest thing we have in the back pocket is the team's experience in the 24," said B.J. Zacharias. "John Wright is our crew chief and he has a lot of top ten and top five finishes in the Rolex 24. He's run well there and has a great history. He is the biggest asset we have. If we keep our noses clean, I think we have a shot to be in the top ten and then see where we are in the morning."
Team chemistry is always a key component to winning the Rolex 24. Ensuring all drivers are on the same page strategically is essential.
"It is a nice working atmosphere with John Wright," said 2002 GT winner and 2003 overall winner Timo Bernhard. "He is very accurate and ambitious, like the whole team. Every team works different and you have to find out its structure. Straight away I felt very welcome. I knew B.J. from an ALMS race at Mid-Ohio, and I've gotten to know Rob from racing here at Daytona. We worked really well on developing the setup, all together as a team."
After a successful test at Daytona three weeks ago, the team's Porsche Riley was taken back to the Wright Tuning shops in suburban Cincinnati and every component and system was evaluated.
"We looked at everything, we had most of the car disassembled all the way down to the cockpit and the engine," Zacharias said. "We looked at all of the plumbing, braking, and electrical systems. We went through pages and pages of checklists. There is a complete second set of bodywork ready to go. We have our complete rear end assembly aligned and ready to go in case there is a transmission problem or an incident on the racetrack. I think we will have one of the most well prepared cars down there."
The team has run simulations and evaluated data from previous races, and they have set the target for the pace they want to run.
"Last year the Ganassi team won the race with a 1 minute 49 second average lap time, and that's with a lot of time in the pits," Zacharias said. "Fifth place was a 1 minute and 54 second average. That is a big difference. We know the pace we want to maintain. We need to keep the car on the racetrack and off pit road. If we can do that, we should have a great shot at a top ten. If we can make it to sunrise in fifth position, and things fall our way we should have a shot at the win too. But our goal as a team is to be consistent, not get sucked into racing anyone any harder than we need to, and be there at the end. If we do that, we'll have a good finish."
Qualifying for the Rolex 24 starts on Thursday January 25. The green flag falls for 24 hours of competition shortly after 1 P.M. Eastern on Saturday, with the checkered flag scheduled for shortly after 1 P.M. Eastern on Sunday. The first hour of racing will be televised live on Fox, with SPEED providing over 13 hours of racing live leading up to the checkered flag.