Test Wraps with Rolex 24 Buzz Stirring DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (November 7, 2006) -- The final day of the two-day Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve test session at Daytona International Speedway brought...
Test Wraps with Rolex 24 Buzz Stirring
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (November 7, 2006) -- The final day of the two-day Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve test session at Daytona International Speedway brought more than just on-track action to the "World Center of Racing," including the announcement that two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and defending IRL champion Sam Hornish, Jr. will join Michael Shank Racing in the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
The test session Tuesday was met by light afternoon showers, with the fastest time from Monday holding strong as the quickest. Colin Braun turned Tuesday's fastest lap in the No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley, a 1:43.947 (123.294 mph) in the morning session. 2005 Daytona Prototype co-champion Max Angelelli was second-fastest on the day in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley at 1:43.951 (123.289 mph).
The next Grand American sanctioned test will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as part of the official Hoosier Racing Tire test, on December 5-6. Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon--who announced in June his plan to join the No. 10 SunTrust team in the 2007 Rolex 24--and Hornish are among the many drivers scheduled to participate in the two-day test.
INDY 500 WINNERS CASTRONEVES AND HORNISH JOIN MICHAEL SHANK RACING FOR ROLEX 24
Penske Racing Indy Racing League teammates Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. will join 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona runners-up Oswaldo Negri Jr. and Mark Patterson in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley for the famed twice-around-the-clock classic on Jan. 27-28.
Castroneves, the 2001 and 2002 Indianapolis 500 winner, was at Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday and joined Patterson, Negri and team owner Mike Shank to announce the Rolex 24 program. The Brazilian turned his first laps in the Daytona Prototype race car on Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm having a great time," Castroneves said. "(The car) is awesome. It's not as easy as I would have expected it to be and it's going to take more time to get used to it. Fortunately, I have good teammates that are helping me understand the car. I only did 10 laps before it started raining, and I hope the rain stops so I can get back out there. If not, I'll come back in January and figure it out."
Hornish was not present at the Daytona test, but is expected to participate in upcoming Rolex Series test sessions at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Dec. 5-6 and Daytona on Jan. 4-6 to prepare for his first Rolex 24 At Daytona since 1999. The three-time and defending IndyCar Series champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner drove for Michael Shank Racing in the Toyota Atlantic series in 1999 before moving into the IndyCar Series in 2000.
"Winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona would be a great way to kick off the 2007 season," said Hornish. "The list of people that have won the Rolex 24 and the Indianapolis 500 is pretty short. It would be pretty special if Helio and I were able to add our names to that list. I am also excited to race with Mike (Shank) again. The team's recent success and their experience in the Rolex Sports Car Series will prove to be invaluable as we attempt to win the Rolex 24 At Daytona."
If Hornish is successful in winning the Rolex 24, he will become just the seventh driver to win the Rolex 24, Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar championship. Earlier this year, Dan Wheldon became the first driver to win all three titles in less than a year when he co-drove the No. 02 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley to the overall Rolex 24 victory with IndyCar teammate Scott Dixon and NASCAR driver Casey Mears.
It will be Castroneves' first appearance in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and his second sports car endurance race of any kind. Last January in his native Brazil, Castroneves co-drove an Aston Martin to victory in the 1000 Milhas de Interlagos with Nelson Piquet, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Christophe Bouchut. It will also be Castroneves' first time sharing the same car with Hornish.
"It will be the first time that I won't try to beat Sam in a race," Castroneves said. "Actually, it will be the first time I'll be rooting for him."
LABONTE JOINS FINLAY MOTORSPORTS FOR DAYTONA TEST
Bobby Labonte's Daytona Prototype adventure began a new chapter at Daytona on Tuesday, as the 2000 NASCAR champion joined No. 19 Make A Wish/Z-Line Designs/Finlay Motorsports Ford Crawford co-drivers Michael Valiante and Rob Finlay to turn some laps. Labonte made his way to Daytona after spending Monday preparing for this weekend's penultimate round of the 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season at Phoenix.
"I've had a relationship with these guys for the past couple of years," said Labonte of his involvement with Finlay Motorsports. "I got to know (team manager) Steve (Cameron) a few years ago and I drove their car at (Carolina Motorsports Park in) Kershaw (South Carolina). This was another opportunity to do it."
The Ford-powered Crawford is the third different chassis and engine combination for Labonte, who drove a Pontiac Doran in 2005 Rolex Series events and the No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Racing Pontiac Crawford this year.
"Let's see, this is my junior year," Labonte joked. "It goes freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, and this is the best car I've driven yet. I'm real excited with the chance to sit in this race car. There are a lot of guys standing around here and this is a car they want to get in."
Labonte stopped short of confirming his intentions to drive with the team in 2007, and what his involvement might entail for Finlay Motorsports is still to be determined. However, he has not had difficulty in getting comfortable with the team.
"There have been talks with the team, but we've got to do the right thing," Labonte said. "The chemistry is certainly there. It's obviously something we've talked about and we'll continue to do that."
Despite competing full-time in a series that races 38 weekends a year, Labonte has an affinity for the Rolex Series, as evidenced by his appearances at the Rolex 24 and other events over the past two seasons.
"I think it is an exciting series," Labonte said. "I think it's got a lot of potential and the model is right for it. This series has really grown and I'm attracted to it for the excitement level and the competition is equal. I've always liked road racing, I just haven't had a chance to do a lot of it. I'm not very good at it, but hopefully if I work hard at it, I'll learn more and be better at the end of the day."
GANASSI RETURNS TO DAYTONA TO PREPARE FOR ROLEX 24 TITLE DEFENSE
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates celebrated its first Rolex 24 At Daytona victory in January with No. 02 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley co-drivers Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon and Casey Mears taking an impressive victory, and the team returned this week to prepare for its title defense.
Testing the team's No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley were 2004 Daytona Prototype co-champion Scott Pruett and Carlos Pardo. The Mexican driver won the 2004 Desafio Corona Series title and competed in the NASCAR Busch Series event in Mexico City earlier this year. He is a candidate to join the team in place of Luis Diaz, who left the team following the 2006 campaign.
"We're just here with the CompUSA car focusing on developing the things we couldn't do during the race season," said Pruett. "We're not looking for pure speed right now because we're trying to get the car better overall, and that takes time obviously. At the same time, we're here with Carlos, testing him to determine who will be my teammate for 2007 in the No. 01 CompUSA Lexus Riley. I think with the changing conditions we've experienced today, I would say the car was better yesterday for sure, and our times reflected that. We'll just continue to work on our package for 2007 and develop the car the best we can."
"I think everything is going well so far," Pardo added. "I'm learning the up-shifts, down-shifts and the handling characteristics of the CompUSA Lexus Riley. I think it's just a matter of time behind the wheel today, putting in hours with the team and talking with Scott. The transition from the road course to the banking is easy for me to manage, and at this point I'm just learning as much as possible."
Driver lineups for both the team's No. 01 and No. 02 Lexus Rileys have yet to be confirmed, but a two-car assault on the Rolex 24 is planned.
ANGELELLI'S SPEED AND DESIRE NEVER WAIVER AT DAYTONA
For 2005 Daytona Prototype co-champion Max Angelelli, getting around Daytona International Speedway must feel like second-nature. In his championship season alongside Wayne Taylor in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley, the Italian proved to be one of the fastest in the paddock.
Two years later, now preparing for his fourth-straight Rolex 24 with the SunTrust team Monday and Tuesday on the 3.56-mile, 14-turn road course, the Italian was quickest again.
"Last year was tough for us because we started with a crash at Daytona," said Angelelli. "The SunTrust team fought back hard and we ended up third in the team championship. My hope for 2007 is that we start with a good result in the Rolex 24, giving us momentum toward the championship."
Angelelli's lap time of 1:43.728 (123.544 mph) in Monday afternoon's session was the fastest of the two-day test. With the addition of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Jeff Gordon to the team for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, alongside Angelelli and team owner Wayne Taylor--a two-time Rolex 24 overall winner--the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team shouldn't be overlooked when picking a favorite for the race.
KROHN RACING LOOKING TO BUILD ON 2006 MOMENTUM
Krohn Racing came into the 2006 Rolex Series season with mild expectations, but limitless potential. Three wins, a driver's championship and a runner-up performance in the Daytona Prototype team standings has forced the team to change its outlook.
The team, like others, came to Daytona International Speedway to turn laps in preparation for the Rolex 24, as well as get acquainted with the new BOSCH ECU. The team also dropped Pontiac powerplants in the No. 75 and No. 76 Krohn Racing for the test, and although they haven't officially announced a switch from Ford to Pontiac, the team is optimistic with the results.
"The engine has been running good," said Steve Newey, engineer on the No. 76 machine. "But we knew it was going to. We've had a few hiccups with the new ECU, but we've been able to remedy the problems."
The team ran a Pontiac engine in the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona, finishing fifth with eventual Daytona Prototype champion Jorg Bergmeister, Colin Braun, Nic Jonsson and team owner Tracy Krohn, before switching to Ford power for Round 2 in Mexico City.
"Nothing has been announced yet," said team manager Jeff Hazell. "The test has gone okay. We should have announcements for cars and driver lineups in the near future, but we will have two Daytona Prototypes for the Rolex 24."
Last season, the team campaigned just one Daytona Prototype in the Rolex 24, adding a second car for the remainder of the season.
CARPENTIER QUICKLY UP TO SPEED WITH NEW TEAM
It was announced last month that Canadian racer Patrick Carpentier would drive a the SAMAX Pontiac Riley for the full 2007 Rolex Series calendar. Now, with time to adjust to the car and the team, Carpentier is excited about the prospects in 2007.
Carpentier was third-quickest in Monday's test sessions and turned the fifth-fastest lap in Tuesday morning's session aboard the No. 11 CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley he shared with Milka Duno before catching a flight home.
"We're not trying to re-invent anything here," said Carpentier. "I've known most of these guys a long time, and I know that this car will be competitive. The guys have worked hard and hopefully we'll be ready when the 24-hour comes in January."
SAMAX team owner Peter Baron, who competed with Carpentier in the Toyota Atlantic Series, knows the potential of the team in 2007.
"We were competitive for the first half of the race last year," said Barron. "I know the team can do it. I know the drivers can do it. I don't want to just finish this thing, I want to win."
Additional drivers for the No. 11 Pontiac in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, according to Baron, will be announced in the near future. Baron expects to have a four-driver lineup for the twice-around-the-clock race.
TEAM HLM DEBUTS NEW INFINITI G35 AT DAYTONA
The long-awaited Infiniti G35 for Team HLM made its first official appearance at the Rolex Series Daytona test with 2003 Daytona Prototype champion Terry Borcheller and American road racing standout Bryan Sellers sharing the controls of the No. 45 machine. As is the case with most new cars, the Crawford-designed Infiniti had its share of teething problems during the test, but Sellers was optimistic for the car's future.
"There's definitely a lot going on," Sellers said. "It's always tough when you debut a brand-new car, because when you get one problem solved, another one comes up. The good thing is, when we've had some clean laps, the car has been responsive. We're not having the same issues all the time. The fact that the car is here is a tribute to Max Crawford and all the guys at Crawford Race Cars. The car was originally supposed to debut in March, but I think it was a good choice to delay the car to get things sorted out. It's been good today to get things sorted out for the future."
Sellers was to have driven the car in Rolex Series events in 2006, and has not wrapped up a deal yet for the 2007 season. However, he would welcome the opportunity to remain with Team HLM.
"Hopefully, they're happy with me and what I've done and they'll want to keep me around," Sellers said. "I think it's a good program and has a lot of potential."
The No. 35 machine had run only 15 laps in test sessions at Virginia International Raceway and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course before its appearance at the Daytona test.
RILEY MOTORSPORTS RAMPS UP FOR 2007
It's been a busy off-season for Riley Motorsports with its recent move from Indianapolis to Mooresville, N.C. and the launching of its new No. 91 Riley Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley for co-drivers Jim Matthews and Marc Goossens. The work continued this week as the team put the No. 91 through its testing paces at Daytona.
"We've had a good test and done a lot of laps," said team manager Ken Swan. "We've been testing some new things and getting Jim and Marc some more laps in the car. We're just trying to find some more speed."
Swan also indicated that the team would be unveiling two strong co-drivers to join Goossens and Matthews for the Rolex 24, but was not at liberty to identify the drivers at this point. Suffice it to say, however, that it will be another powerhouse lineup should the rumored names come to fruition.
Meanwhile, the chassis manufacturing side of the Riley Motorsports business has been busy supporting its many teams in the Rolex Series paddock. That being said, Riley is in a position to supply additional customers in 2007.
"For the first time, we do have a new car here for sale," said parts manager Mike Croake. "It's good and bad, because if someone wants to come in, we've got a car ready to go. The down side is that there isn't the same demand there has been in the past few years, but I'm sure we won't be carrying this one around for very long."
FARNBACHER LOLES MOTORSPORTS TO FIELD TWO CARS FOR FULL 2007 SEASON
Farnbacher Loles Motorsports, which earned a GT class victory in the 2005 Rolex 24 At Daytona and had another strong performance in the 24-hour race this year, will contest the full 2007 Rolex Series schedule with a pair of Porsches according to team manager Peter Goebel. The team will field a third entry for the Rolex 24.
"We'll have three cars for the 24-hour," Goebel said. "One car will have strictly professional drivers, all four drivers. The second car will have two pros and two gentlemen and the third car will be people that have been here, like Don Bell, who has been here for, I think, 16 consecutive 24-hour races. He will be in there with three other gentlemen.
"This test has been an opportunity for the new drivers to get familiar with the track and also to learn about the Hoosier Tires. The tires performed as well as we expected. The cars we have been testing are standard Porsche GT3 Cup cars, but we will run the Rolex 24 with the new Grand-Am spec cars from Porsche. We won't get the cars until late in the year, so we will also run the Homestead test in December with the GT3 but we'll have the new cars in time for the Daytona test in January."
Goebel pointed out that the team has a long history of helping talented German drivers move through the sports car ranks, including 2006 Rolex Series GT runner-up Wolf Henzler and 2006 Daytona Prototype champion Jorg Bergmeister. He views the Rolex Series as the next logical step for drivers graduating from the Carrera Cup and Porsche Supercup series in Germany.
"I think the Rolex Series is an extremely competitive series," Goebel said. "The television coverage is excellent. If you are a competitive GT car, you'll get good TV time. I think there are great drivers in this series and we are looking to bring over some young German drivers. We've got a nice 13-race schedule and there are good venues. It will be interesting to see the new venues like Iowa, for instance."
Present at the test were Larry Bowman, Don Bell, Lance Willsley, Shawn Price and Dominik Farnbacher in the team's No. 85 Porsche GT3, Christian Zugel, John Burke, Gunnar Jeannette, Ryan Eversley and Farnbacher in the No. 86 GT3, and Leh Keen, Tom Pank, Dino Loles, Bryce Miller and Craig Stanton in the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Porsche GT3.
TAFEL RACING HOPING FOR ELUSIVE CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2007
Rolex Series team owner Jim Tafel has turned his Tafel Racing operation into a championship contender in a short period of time, and heading into 2007, the team has to be considered one of the favorites in the GT category.
With drivers Wolf Henzler and Robin Liddell coming up just 11 points short of their first GT title in 2006, and the No. 72 NEC Porsche GT3 quick at every venue, Tafel knows that a championship is possible next season.
"Last year was a dogfight," said Tafel. "The TRG guys really made us take our operation to the next level, and in the end, we came up just short. We had set the bar pretty high for ourselves and the team responded well. Our plans for next season haven't been firmed up, but I'm excited for the Rolex 24, and hopefully we can get ourselves a win here."
MATT CONNOLLY MOTORSPORTS PREPARES FOR TWO-CAR CAMPAIGN IN 2007
Matt Connolly Motorsports, which wrapped up its first full season of Rolex Series competition in 2006, was back at work for the two-day test at Daytona in preparation for the upcoming season. Team owner Matt Connolly plans to field a two-car BMW M3 entry for the full 2007 season, which kicks off on Jan. 27-28 with the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"We've got a lot of interested drivers," said Connolly. "We're looking to put together a good program for those who choose to do it. The cars are getting some updates. We're keeping our ABS, which is good, and the car is also getting some aerodynamic updates. It should be stronger than it was in 2006."
The team earned five top-10 results from the 13 feature races in 2006 and was within a few laps of a potential victory at Mid-Ohio when Joey Hand in the team's No. 21 BMW M3 was hit from behind by Paul Edwards in the No. 64 TRG/iRise Pontiac GTO.R, sending Hand's car off course and then into a series of spectacular rolls and flips along the back straightaway.
Testing the No. 21 Matt Connolly Motorsports BMW M3 at Daytona were Connolly, Michael DeFontes and Mike Pickett.
ALEGRA MOTORSPORTS/FIORANO RACING READIES FOR ABBREVIATED ROLEX SERIES RUN IN '07
Alegra Motorsports/Fiorano Racing unloaded a brand-new Porsche 997 for the test, which it hopes to run in six to eight Rolex Series races in 2007.
"This is a brand-new car," said Jean-Francois Dumoulin, who co-drives with Carlos de Quesada and Jim Hamblin. "This is also the first time everybody's working together, and everybody's learning. We made a few changes to the car, and it really helped when I went out. I think we've got a good car for the long run, and we're working to make it better."
The team was very happy with the balance of the new Hoosier tire that will be run in the GT class, with the early portion of the test devoted to learning the best setup for the new tires.
The team will remain here throughout the week, running four of their 17 cars in this weekend's historic races.
AUTOMETRICS MOTORSPORTS PLANS FOR TWO GT MACHINES AT ROLEX 24
Autometrics Motorsports is looking to field a two-car effort in the Rolex 24. The team tested a Porsche 997 along with an older Porsche 996, although it plans to have two new 2007-spec Porsche 997s for the Rolex 24.
Cory Friedman is entered on both cars, joining Hal Prewitt on the No. 14. Other co-drivers on the No. 15 are Bransen Patch, Mac McGehee and Jim Hamblin.