Engine problems rob Gidley, Doran of top-5 at Rolex 24
After leading the race, and with a top-5 finish in sight after 18 hours of almost trouble-free racing in the 47th Annual Rolex 24, the #77 Doran Racing / McDonald's Doran-Dallara Ford succumbed to the same engine 'gremlins' that felled six of the seven Ford-powered Daytona Prototypes in the 49-car starting field. The problem in each case was ultimately traced to the failure of a crankshaft position sensor stator wheel in each of the 500 horsepower Ford V-8 engines.
Things were looking promising for the Doran Racing/McDonald's team in the early stages of the race. After running in the top-10 during pre-event testing earlier this month, the team experienced, a severe handling problem in pre race practice, problems that relegated them to the 16th spot on the starting grid after Thursday's 20-minute qualifying session. A combination of the team finding a big problem with the shocks and a dramatic, last-minute setup change produced a good car for the race and the team was able to run with the leaders.
"I qualified the car while we were still having the handling problem but the team kept working and we gambled on a radical setup change and it worked," said Memo Gidley, who, along with Brad Jagegr, Matteo Bobbi and Fabrizio Gollin, shared the driving duties. "The car kept getting better as we got into the race and it started getting cooler, and we were running on the lead lap at the six-hour mark. I called in to Kevin Doran and told him I thought we had a top-5 car if we could stay out of trouble until the end. The only problem we had was when Fabrizio came in for a driver change and said he thought we had a flat tire. I went out and was only able to make one lap at about twenty miles an hour before we pitted again and discovered a steering arm had broken. We lost some laps but were able to get them back over time and were running seventh with Fabrizio in the car when we had the electrical problem that put us out."
Gidley, a full-season co-driver of the #77 Doran Racing/McDonald's/Doran-Dallara Ford, is a talented and widely respected American driver who was born in La Paz, Mexico and now makes his home in Novato, California. He has made a name for himself as one of the most committed drivers in the paddock, driving and winning in everything from karts to Indy Cars and stock cars to prototypes. 2009 will mark Gidley's fifth season in the Grand-Am Rolex DP class, and his third season with Doran Racing.
"The handling problems early on in practice and qualifying put us behind the curve, but Kevin Doran finally came up with a last-minute setup that worked quite well and we had a good car for the start of the race," said co-driver Brad Jaeger. "I actually led some laps around 9:30 or so in the evening and was thinking that we were headed for a top-5 finish. Unfortunately I didn't get the wake-up call I was hoping for. Instead of the team waking me up and telling me to get ready, it was Memo telling me that we were out of the race."
Jaeger is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and recent graduate of Vanderbilt University where he was a member of their Formula SAE team. His racing resume includes karting, Sports 2000, Skip Barber, F2000, Star Mazda and the Indy Pro Series. He co-drove his first prototype race for the Doran team in the 2007 season finale at Miller Motorsport Park and was Gidley's full-time co-driver during the 2008 season.
"We've won this race four times, back-to-back in 1987-88 and again in 1998 and 2002, so our plan was to go the distance and given our new sponsor, McDonald's, a high-profile finish," says Doran Racing owner Kevin Doran. "Unfortunately we ran into the same crank position sensor problem that put most of the other Ford-powered cars out of the race, but we led the race and ran competitively for eighteen hours. Naturally we're all a bit disappointed with the result after all the work that goes into preparing for this race, but I feel our performance is also a clear indicator that we've stepped up our game and the McDonald's car will be a force to be reckoned with during the 2009 season."
Joining Gidley and Jaeger in the #77 car for the Rolex 24 were Matteo Bobbi and Fabrizio Gollin, both of whom are highly-experiences endurance racing drivers and veterans with Doran Racing; the duo were the team's full-time drivers in 2005-2006. The 47th Annual Rolex 24 also marked the first appearance of McDonald's, the world's leading food service retailer, as the primary sponsor of a team in the Rolex Series. McDonald's, along with additional companies to be announced in the coming weeks, will appear throughout the 2009 season on the #77 Doran Racing machine. During the 2008 season, Doran Racing scored a remarkable string of eleven top-10 finishes, eight of them in a row.
The 2009 #77 Doran Racing/McDonald's/Doran-Dallara Ford is a refined, updated version of the car the team campaigned so successfully in 2008. It features a Doran chassis fitted with Dallara bodywork featuring enhanced aerodynamics and increased downforce. Power is provided by a 500 horsepower Roush-Yates Ford V-8 engine.
Round 2 of the 2009 Rolex Series, the Bosch Engineering 250, takes place April 24-25 at Virginia International Raceway, the challenging 3.27-mile, 17-turn road course located in Alton, VA.