Spirit of Daytona Faces Test in Season-Opening 24-Hour
Daytona Beach, FL: The Daytona International Speedway track surface isn't the only thing that's changed in Daytona Beach since last year's Rolex 24 At Daytona. For the hometown Spirit of Daytona the Grand-Am offseason was about preparing to avenge a disappointing 2010 Rolex 24 and continuing to make gains following its most successful DP class season to date. The team switched to a Chevrolet V-8 powerplant developed by Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines and made a key addition to the driver lineup in former Rolex Series GT champion Paul Edwards. This weekend the changes will be put to the test in the Rolex Series season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, the most demanding race on the 12-race schedule.
Edwards will join Antonio Garcia for the 2011 campaign with sportscar legend Sascha Maassen rounding out the lineup for the Rolex 24. The addition of Edwards and the pairing of the Chevrolet V-8 powerplant with the Coyote chassis has paid dividends thus far in offseason testing.
Two weeks ago Spirit of Daytona showed up for the annual Roar Before the Rolex 24 test at Daytona International Speedway and immediately posted lap times in the top 5, continuing to show signs of progression after posting eleven top 10s last season.
Team owner/manager Troy Flis attributes the gains to growth within the organization.
"We rolled off the truck and we were right where we thought we'd be and right where we wanted to be (at the test). That's really exciting and shows the gains we've made as a team and as an organization," he said. "We found a couple of things that were good to find at the test and not during the 24-hour weekend. We rolled off the truck and the car was handling properly and the drivers liked it. That's what we're looking for every weekend this season."
Spirit of Daytona finished 11th in the Rolex 24 At Daytona after an engine failure ended the team's race early. It was the only hiccup in a season that produced eleven top 10s, four top 5s and a podium at Watkins Glen in 12 races. Edwards -- who has been the main test driver this offseason -- expects a different outcome in this year's Rolex 24.
"Everybody's been moving forward and we are too," said the 2008 Rolex Series GT champion. "Historically this place hasn't had the best pace for this car, but it looks like we're close, and that's a very good sign for the season and for the 24 (Hours)."
Antonio Garcia enters his third season with Spirit of Daytona and knows what it takes to win a prestigious endurance race, claiming wins in the 12 Hours of Sebring, 24 Hours of LeMans and the 2009 Rolex 24 At Daytona for Brumos Racing. He knows this is the team's best chance to win the Rolex 24 overall, but that the new Continental Tire and track surface will be the wildcard.
"The surface is perfect and it should help with traffic. Everyone's going to have a secure line and even if you need to change lanes on the banking you can," he said. "We've got the new Continental Tires and the new surface this year so it's going to be challenging for everybody to have a consistent car for the entire race."
The Spirit of Daytona looks for its first overall win in the Rolex 24 At Daytona when the green flag flies January 29 at 3:30 p.m.