Homestead open test, day one notes

Negri, Pumpelly Fastest in First of Two-Day Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Feb. 25, 2008) -- The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 returned to the race track today at Homestead-Miami...

Negri, Pumpelly Fastest in First of Two-Day Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Feb. 25, 2008) -- The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 returned to the race track today at Homestead-Miami Speedway in preparation for the upcoming GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami. The two-day test is open to all Rolex Series teams.

Among the Daytona Prototype teams in attendance was the Rolex 24 overall winner, the No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing Lexus Riley. By virtue of the Daytona win, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas will enter the GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami as the series championship leader.

Also included among the 19 Daytona Prototypes at the test are two Cheever Racing entries. The No. 16 Cheever Racing Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Pontiac Coyote and the No. 51 Cheever Racing Pontiac Coyote made their debuts at the Rolex 24 and continue the development of the new chassis.

Returning to the racetrack for the first time since January Test Days at Daytona are the Lolas of Krohn Racing. The team chose to run the Nos. 75 and 76 machines as Rileys at the Rolex 24, but plan to campaign the Lola chassis for the rest of the Rolex Series season.

In the GT class, Farnbacher Loles and TRG continue their rivalry with each team running a three-car stable of Porsche GT3s. Those six Porsches are among the 18 GT machines running this week at Homestead. The No. 66 TRG Mitchell Rubber/Marquis Jet of Bryce Miller and Ted Ballou came to Homestead-Miami Speedway after a runner-up finish at the Rolex 24.

"To be in a position like this, second in points for the championship after Daytona, and to carry that into the season is a big advantage," Miller said. "We've just got to concentrate on keeping it on the track this week. We're doing pretty well here, the track conditions seem to change a lot throughout the day, so we're chasing that, but I think we'll be in good shape when we come back next month."

Though times aren't available for the session, Miller's teammate Spencer Pumpelly was the quickest GT pilot in the No. 67 TRG Porsche. Rolex 24 polesitter Oswaldo Negri turned the fastest unofficial lap overall in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley.

Krohn Racing Puts Lolas Back on Track

Krohn Racing returned to the track Monday for the first time with the Lola Chassis since the January Test Days, piloting two Pontiac Lolas at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The two-car team, which garnered a fourth-place finish in the Rolex 24 At Daytona utilizing the Riley bodywork, is expected to compete the remainder of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 season with the Lolas.

"We've done a lot from the Daytona Test until now," said Nic Jonsson, one of the team's most veteran pilots. "We work it through a test program since the car is brand new. We need to go through a lot of parts to find the sweet spot on the car, and that's what we're doing today and find what pieces we need to pull back. Tomorrow we're going to do more testing, but today is sorting out the different parts."

Ricardo Zonta, who last season debuted in the Rolex Series with Krohn Racing, was involved in an accident during the January Test Days. The car was unable to be prepared prior to the conclusion of the three-day test. The team decided to compete in Rileys for Daytona and then make the switch to the Lolas following the 24-hour classic.

Since the January Test Days, the Krohn team and Lola have made several adjustments to the car. Jonsson expects the hard work to pay off and make for a strong program through the remainder of 2008.

"The guys have done a lot of work (from the January Test at Daytona until now), and it's definitely better already in this first round," Jonsson said. "I'm really excited with the car because I think its going to be a great car once we get through all of the pieces that we have."

Banner Racing Looking Forward To Successful Season

After a bit of a struggle at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Banner Racing team found themselves chomping at the bit to return to the track this week for testing. While the team brought the No. 07 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R home in seventh place at the twice-around-the-clock classic, they were 17 laps behind the GT class champion.

While a top-10 finish is certainly a respectable finish at a very difficult race, the Banner Racing team set the bar pretty high in their freshman season. Despite lofty goals, even team principal Leighton Reese was forced to admit that the finish wasn't completely unexpected.

"We struggled a little at Daytona," Reese said. "The Pontiac GXP.R handles brilliantly; we just have more air drag because our cars are more of a sedan than some of the stuff we're racing with. We can eat them up on the infield; we just get smoked on the banking. That said, when we get to some of these tracks with more twisties and tight turns that put a premium on traction and lateral grip I think we'll be good."

While the Rolex 24 is an important race, the team knows that it's only that one race. Reese is certain that the Pontiac GXP.Rs will find their balance at some other stops on the schedule. How much success, Banner Racing knows, won't be answered until the season finale at Miller Motorsports Park.

"We had such a great debut a season ago, a good second and fourth at Daytona and ultimately second in the championship. Those are goals we need to exceed this year," Reese continued. "The game has been raised in GT -- Farnbacher Loles has raised their game -- we've got some really, really tough Mazdas out here, the Fords, the Ferraris, the GT class is tough. We know what we have to do. We've raised our game, but so has everyone else. We're definitely putting ourselves under pressure for a championship."

GAINSCO Takes To Track in Backup Car

After spending the morning making some final minor adjustments to the new Riley Mk XX bodywork, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing took to the track right at the beginning of the afternoon session with Jon Fogarty driving and his co-champion teammate Alex Gurney on the headset in the pits. Although the team's Pontiac Riley wore the familiar No. 99, the car being used for the test is actually an ex-George Robinson race car that was last driven in the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona. The GAINSCO team acquired the race car -- that they call "No. 98" -- last year and is using it for testing and possibly as second entry in a race or two later in the season.

For Fogarty, the GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami pre-test couldn't have come sooner.

"I was going nuts having not been in the car since the Rolex 24, but I think my wife might have been going more nuts," Fogarty said. "So, needless to say, this test is very welcome. In between, I try to find things to do that can at least come close to the experience of driving a Daytona Prototype, but generally they are pretty dangerous and don't quite match up. The skiing has been good in the Northwest and I even thought about getting into some alpine races! Anyhow, we were looking forward to getting back at it."

Homestead-Miami Speedway has not been the luckiest track for the GAINSCO team in two previous starts. Gurney and Fogarty co-drove to an 11th-place finish last year after starting second and in 2006 Gurney co-drove with Jimmy Vasser to a sixth-place showing after starting ninth.

"Homestead has always been a bit of a challenge for the GAINSCO team and we need to come up with a package that we can race," Fogarty said. "We have had relatively little time on the new Pirelli tire compared to our competition, and going to another circuit will certainly give us some more data points to work from. So, we have a lot on our plate: to gather more tire data, figure out Homestead, try out the new bodywork and get back into a groove from a driving standpoint, and on and on. I am excited to get focused with Alex on making this Pontiac Riley as smoking fast as it was last year. So there you have it, I am ready to go."

After Fogarty took "No. 98" through its initial paces, Gurney took the wheel later in the afternoon.

Beyer Racing Makes Rolex Series Debut

By any measurement, Beyer Racing is one of the youngest teams in the Rolex Series paddock for 2008.

The team made its Rolex Series debut this week in the No. 19 Ford Crawford at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The team plans to make its race debut at the GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami.

Behind the wheel is a pair of young guns vying for the MESCO "Building For Solutions" Rookie of the Year Award. The team's lead driver will be 18-year-old Jared Beyer, with 21-year-old Daniel Herrington sharing the car with Beyer on Monday. European touring car driver Maria de Vilotta will also test in the No. 19 car on Tuesday. Daughter of former Formula One driver Emilio de Vilotta, her background includes four years in European Formula 3.

Beyer is a recent high school graduate from Texas and has captured a number of karting titles in his young career. Beyer's auto racing career has been bolstered with coaching from sports car star Davy Jones.

"Just getting used to driving around the cars is a big switch, but a lot of fun," Beyer said. "You've got to figure out who's going to give you room and who's not going to give you room, and where you can and can't pass while you're out there.

All in all, it was a day of learning for the young driver.

"You've got to be really careful in the corners, because the car's a lot bigger than you think it is, and try to give everyone as much room as they give you," Beyer said.

The first day was a successful one for the team, save for one instance in the afternoon session -- with Herrington behind the wheel -- when debris cut down the Ford Crawford's right rear tire. The car escaped the spin with no damage and returned to the track fairly quickly.

The team's goals include running the full season in Rolex Series competition with Beyer as the fulltime driver. Beyer's co-driver has yet to be announced.

-credit: garra

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Ricardo Zonta , Alex Gurney , Jimmy Vasser , Jon Fogarty , Scott Pruett , Leighton Reese , George Robinson , Memo Rojas , Davy Jones , Oswaldo Negri Jr. , Chip Ganassi , Bob Stallings , Daniel Herrington , Michael Shank , Ted Ballou , Felix Sabates , Jared Beyer , Bryce Miller , Nic Jonsson
Teams Krohn Racing , Michael Shank Racing