Homestead-Miami Speedway December Test Notebook -- Day 1 HOMESTEAD, Fla. (December 5, 2006) -- The Daytona Prototypes and GT machines of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Special Reserve descended upon Homestead-Miami Speedway ...
Homestead-Miami Speedway December Test Notebook -- Day 1
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (December 5, 2006) -- The Daytona Prototypes and GT machines of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Special Reserve descended upon Homestead-Miami Speedway Tuesday for the first laps of a two-day test session at the 2.3-mile, 11-turn road circuit in preparation for next month's Rolex 24 At Daytona and the upcoming season.
Canadian hotshoe Michael Valiante turned the day's fastest lap, a 1:14.151 (111.664 mph) in the No. 19 Finlay Motorsports Ford Crawford during the afternoon session. Valiante edged fellow countryman Patrick Carpentier, who turned a 1:14.162 (111.647 mph) in the No. 11 CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley, and American Jon Fogarty, who clocked a 1:14.341 (111.379 mph) in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley. Times for the test are unofficial, as teams aren't required to pass technical inspection.
A total of 35 machines, including 20 Daytona Prototypes, turned laps Tuesday, and with many deals for next season still up in the air, the test session is giving many drivers the opportunity to solidify rides in 2007. The 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona is set to take the green flag in just 53 days, on January 27, 2007.
GAINSCO/BOB STALLINGS RACING LOOKS TO BIGGER THINGS IN 2007
Following an impressive first full season in the Rolex Series in 2006, GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing is hoping for even bigger things in 2007. The team, which came close to earning its first victory on several different occasions throughout 2006, returns full-time drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty as well as engineer Kyle Brannan, and team owner Bob Stallings is expecting the continuity to bring strong results throughout the upcoming season.
"The guys are excited to be back," Stallings said. "We've done very little testing so far, and they were itching to get back. For a lot of reasons, this team has a lot of high expectations for 2007. I think we can win next season and we've definitely got a strong lineup to go for the championship with Alex and Jon. We're very excited."
Stallings noted that the team's full lineup for the Rolex 24 At Daytona will be announced shortly. He intends to heed the advice of Alex Gurney's legendary father, Dan Gurney, in the 2007 rendition of the Rolex 24, especially after finishing 13th in the Daytona Prototype class and 24th overall in the team's maiden 24-hour race at the beginning of the 2006 season.
"Dan Gurney sat down with Alex and me a year ago and he tried to impress upon us that the 24-hour is not a race in the way that we're used to racing," Stallings explained. "He tried to get through our heads that it's not a race, but as soon as we left the meeting, Alex and I were both thinking that times have changed and that we really had to hang it out. We learned that it really isn't a race like we're used to. It's an event where the idea is to keep the car on the track for as long as you can. If you do that, you can come away with really good points and have a chance to win, and I think that's what we'll focus on this year."
COMPUSA TEAM CONTINUES DRIVER SEARCH; DRAWS VISIT FROM MONTOYA
Current Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, a Miami resident, visited Homestead-Miami Speedway on Tuesday, although no announcement has been made regarding the Colombian's long-rumored participation in the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
As for a co-driver to team with 2004 Daytona Prototype co-champion Scott Pruett full-time in the No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley next season, a pair of Mexican pilots turned laps Monday at Homestead in hopes of being offered the seat. Pruett was joined by Memo Rojas, who turned his first laps in the Daytona Prototype today, as well as Carlos Pardo, who turned laps with the team last month at Daytona International Speedway.
"Today for me was pretty simple, set up the car for Carlos and Memo and help get them up to speed the best I can so we could determine a second driver for the team," said Pruett. "I ran a handful of laps first thing this morning and turned the car over to them. Our plan should be the same for tomorrow so we'll see how they run."
An announcement disclosing the driver lineups for Chip Ganassi Racing is expected in the upcoming weeks.
WALLACE TESTS TEAM HLM INFINITI G35
Rolex Series veteran Andy Wallace, a regular in the Daytona Prototype class for the past three seasons, spent the early portion of the Homestead-Miami Speedway test aboard the new No. 35 Team HLM Infiniti G35 GT machine in addition to turning laps in the No. 20 Howard Motorsports Pontiac Crawford Daytona Prototype. As the No. 35 machine was built by Crawford Race Cars, Wallace was a natural fit to aid the team in its preparations for the 2007 season, although he was the first to admit that his knowledge of GT cars was somewhat limited.
"I don't have much experience with GT cars," Wallace said. "Most of my experience has been in Daytona Prototypes or prototypes of other kinds over the years, but my first impressions of the car are really good. The car is very comfortable to drive and it's very quick, particularly through the oval portion of the track.
"The biggest difference right now is that I'm used to the Daytona Prototype car, where I can brake and turn at the same time. You can't do that with a GT car, you have to brake and then turn. That caused a few anxious moments this morning, and it's an adjustment, but it's lots of fun."
Wallace is also one of many associated with the series who is bullish about the future of the GT class in the Rolex Series. Many observers expect the GT class to experience considerable growth in 2007, an expectation that is shared by Rolex Series officials given the number of single-class races scheduled for the upcoming season.
"I think it's an excellent concept," Wallace said. "You can build a proper race car, but it looks like a street car, and you can do it much less expensively. The potential for the GT class is huge. The concept is great, and a few more cars will make single-class races really good."
TWO CARS FROM SAMAX MOTORSPORT TURN TESTING LAPS IN SOUTH FLORIDA
Homestead-Miami Speedway is easily the closest Rolex Series venue to the SAMAX Motorsport race shop in Pompano Beach, Fla. and the team is taking advantage of the two-day test session at their "home" track to prepare for a two-car program in 2007.
Team owner Peter Baron pointed out that the team--which announced earlier this fall that popular Canadian racer Patrick Carpentier will be one of its full-time drivers in 2007--will test several different drivers during the two-day workout. Among the drivers who tested today in either the team's No. 7 or No. 11 Pontiac Riley are Champ Car and IndyCar veteran Darren Manning, Scottish rising star Ryan Dalziel, Jeff Bucknum and Tom Kimber-Smith in addition to regular drivers Carpentier and Milka Duno.
"Basically, the lineup is set for the CITGO car for the Rolex 24, but we haven't announced that yet," Baron explained. "We just cycled people through that car and the No. 7 car today. For the No. 11 car, it's been about going fast, but being conservative at the same time. The drivers have driven good, fast laps, but nobody's put a wheel off or run up on the curbing, which is good. That's what the No. 11 car was all about today. Sitting P2, 1/100th of a second off the best time after the first day is pretty good."
Baron was particularly impressed with Kimber-Smith on the first day of testing. The 22-year-old British driver brings an impressive resume, including the 2003 British Formula Ford championship, and Baron is hopeful that the youngster will find a home with his team in the Rolex Series.
"Tom was P8 on his first time in the car and that was pretty good," Baron said. "I know he's looking at a few different options right now, but I'd like to have him in our car for the Rolex 24 and the whole season. The No. 7 car was basically the one we ran for (Brian) Tuttle earlier this year and it pretty much just sat in the shop until the day after Thanksgiving. We did a complete rebuild on the car and this was the first time out with it. The car ran great all day. We'll cycle a few more drivers through it tomorrow, and I'm pretty sure that car will be fast as well."