Rolex Series Teams Turn First Laps at Miller Motorsports Park in Preparation for Season-Ending Sun Chaser Nine-Hour TOOELE, Utah. (July 17, 2006) -- With only four races remaining on the 2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by...
Rolex Series Teams Turn First Laps at Miller Motorsports Park in Preparation for Season-Ending Sun Chaser Nine-Hour
TOOELE, Utah. (July 17, 2006) -- With only four races remaining on the 2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve schedule--and two weeks until the Porsche 250 presented by Bradley Arant (LIVE on SPEED, July 30 at 3 p.m. ET)--many teams used a break in the schedule to turn their first laps at the brand-new Miller Motorsports Park Sunday and today. The 4.5-mile, 24-turn Salt Lake City circuit will host the season-ending Discount Tire Sun Chaser, a nine-hour race to decide the Daytona Prototype and GT championships.
The two-day test was a good chance for teams to gather initial data on the track and for drivers to get acclimated to the long layout--the longest of any track the Rolex Series visits--in preparation for the season's second-longest race. The nine-hour event will be the third endurance race of the year, book ending a 14-race season that started with the 44th Rolex 24 At Daytona last January.
Among the teams turning laps at the new track was the defending Daytona Prototype team champion No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley of Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli. Angelelli and Taylor shared the 2005 crown on the strength of five overall victories, and enjoyed a 19-point championship lead over No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley co-drivers Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz with four races remaining last season. This year, Angelelli sits fourth in the standings, 36 points behind leader Jorg Bergmeister (358-322).
"It's very nice to be here," Angelelli said. "I like the track and it's very challenging. To drive here is a test for your psychological health. You must be very patient to get a good lap with so many corners. The test is going very well. We're moving forward to do some better things -- aerodynamics and lots of things we've wanted to test for a long time. We're trying to make the most of the time to test on the track. The weather is very warm, but the car is OK."
Pruett and Diaz also turned laps Sunday and Monday at Miller Motorsports Park, hoping to end the year similar to 2004, when Pruett and then-teammate Max Papis scored a victory in the finale at California Speedway, clinching the championship for the Chip Ganassi Racing operation. This year, Diaz and Pruett have scored three victories (Mexico City, Long Beach and Phoenix) and are tied for second in points with 327. The team's sister No. 02 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley was victorious in the Rolex 24, co-driven by former Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champions Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup regular Casey Mears.
"Our lap times are nearly double what they are at most other tracks we go to," Pruett said. "It is a great venue and a cool event for Grand-Am to end the season with a nine-hour race. It's different than any other track I've been to, and the challenge now is learning the track and logging miles. We have to spend some time developing this new five-liter Lexus engine, and we have to do our homework there."
"The whole point of the tests was to gauge our endurance, lap times and setup," Diaz said. "The goal is to log as many miles as possible and evaluate our car on the long runs. We're happy with the results we've been getting so far, and have a pretty good foundation for the final race of the season. It is a very difficult track and the learning curve is challenging because it is the longest track I've ever been to."
Sitting just behind Angelelli in the current Daytona Prototype point standings with 310 markers is No. 19 Playboy/Uniden/Palms Casino co-driver Michael McDowell, who with co-driver Memo Gidley also tested at Miller. McDowell has scored top-eight overall finishes in eight out of 10 races this season and the duo scored their first career Rolex Series win in the 2005 season finale at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.
"Miller Motorsports Park is definitely a great facility, probably the nicest track that I've ever been to," McDowell said. "The track is long and wide and one of the most technically difficult to learn so the testing should definitely pay off when it comes to racing here in September. We've been waiting patiently to pick up a win this season and hopefully we'll be able to accomplish that over the next few weeks."
"It seems weird that the season is almost over," Gidley said. "The No. 19 Playboy/Uniden/Palms machine has been running strong all season and it's hard to believe that we haven't won a race yet. Maybe we'll repeat what we did last year and win the season ending event here in September. I think it's exciting to end the season racing on a new track; it will definitely mix things up a bit. The track is incredible, it's very long and wide and traffic shouldn't be an issue at all. This should be a great track for the nine-hour race and I think the fans will see some great racing."
The second Finlay Motorsports Daytona Prototype, the No. 5 Make-A-Wish/Z-Line Designs Ford Crawford co-driven by team owner Rob Finlay and Michael Valiante, also tested. The duo is currently tied for seventh in the point standings with 294 markers apiece.
"What a phenomenal track," Finlay said. "The Miller Motorsports Park is an incredible facility and the track is extremely challenging. We've spent the last two days testing here trying to learn everything we can about the circuit before the season ending race in September."
"The track is great and the facility is really nice," Valiante added. "It's a very challenging track, it's difficult to learn at first because of its size and the number of corners but once you have the rhythm down it's nice to drive."
Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 CART champion, joined regular drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty at Miller to test the No. 99 GAINSCO Pontiac Riley. Vasser has competed in two Rolex Series races thus far in 2006, with a best finish of sixth with Gurney in the Linder Industrial Grand Prix of Miami in March. Vasser could be added as the team's third driver for the Sun Chaser nine-hour.
No. 60 Flight Options Lexus Riley co-driver Oswaldo Negri Jr., who shared the Michael Shank Racing machine with regular co-driver Mark Patterson and Champ Car World Series standouts Justin Wilson and A.J. Allmendinger to a runner-up finish in the Rolex 24, came away from the sessions impressed with the new state-of-the-art facility.
"It is also obviously a long track, and you have to be very precise with all these different kinds of corners to get a good lap time, but it is very rewarding as a driver," Negri said. "The facility is amazing, with everything brand new and well thought-out. I have been here for the past couple of days and the guys working at the track just haven't stopped working to keep the place looking good. This is a fantastic track."
Joining the No. 60 machine for the test was the team's No. 6 Playboy/Mears Motor Coach Lexus Riley, which is shared by Mike Borkowski, Tommy Constantine and Paul Mears Jr.
Sigalsport, which announced at the EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last month that the team would be competing in the Daytona Prototype class for the remainder of the season, was at Miller testing the No. 30 Sigalsport BMW Riley with co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Matthew Alhadeff. The team's new machine is currently being prepared and should be ready for next weekend's Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park.
"This track takes a lot of memorization," Auberlen said. "This is a great event to cap off the season. Our team gets faster and faster each time out and this venue is a perfect place to finish another exciting year in the Rolex Series."
The No. 89 Playboy/Vonage/Palms Casino Pontiac Riley of Pacific Coast Motorsports and co-drivers Ryan Dalziel and Alex Figge, the No. 7 Tuttle Team Racing Pontiac Riley of team owner Brian Tuttle and the No. 97 CyberSpeed Racing Pontiac Riley shared by team owner Skip Cummins and Tony Ave also participated in the test.