New age dawns for Daytona Prototypes

New age dawns for Daytona Prototypes

Aside from a smattering of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup stars, one look at the 56-car entry list for the upcoming Rolex 24 at Daytona reveals that interest in the Grand American Road Racing Association Rolex Sports Car Series' bold, new, Daytona Prototype ...

Aside from a smattering of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup stars, one look at the 56-car entry list for the upcoming Rolex 24 at Daytona reveals that interest in the Grand American Road Racing Association Rolex Sports Car Series' bold, new, Daytona Prototype class has soared dramatically since last year.

#54 Bell Motorsports Chevrolet Doran: Forest Barber, Terry Borcheller, Andy Pilgrim, Milka Duno.
Photo by John Thawley.
Indeed, new teams and drivers have flocked to the series in droves. As a result, aside from a few familiar entries from Brumos Racing, Bell Motorsports and Doran Racing, this year's Daytona Prototype field will bear little resemblance to last year's scant, hastily assembled six-car field.

Currently, at least 18 Daytona Prototype (DP) coupes will compete in the 42nd Rolex 24 at Daytona, which will begin at 1 p.m. on Jan. 31. The new DP spec was originally created in an effort to lower participant costs, increase dwindling prototype fields, level the competitive playing field and renew interest in domestic sports car racing,

So, with the start of the Rolex 24 less than one week away, it seems like a fitting time to detail the numerous off season changes and additions in an effort to set the table for the beginning of Speed Weeks 2004 at Daytona International Speedway.

In the Daytona Prototype class, the temporary addition of Porsche factory drivers Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen makes the Red Bull sponsored Brumos Racing Porsche-powered Fabcar of Luhr, Maassen, David Donohue and Darren Law the odds-on favorite to become the first Daytona Prototype to win the Rolex 24. Though it was not as fast as the Bell Motorsports Doran in preseason testing, the Brumos squad has a strong driver line up, a well-sorted car, a reliable Porsche power plant and an impeccable record in endurance races.

Nevertheless, do not expect the Bell Motorsports quartet of Terry Borcheller, Andy Pilgrim, Christian Fittipaldi and Forest Barber to allow the Red Bull boys to romp to victory unchallenged. The team set the pace throughout preseason testing and Borcheller, the 2003 Daytona Prototype champion, is one of the finest sports car drivers in the world.

Moreover, the Chevrolet-powered Doran is a known commodity that helped the team win both the drivers' and the team championship last year, despite opening the season with a dismal 39th place showing in the Rolex 24. Whether this team can mount a sustainable challenge for the overall win, however, will depend on how quickly Fittipaldi can come to grips with the car and whether Barber can put in solid lap times and avoid unforced errors.

#01 CGR Grand Am Lexus Riley: Scott Pruett, Max Papis.
Photo by Grand American Road Racing Association.
Chip Ganassi's new Comp USA sponsored team, led by former winners Scott Pruett and Max Papis, clearly has the drivers to contend for the overall win. The question is whether the team's brand new Lexus-powered Riley, which was third fastest in preseason testing, will be able to last for 24 hours in its maiden outing. Although the odds suggest that it will not, there is a reason that teams assembled by Chip Ganassi have amassed four CART titles, an Indy 500 win and an IRL IndyCar Series championship in the past nine years.

Then there is the Lista Racing Lexus-powered Doran, with two-time Rolex 24 winner Didier Theys, Fredy Lienhard, two-time winner and reigning FIA World Sports Car champion Jan Lammers and Belgian Marc Goossens sharing the driving duties. Though the team focused on race setups during preseason testing, they still managed to record the fifth fastest time of the three-day preseason test session. And with team owner Kevin Doran orchestrating race strategy from the pits and a consistent group of experienced drivers behind the wheel, expect to see this team vying for the lead on Sunday morning.

Five-time winner Hurley Haywood, JC France, 1996 winner Scott Sharp and Scott Goodyear, who were sixth quickest during preseason testing in the second Brumos Racing Fabcar, should also find themselves in the hunt for a podium finish, assuming they can avoid the off-track excursions that plagued them last year.

The brand new Crawfords, fielded by Howard-Boss Motorsports and driven by Andy Wallace, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart, and Elliot Forbes-Robinson, Butch Leitzinger, Jimmie Johnson and team owner David Brule, may, in time, become the class of the Daytona Prototype field. However, given the problems that typically befall new cars in 24-hour races, they will probably not be around on Sunday morning.

#9 Mears Motor Coach Ford Multimatic: Paul Mears Jr., Mike Borkowski, Arie Luyendyk Jr..
Photo by John Thawley.
Though new entries from Sun Trust Racing, Michael Shank Racing, Southard Motorsports and Mears Motorcoach will probably not mount serious challenges for the overall win, they could contend for top-10 finishes as long as they can limit the time they spend in the pits.

Academy Award-winning actor Paul Newman, who will turn 79 on Jan. 26, will also be on hand, sharing the Gunnar Racing Porsche Fabcar with Gunnar Jeannette, Kyle Petty and Michael Brockman.

In the new GT class, which now includes cars formerly classified in the 2003 GT and GTS classes, the Racer's Group Porsche GT3 RS of Kevin Buckler, Timo Bernhardt, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long should have its hands full with the Prototype Technology Group BMW M3, driven by Bill Auberlen, Boris Said, Justin Marks and Joey Hand. Another GT class win would make it three-in-a-row for the California-based Racer's Group, while a win by Tom Milner's BMW Team PTG squad would be its third class win in seven years and first in the Rolex 24 since 1998.

#42 The Race Site.com Racing Porsche GT3 Cup: Will Nonnamaker, Joe Nonnamaker, Wayne Nonnamaker.
Photo by John Thawley.
Aside from the usual slew of Porsches from the likes of Orbit, Seikel and Cirtek, the GT race will also feature a pair of Maseratis, fielded by Ferrari of Washington and Risi Competizione, respectively, four Ferrari 360s and a two Corvettes. Maserati has not raced in North America since the 1960s.

Finally, in the Super Grand Sport class, formerly part of the Grand-Am Cup Series, keep an eye on the AASCO Motorsports Porsche of Craig Stanton, David Murry and Tim Sugden, which led the way during preseason testing, and the TPC Racing Porsche of John Littlechild, Bill Adam, Randy Pobst, Andy Lally and Michael Levitas.

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