Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, two of sportscar racing's superstars, embark on a new challenge for 2009. After scoring back-to-back LM P2 championships in the American Le Mans Series, the factory Porsche racers, along with their Penske Racing team, jump ship to the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. The goals remain the same for Bernhard and Dumas, who aim to start their season off with a win in Saturday's Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Together with Penske's IndyCar ace Ryan Briscoe, the trio hope to give team owner Roger Penske his second Rolex 24 win, on the 40th anniversary of his first in 1969. The No. 16 Porsche-powered Riley Daytona Prototype has indeed proven to be an early favorite for this year's race, as Bernhard put the Crown Royal Cask No. 16-sponsored machine on the front row for the twice-around-the-clock classic.
"For us, the Daytona 24 Hours has always been a single event," said Bernhard, who is seeking his third win on the high banks. "We always wanted to have a good single result. But now, it's also to get good points for the rest of the season. We have two goals: first of all to have a good result for the team and Porsche and also have the points for the rest of the season."
The focus, as in any endurance race, will be to run a steady race and then evaluate the situation near the end. Penske has perfected this strategy in the past, most notably when facing competition from LM P1 class Audis in the ALMS. The goal was always to bring home the class victory, and then attack for overall honors if in sight.
This approach has worked well for Bernhard and Dumas, as they took home nine overall victories during their three-year stint as Porsche RS Spyder pilots. This included their strategic triumph in the Twelve Hours of Sebring in 2008.
"It's the same story as last year at Sebring," Dumas said of the game plan for the Rolex 24. "At the start, we only wanted to win the class. Then in the last three hours we realized we could win [overall], so we went for it and pushed the maximum we could. It would be the same idea as last year, but the problem is that this race is two times longer!"
Daytona will also serve as a learning experience for the entire team, who can be considered rookies in Grand-Am racing. Despite running the Rolex 24 as a joint effort with Wayne Taylor Racing last year, Penske only has that one Rolex Series race under its belt, while Bernhard and Dumas have only driven a handful of DP events in the past.
"It's very challenging because we have to learn everything again," Dumas said. "Everyone expects that we can do something very good in our first year. For sure, when we decided to race in this championship, we knew we wanted to do well and win, but we have to learn a lot of things."
Bernhard and Dumas will likely face off with the likes of Gansssi, Brumos and Michael Shank Racing throughout the 12-race season, and while it will be a new challenge, both are looking forward to the opportunity.
"I think our challenge [after Daytona] will be to see how the shorter races are," Bernhard said. "At the moment, I have no idea. I've heard it's close racing and tough, and also some contact, but it's something we will see."