DAYTONA BEACH, FL. - January 22 - A strong contingent of former Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona winners racers will be trying for another title in Porsche 911 GT3 RS race cars as entries continue to grow for the 41h running of the Rolex 24 February 1-2.
Leading the Porsche charge are last year's GT class champions, Kevin Buckler/Jorg Bergmeister/Timo Bernhard/Michael Schrom, who will be back to defend their title in the 2003 The Racer's Group Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Although it will be hard to top the thrill of last year's win, team owner Buckler has settled down to the business at hand.
"Winning Daytona. Le Mans, and the Porsche Cup last year was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the racing world is not impressed with past glory once the green flag drops. There are a bunch of competitive Porsches in this race, along with some very fast Ferraris and a big-engined Marcos that has led this race before," said Buckler, whose team has again earned the presence of Porsche German factory drivers Jorg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard for this event.
Alwin Springer, president of Porsche Motorsport North America, agreed that the competition is tough, but the experience of winning the Rolex 24 is hard to overcome.
"We are pleased that our customer teams have hired drivers who have been successful at Daytona in the past - it really gives Porsche an edge over the others especially at night, when rain, cold weather and lack of sleep can cause inexperienced teams to make mistakes," said Springer.
In fact, since the debut of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS family of race cars at Daytona in 2000, the car has won the GT class each year, and most of those drivers will compete this year as well.
Besides Buckler's defending championship entry, the Italian drivers who won in 2000 - Fabio Rosa, Gabrio Rosa, and Luca Drudi - are all back, and will be joined by former Formula One star Alex Caffi in the Seikel Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Caffi has driven with the team both at Daytona and Le Mans in the past, and helped lead the team to victory in that French classic in 2001.
The Racer's Group has also entered two other Porsches in the GT class, including last year's Daytona winning car, which will be driven by Long Beach Grand prix President Jim Michaelian along with R.J. Valentine, Tom Hessert and Tom Hessert, Jr. The Racer' s Group's third Porsche - last year's Le Mans-winning car - will be piloted by David Lacey/Andrew Davis/Tom Nastasi/Robert Julien.
Several other teams have top Porsche 911 GT3 RS entries, including the Jupiter, Florida-based Orbit Racing team, which caught everyone's attention two years ago when when NASCAR star Kyle Petty passed 10 cars lining up for a "photo" finish on the last turn to pass a competitor for seventh place overall. Petty is back to drive the #43 (what else?) Orbit Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS, along with car owner and business partner Leo Hindery, Florida yacht dealer Peter Baron, and Porsche factory driver Mark Lieb. Lieb, who won the Porsche Carrera Cup series in Germany last year, co-drove with Alex Job Racing in a Porsche at both Sebring and Road Atlanta in 2002.
The other Orbit Racing Porsche will be driven by the Classic Industries father/son team of Joe and Jay Policastro, who are Grand-Am and vintage racing veterans. This year, they have purchased a new 2003 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, and hope to be near the top of the GT class for the Rolex 24.
Two of the top American road racers, Johannes Van Overbeek and David Murry, will team up with Dave Strandridge and Ricahrd Starenka in the Rennwerks Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RS. At the recent Daytona test, Murry showed how competitive this car can be by turning the third-fastest time behind the two Orbit cars.
While Bergmeister and Bernhard, who will share an Alex Job Racing Porsche in the upcoming American Le Mans Series, toil in The Racer's Group car, the Schumacher Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS will host the other two Alex Job Racing Porsche factory pilots, Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen, along with team owner Larry Schumacher and Porsche racing veteran Martin Snow. The Schumacher car ran a limited schedule last year, and was in the top five wherever it ran.
Besides Seikel's all-European driving team, there is a two-car Porsche 911 GT3 RS Italian-based effort entered by MAC Racing - one with an Italian driving squad and one with French drivers. System Force Motorsport from The Netherlands has entered a Porsche 911 GT3 RS for three Dutch drivers, and the other Porsche GT entry is the NETTTS Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS of Mark Greenberg/Jim Nelson/Barry Bresinger.
In all, there are 17 GT entries so far at Daytona, with 12 of them being Porsche 911 GT3 RS race cars.
Since the Porsche 911 GT3 RS family of race cars was introduced in 1999, the car has been constantly updated and improved, but race fans will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 1999 and 2000 GT3 R, and the 2001 - 2003 GT3 RS. The latest version of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS is almost identical to the 2002 model. The engine and drivetrain are the same, but the car now produces 435 horsepower at 8,250 RPM thanks to a lighter engine and improvements in weight distribution with a light-weight co cooling system which takes about 30 pounds out of the engine.
Built at the Porsche Motorsport in the Research and Development Department at Weissach, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS delivers the 435 horsepower from its proven 3.6-liter normally-aspirated engine. In 1999, its first year of competition, the car finished 1-2 in class at Le Mans, and has won its class in the both the Grand Am and American Le Mans Series two years in a row. The car has also won its class three years in a row at the Daytona 24 Hours and the three years running at the 12 Hours of Sebring as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
More than 100 Porsche 911 GT3 R/RS race cars have been sold so far worldwide, with almost half of those cars having raced in the U.S.
The 2003 Rolex 24 at Daytona will be televised live - the first eight hours and the last seven hours - on The Speed Channel starting at 12:30 PM Eastern time on Saturday, February 1. Speedvision will telecast a 30-minute pre-race show followed by the green flag at 1:00 PM, and will stay with the race until 9:00 PM. The network will then pick up the event on Sunday morning at 6:00 AM, and carry it through the checkered flag at 1:00 PM - plus the victory circle and post-race celebration. Also, the more tha n 110 affiliates of the Motor Racing Network (MRN) nationally will provide coverage on the radio - check local listings for time in your area.
The cars will see their first track time on Thursday, January 28, when practice opens at 10:00 AM. The first round of qualifying will take place Thursday afternoon, followed by a night practice Thursday night. Final qualifying will take place on Friday, with the race starting Saturday at 1:00 PM Eastern time.
The most extensive coverage for all the classes at the Rolex 24 and the Grand-Am series is the official Grand-Am web site (www.grandamerican.com), where fans can follow the qualifying sessions and the race with live timing and scoring on-line.
Other Web sites that will follow the Rolex 24 include the Speed Channel site (www.speedTV.com) and Motorsport.com (www.motorsport.com).
2003 Porsche 911 GT3 RS Technical Specifications:
3598 cc - 76.4mm stroke, 99.99mm bore
435 @ 8250 rpm (with two 30.8mm restrictors)
395 Nm @ 7200 rpm
Six Individual Throttle Valves
Sequential multi-point Bosch MS 3.1 system with ignition control
Dry Sump with Heat Exchanger and Mobil 1 oil
Open without Catalytic Converter
Six Speed Manual, type G96/61 with oil/water heat exchanger
Single Mass with triple disc racing clutch
Limited Slip - 40/60percent
Revised, Weight-optimized 911 GT3 Ch