Riley Technologies Hosts Two-Day Test at Daytona for Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Machines
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Dec. 11, 2007) -- Riley Technologies has enjoyed a successful run throughout the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 history, and the reason for that success comes from the reliability and speed of each car the Mooresville, N.C. company builds. That speed and reliability stems from the time and attention that each Riley team gets from the factory, including the testing available at Daytona International Speedway during the past two days.
Ten Riley-built machines that will be competing in the 2008 Rolex Sports Car Series turned laps, including seven Riley Daytona Prototypes - the No. 91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports machine, two SAMAX prototypes, and prototypes from RVO Motorsports, Southard Motorsports, AIM Autosport, and TELMEX Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing. GT machines on hand include the No. 90 Automatic BMW M6, the Hyper Sport Racing Mazda RX-8 and a Mazda RX-8 from Racers Edge Motorsports.
"We have a lot of great teams and everyone runs hard and works together," said Riley Technologies head Bill Riley. "We're looking forward to coming back this January with the new body."
Next season marks the debut of the new bodywork for all Daytona Prototype constructors, but the old configurations remain eligible to race. Because of this, the Rolex 24 At Daytona will see a mix and match of Riley bodies.
"Probably about a third to half of the teams will be running the new body work," Riley said. "We're going to test in the tunnels for the first time next week, so at that point we'll have a better idea of where we are."
The team also announced that GM factory racer Johnny O'Connell will run the Rolex 24 in the No. 91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley with co-drivers Marc Goossens, Jim Matthews and Ryan Hunter-Reay. O'Connell captured the overall victory in the race in 2001.
"We're really excited about adding Johnny to our line-up for the 24," Riley said. "He knows what it takes to win this race and even though he had never run in a Daytona Prototype before Monday, he was quick right out of pit box here in testing. Jim, Marc, and Ryan work really well together and obviously are a fast combination, so Johnny is going to fit right in."
Yesterday's test was the first time O'Connell had ever driven a Daytona Prototype.
"It's interesting, because when you're running in the GT category you have the impression that these guys can do anything with these cars, and yet you're in a race and get run into and all that kind of stuff," O'Connell said. "But now having driven one, I can see that you're working hard, and those guys -- there might be reasons why you're running too fast because they're not as nimble as the GT guys I think presume. You are right on the edge."
Chip Ganassi Racing Assembles Talented Driving Teams
While TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has been among the handful of teams participating in a two-day Riley test at Daytona International Speedway, the team -- which has won the past two Rolex 24s -- also finalized its driver lineups for the 46th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Behind the wheel of the No. 01 TELMEX/Target Daytona Prototype will be Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. Driving the No. 02 Target/TELMEX Daytona Prototype will Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Salvador Duran and Alex Lloyd.
When tallying the championships on the roster, Chip Ganassi Racing's driving teams are represented by three Indy 500 champions (Montoya-2000, Wheldon-2005 and Franchitti-2007), five open-wheel championships (Montoya-1999, Dixon-2003, Wheldon-2005, Lloyd-2007 and Franchitti-2007), two Daytona Prototype championships (Pruett-2004 and 2006) and five former Rolex 24 winners.
Pruett, who along with Rojas wrapped up a two-day test on Tuesday at DIS, is thrilled with the driving rosters put together by owner Chip Ganassi for the Rolex 24.
"(Chip's) stable is just full of a lot of talent on the NASCAR side, on the IRL side, on the Grand-Am side," said Pruett during the lunch break on Tuesday. "For us coming here with this commitment and this organization is going to be nothing less than stellar. We're going to go for the win."
Pruett and Rojas spent Monday and Tuesday at "The World Center of Racing" fine tuning their Lexus Riley after struggling during the Grand-Am November Test Days at DIS. Despite having their day cut short Tuesday after Rojas ran off course in the chicane causing front end damage, Pruett was happy about the team's progress as the prestigious sports car race approaches.
"We had a lot of problems at the earlier test," Pruett said. "We just didn't get much track time at all. In fact, we only got about a half of a day running. We opted to come back here and it's been very valuable learning a lot about what the car wants with the new Pirelli tires."
"We're in full race trim. We've got everything in the car that we'll need for the race. We're simulating like we're coming here racing and we're pleased with how fast we are."
Actor Patrick Dempsey Makes House Call On DIS
The Rolex 24 At Daytona is attracting racing stars from across the world to compete in the twice-round-the-clock sports car challenge. But the kickoff event to the international motorsports calendar is also attracting actor Patrick Dempsey, the star of the hit ABC show "Grey's Anatomy."
Dempsey prepared for the Rolex 24 by shaking down the No. 40 Hyper Sport SoBe Mazda RX-8 with co-drivers Charles Espenlaub and Joe Foster in preparation for his first career Rolex 24 start.
"It's really good to have some time to test properly without the pressure of a race day," Dempsey said during the lunch break. "I can go and get some feedback from the data and really start to improve specific sections of the track where I'm losing time. That's really important when I'm driving with Joe and Charles, to kind of keep on their pace or get as close to it as possible and then just be consistent. I'm really happy to have a day where we're relaxed and going about it properly and not trying to play catch up constantly."
Hyper Sport, one of the top teams in the KONI Challenge Series, is making the move to the Rolex Series in 2008. In between television and film shoots, Dempsey has run five KONI Challenge Series races for Hyper Sport in each of the past two years and posted a career best sixth-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the spring of 2007.
At Daytona, Dempsey has one lone start in the 2006 Fresh From Florida 200 KONI Challenge Series race, finishing 30th in the Grand Sport class and 32nd overall in the 83-car field.
With television production being halted due to the Writer's Guild of America strike, Dempsey is finding plenty of time to properly prepare for the grueling Rolex 24.
"It's real quiet right now -- the writer's strike -- so it's giving me a great opportunity to go racing," Dempsey said. "It's really good because I've worked like three-and-a-half years straight there without a break. I've finally had the last five weeks off so I could start to do some training for this and get ready.
"We get to test here and then we will come back in January and then we will be ready for the race. If I can get some more testing in where it's really low key like this it makes a big difference for me. It takes the pressure off. I can go out, I can push the car a lot more and I can make a mistake and it's OK."
Shane Lewis Excited To Get Back Behind The Wheel
Shane Lewis spent the past two days behind the wheel of the No. 3 Southard Motorsports TrueChoice Lexus Riley for the first time since the 2007 season finale at Miller Motorsports Park, where the team finished fourth.
The Southard Motorsports Team missed the Pirelli test in November, so this was the first time the Columbus, Ohio-based team had the chance to run the new Pirelli P-Zero tire. The results were a bit of a shock for the team.
"Today's the first time we've been on the Pirellis, really," said Lewis. "Even though we had the first day, we didn't anticipate the straight line speed that we would be running, and didn't have the proper gears. In fact, that's probably what we missed most from the prior test is just not getting the information, so we're learning a lot today. We're throwing everything we can at it so that when we come back for the official Rolex 24 test we'll be a little bit further along."
Southard Motorsports has yet to announce their Rolex 24 lineup or who will be the regular in the car with Lewis next season, but that hasn't dampened the team's enthusiasm for the upcoming season.
"We want to build on our finishing position from the last couple of races," Lewis said. "We did really well at Miller, not because everyone else had issues but because we did well and that's what we want to build on for Daytona."
RVO Wants to Make "Considerable Progress," Gains Experience at Test
RVO Motorsports and the team's No. 12 Rock Valley Oil Pontiac Riley wants to be a team making "considerable progress," according to one of the team's drivers, Justin Bell.
Bell, one of the team's regulars in 2007, was one of four drivers testing the car during this week's test, joining fellow team regular Roger Schramm. NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series veteran Bill Lester and Champ Car World Series participant Tonis Kasemets also lapped the track.
"For us, we're a team that is coming into 2008 wanting to make considerable progress in our performance," Bell said. "We've put a lot of effort, time and resources into making the car better. Having Bill going into the season and working with Tonis has been really good. The gap is as close as we've ever had it to the front-running cars. When you're entering into a 24-hour race, you don't want the gap to be too big.
"This is a new team to this type of racing," Bell continued. "The top running teams didn't do what they do overnight; it's an evolution. We've had a lot of catching up to do. We were realistic about our goals, but now we're more ambitious about our goals."
Bell said the quartet is expected to make up the complete Rolex 24 At Daytona driver lineup, but said everything has yet to be finalized. However, all four drivers campaigned the car during the test, and Bell said the car, team and drivers have been gaining an incredible amount of experience.
Bell said the team plans to contest the majority of the 2008 schedule.
"This team doesn't want to do it just to show up," Bell said. "We want to run in the top 10. So our goals will definitely be to move ourselves into the top 10, then the top six and take it from there."
AIM Autosport Looking Forward to Stepping Up in 2008
Mark Wilkins made it apparent AIM Autosport is shooting for loftier goals in 2008.
"We want to win races," Wilkins said. "We want to be up and running with these guys, and we really think we have a shot to do that. Last year, we had some strong results -- our fifth at the Rolex was really good, and we had some strong runs at the end of the year. We're confident that we had a good enough package to be right up at the front and challenge for wins."
Two reasons why he feels AIM will contest for those victories includes consistency in the driver seat and a new Ford power plant. Last season, Wilkins teamed with both Brian and Burt Frisselle, with each of the brothers rotated from race-to-race. This season, Brian Frisselle will take over the other fulltime driving role.
"That was one of the things that we seriously considered during the offseason -- was making sure we would be as consistent as possible," Wilkins said, "so definitely that's going to be an attribute that will be a strong point for us throughout the season."
Several team members, who have competed in many levels of auto racing, also have a history with Ford, and the change has already proven successful.
"It's been a good change," Wilkins said. "It's great to be working with Ford for this year. There are a few guys on the team that have been working with Ford for awhile, so we felt like this was the right move. Lexus was great last year, but we're just trying to learn and do different things. Over the last few days, the engine has been great. Ford has given us a great motor. We've been running strong the whole time, and we've got a good setup."
To start off the season, Wilkins and Frisselle will need a boost from their co-drivers, which have yet to be announced. Team owner Ian Willis wasn't ready to confirm any ongoing rumors, but said the team had enough of a selection of drivers to improve its fifth-place finish in last year's affair.
Racers Edge Makes Move to Mazda RX-8 For 2007
Racers Edge Motorsports showed promising in 2007 in a Pontiac GXP, and the team hopes to continue that with the acquisition of a Mazda RX-8 for the 2008 season.
Making its first on-track appearance Monday, Racers Edge Motorsports Team Owner Jon Mirachi was pleased with the car's performance, saying the pace was up thanks to drivers Robert Thorn and Drew Staveley.
The team did not practice Tuesday morning, instead using the time to prep the car for the afternoon session. However, Mirachi was enthusiastic about what the car had already done and what he thought would happen Tuesday afternoon.
"We started off initially getting our two drivers, who had never been in the car, familiar with it, and they reached that by midday," Mirachi said. "We tried some different developmental things on the car in the afternoon, and that seemed to really give us some improvements. We went down a path that seemed to work fairly well, and we kind of maxed out there. Then we went down another path and started making some gains. We got very far, and we're very happy with the pace at this point."
Thorn's deal had not been finalized as of early Tuesday afternoon, but Mirachi said if and when the deal is secure, Thorn will join Ken Dobson and Jim and Bob Michaelian for the Rolex 24. He said he hopes to have Staveley in the car sometime during the 2008 season.
Pending funding, Mirachi also said the team may campaign a second Mazda RX-8 during the 2008 season.
Russell Says Car Performing Well at Daytona Riley Test
David Russell said he's had a lot of sleepless nights as of recent, taking Automatic Racing's No. 90 BMW M6 to the Performance Racing Industry last week and to this week's Riley Technologies test at Daytona International Speedway.
But after the way the car has performed at Daytona during the test, he'll have no problems sleeping in the upcoming days.
Having picked up the car last week, Russell hauled the BMW down to PRI a day late, but still had the car on display in time for its unveiling Thursday afternoon. The car then got to the team's shop in Orlando for a day before traveling the 60 miles northeast to Daytona for its first time at race speed.
"Race one was definitely getting the car to PRI," Russell said. "Race two was actually getting it from PRI to here and getting it running. Now that we're at the track it's going better than we ever expected. Turn the key, hit the button, and drive the car. Even the baseline set-up from Riley -- we've been operating off of that all day long and the thing has not missed a lap."
Team owner Russell, Jep Thornton, Jeff Segal and Tom Long have also done driving stints since the car arrived at the track on Monday, and Russell said he's been pleased with the efforts.
"It's as textbook for us as it gets," Russell said, "for bringing a brand-new car and brand-new engine-chassis package here, and not having any issues -- knock on wood -- so far. It's been super. We have a laundry list of things that we want to do to the car that we're going to do between now and the January Test Days."
Russell said he plans to announce the Rolex 24 driver lineup the week prior to Christmas.