Rolex 24 winning team ready to repeat

Securing the 42nd annual Rolex 24 at Daytona last year was no easy chore for the Kodak/Bell Motorsports team against tough on-circuit competition and battling the elements. Foul weather halted racing for nearly three hours and the team's ...

Securing the 42nd annual Rolex 24 at Daytona last year was no easy chore for the Kodak/Bell Motorsports team against tough on-circuit competition and battling the elements.

Foul weather halted racing for nearly three hours and the team's four Pontiac/Doran drivers had to deal with stifling competitors like 2002 NASCAR champion Tony Stewart in the CITGO Howard/Boss Pontiac/Crawford and the SunTrust Pontiac/Riley team led by owner Wayne Taylor, both of whom swapped the lead before faltering toward the end.

Of course in 2004 there wasn't as much competition as there is this year in the 43rd Rolex 24 at Daytona to fight, but the group assigned to this #54 Daytona Prototype are ready to defend their hard-earned checkered flag.

Led by team owner Forrest Barber and 2003 Grand American DP titleholder Terry Borcheller, this year the defending Rolex 24 winners' car is even stronger than it was in 2004 with returnee Christian Fittipaldi, 2003 Champ Car titleholder Paul Tracy and Ralf Kelleners, whose experience - and success in endurance racing is vast.

"We'll be hoping to field a reliable car and keep it going to when it counts," Barber stated. "The 2004 Rolex 24 was Kodak's first experience with us and we're really excited to have them back again in 2005 for the full season."

Borcheller, who has been part of the Grand Am series since it began recalled that, when Daytona Prototype competition began, he spoke with Jim France about the prospects for the series, as there were only three or four DP racers on the grid at the start of competition. "Jim told me had an eight-year plan and, when you walk the paddock today it's like 'wow!'. The racing and competition gets better all the time."

At the time of the 2004 Rolex 24 At Daytona, Christian Fittipaldi was driving in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition for The King, Richard Petty. As such, the Brazilian former Formula 3000 champ and longtime Champ Car pilot became the first NASCAR driver to win the Rolex 24. This year many of his open wheel peers have come to Daytona to race this weekend.

Fittipaldi remarked that he learned about being patient during the Rolex race but still, recognized that "you need speed as well as consistency to last 24 hours. There are a lot of great drivers here this year; it should be a great race." During the initial practice this morning, Fittipaldi ran "pretty much in race trim."

Tracy, the acerbic Canadian is using this race to "tune up for the Champ Car season." After not being in a car since last November, he felt he needed competitive time behind the wheel. 'I wanted to stay active and I was fortunate to find myself with a great team and a great group of drivers."

Kelleners realizes "you have to take care of your equipment," particularly with the large number of cars in this twice-around-the-clock competition. "I think we will have to fight all the way" this weekend. "We'll have to go as quick as we can and not make any mistakes."

Fittipaldi believes the key to the entire 24-hour race will be tire conservation, and he could be right. With Hoosier rubber dictated for the entire grid beginning with this event, tire management has become an unknown quantity in an event that's filled with them.

While some of the other Champ Car drivers in this field intend to take Friday off to take part in an open test about four hours south of Daytona Beach on the Sebring airport circuit, Tracy is "concentrating on this race alone." He'll undergo his first Champ Car test on February 16-17 on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course, then run at Sebring the first week of March prior to a final test the week before the season opener at Long Beach, he said.

The playing field for this year's Rolex 24 includes 30 Daytona Prototypes, showing the growth of this type of racing. In addition to the change of spec rubber with Hoosier, "the engines are smaller and run at higher rpm levels," noted team owner Barber. "That will certainly put more stress on the mechanicals this year."

Whether the Kodak/Bell team can repeat this year remains to be seen but it's obvious they are ready to work toward that goal.

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Tony Stewart , Ralf Kelleners , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Wayne Taylor , Terry Borcheller , Richard Petty