Rolex Roundup: Homestead tire test day two notes

Rolex Roundup: Hoosier Tire Test -- Day 2 MIAMI (December 6, 2005) During the two-day Hoosier Tire Test at -- Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve, a field of 20 ...

Rolex Roundup: Hoosier Tire Test -- Day 2

MIAMI (December 6, 2005) During the two-day Hoosier Tire Test at -- Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve, a field of 20 Daytona Prototypes and six GT machines combined to drive over 10,000 miles on the 2.3-mile circuit. The No. 2 Pontiac Crawford unofficially recorded the fastest lap--in Monday's afternoon session--with a time of 1:13.966 (111.943 mph). The No. 02 Lexus Riley was unofficially second quickest with a lap time of 1:14.065 (111.794 mph) in the morning session on Tuesday, and the brand-new No. 23 Porsche Crawford unofficially posted the third-fastest lap of the test days in Monday's afternoon session, a 1:14.090 (111.756 mph).

ALEX JOB RACING/EMORY MOTORSPORTS QUICK OUT OF THE BOX

Alex Job Racing/Emory Motorsports had its first opportunity to test its new Porsche-powered Crawford in the Hoosier Tire Test, and logged the session's third-quickest time. Mike Rockenfeller and Patrick Long drove for the team, preparing for the team's first appearance in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

"Obviously, we've got a learning curve to deal with and we've got to learn pretty quick, because Daytona is coming up real quick," said team owner Alex Job. "We have some typical new car situations, but for the most part, it's going very well. The package looks quite good."

This is the first Porsche-powered Crawford Daytona Prototype, while a new Porsche-powered Doran was tested for the first time by Synergy at Homestead. Counting the Brumos entry which has competed in Grand American since 2003, this gives the Rolex Series three Porsche-powered chassis.

"The Porsche is showing to be quite competitive so far," Job said. "There are Porsches in two other cars here, as well, and all of them have shown competitive. I think Porsche is a good package."

For their part, the drivers were also impressed with the new Daytona Prototype in its first run and are looking forward to a solid run in the Rolex 24.

"I love it," Long said. "It's symmetrical to a 'T,' the engine's good, and the car's handling good. I feel real comfortable and at home driving it. Visually and ergonomically it's a lot different from a Porsche RSR, which is what I'm used to, so I'm having a lot of fun. I think it will be good for the Rolex 24. Trying to win practice or qualifying isn't going to be our plan, that's not what's going to win the race for us."

Job said the team will announce its third driver and sponsors for the Rolex 24 in a few weeks. He hopes to run additional races in the series if the team can secure sponsorship.

RAHAL READIES FOR FIRST ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA

Graham Rahal, who will celebrate his 17th birthday on the first day of Daytona Test Days (January 4), got his first exposure to the Rolex Series during the Hoosier Tire Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The son of three-time Champ Car champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal tested the No. 74 Tafel Racing Porsche GT3 Cup, and will also drive for the team in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

"We're going to be driving a Porsche there for Tafel Racing," Rahal said. "It's a good opportunity for me to get out there and start my sports car career. It's good for me to start at such a young age. I've got many years I could be doing this. Look at Elliott Forbes-Robinson, he's still doing it. It would be my first, obviously, of hopefully many more to come."

While his father established his name primarily in open-wheel racing--and Graham himself has been participating in open-wheel development series--he makes no secret of his interest in sports car racing. Of course, Bobby Rahal is no stranger to success in sports car racing either, having earned an overall victory in the 1981 Rolex 24 At Daytona among other accomplishments.

"I want to be a professional race car driver, and I want to make a living doing this," Rahal said. "I've got to go where I'm going to be able to do that. Right now in open-wheel racing, you're not going to be doing that too well. I'm not saying that you are here (in the Rolex Series), and I really don't know where you're going to make the money other than NASCAR. We've got to see where things take us. Sports cars have always been a huge interest of mine. Ever since I was very little, I always liked the look of them, and I like the idea of a longer race. Driving this car this week has been a lot of fun. It's not out of the picture, that's for sure."

CHAMP CAR PHENOMS CONFIRM SEATS FOR ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA

2004 Champ Car World Series Rookie of the Year, A.J. Allmendinger, and his RuSPORT teammate, Justin Wilson, announced today with Michael Shank Racing owner Mike Shank that the duo will join Rolex Series regulars Oswaldo Negri Jr. and Mark Patterson as co-drivers of the No. 60 Flight Options Lexus Riley at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

"Knowing the abilities of these guys, I approached them about the possibility of joining the No. 60 car at the Rolex 24," Shank said. "I like the attitude and the aggressiveness that open-wheel drivers bring, and once we teach them the patience and nuances of running in the Rolex Series, I believe we'll have a great team."

Wilson finished third in the final 2005 Champ Car standings, claiming his first two career victories, while Allmendinger finished fifth, claiming one pole position.

The No. 60 Lexus scored one podium finish and three top-10 finishes in five 2005 Rolex Series races, including a third-place result in the Crown Royal 250 at The Glen in September.

RILEY AND SUNTRUST LOOK TO REPEAT IN 2006

The hardest part about coming off a five-win championship season is repeating the performance the following year. For the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley, and President of Riley Motorsports, Bill Riley, keeping the fierce competition behind them is a wonderful challenge.

"I just love to see the series continue its growth," said Riley, whose chassis design has garnered back-to-back Daytona Prototype championships. "I hope the competition stays tight and everyone continues to get better, because this is a great place to race."

Riley also said that he has built and sold three new chassis for competition in 2006, taking roughly four weeks to construct each one.

"I could probably build two more before the Rolex 24 At Daytona," said Riley.

The SunTrust team invited Ryan Briscoe--who competed in the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series in 2005--to test the Daytona Prototype at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but the Australian received a call to test a Formula 1 car in Spain before he ever got behind the wheel of the No. 10 machine. Another open-wheel pilot did step into the cockpit of the No. 10 machine, however, as 2003 Champ Car champion Paul Tracy continued his Daytona Prototype taste test in the car on Tuesday afternoon. Tracy had earlier tested Doran Racing's No. 77 Ford Doran and the No. 2 Pontiac Crawford for Howard-Boss Motorsports.

CRAWFORD HAS BUSY OFF-SEASON WITH SEVERAL NEW CARS

The Crawford Race Cars headquarters in Denver, N.C. has been a popular stop for new and existing teams looking for chassis to use in the 2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series. Cheever Racing, Alex Job Racing/Emory Motorsports and Finlay Motorsports all came calling this off-season, pairing Lexus, Porsche and Ford engines, respectively, with the Crawford chassis.

Crawford has also built a pair of Infiniti G35 cars, which will compete in the Rolex Series GT class against a stout lineup of Pontiac GTO.Rs, Porsche GT3s, BMW M3s and Mazda RX-8s. All of these developments--coupled with an impressive 2006 schedule--have Crawford Race Cars co-founder and president Max Crawford excited about the upcoming season.

"I believe that we'll see 40 Daytona Prototypes at Daytona, which will be a record for prototypes in that race," Crawford said. "It's just unbelievable. We're also building some Infiniti GT cars and we see a new Mazda here. The GT class will be quite good. Pontiac does a great job with their GTO. I think there will be more factory involvement, because that's what they sell."

Crawford expects the Howard-Boss Motorsports team he manages to bring another formidable lineup of drivers to the Rolex 24 At Daytona, and the team has a likely powerhouse in one of its cars for the full season.

"I've done the deal where we'll have Butch (Leitzinger) and Andy (Wallace) together in the No. 4 Boss car with Tony Stewart for the Rolex 24," Crawford said. "We have another car with Chris and Rob Dyson, and we'll do as many races as we can with that. We're also planning on having a third car at Daytona, which will include a couple of (NASCAR) stock car drivers. None of that has been signed right now, but it's very close."

SPEEDSOURCE STEPS UP TO GT COMPETITION

For SpeedSource, back-to-back Grand-Am Cup Series Street Tuner class titles were quite impressive accomplishments. The drivers of that No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8--Sylvain Tremblay and David Haskell--rank first and second on the Grand-Am Cup career class wins list, respectively. In 2006, the team steps up to Rolex Series GT competition, using the Hoosier Tire Test as its first gauge on where the car and team stand against the best of the best.

"The day following the end of our Grand-Am Cup season was the first day of the 2006 season," said Tremblay. "We knew that if we wanted to compete with the likes of Synergy and TRG, we'd have to be here testing. The car looks and sounds great, and we've yet to have a major glitch. We ran 70 laps yesterday, and a lot more today."

Tremblay and Haskell combined to win five of the 10 ST races in 2005 Grand-Am Cup competition, setting the bar for the rest of the field. However, to be able to run at the front in the Rolex Series, Tremblay admits that everything needs to be perfect.

"Without Mazdaspeed, Riley Technologies or Grand American, we wouldn't be here," said Tremblay. "Grand-Am has put a package together where the RX-8 can compete against this great competition, and Mazda and Bill Riley have given us an unbelievable amount of support."

TUTTLE TEAM RACING/SAMAX SET FOR FIRST ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA IN 2006

The two-day session gave Tuttle Team Racing/SAMAX the opportunity to further develop the No. 7 Pontiac Riley it debuted midway through the 2005 campaign.

Marc Goossens of Belgium and former Champ Car pilot Mario Haberfeld joined team owner and regular driver Brian Tuttle for the test. Also joining the team for the session was engineer Buddy Fey, who formerly worked in the series with Jim Matthews Racing. Following the 2005 finale at Mexico City, the car returned to Peter Baron's SAMAX shop in Pompano Beach, Fla., where it underwent a massive rebuild.

"We've made a lot of progress with the car," Tuttle said. "We're running very, very well."

Baron hopes to do additional testing prior to Rolex Test Days, January 4-6 at Daytona International Speedway.

Tuttle was impressed with Goossens' input during the test.

"Marc was able to give very good feedback on changes to the car and setup," Tuttle said. "He's a good communicator."

"I'm used to the Daytona Prototypes, because I did the Rolex 24 this year with Orbit, and the year before with Doran," Goossens said. "I've got a bit of experience with the cars. It's good to be working with Buddy Fey again. He was the engineer with the Cadillac team when I was with them, and he was the engineer at Orbit. Now we're trying to figure out what to do with this cart to make it faster."

Tuttle hopes to announce the team's lineup and schedule within a few weeks.

FINLAY MOTORSPORTS ADAPTS TO NEW CARS AND EXPANSION TO TWO-CAR TEAM

In the 2005 Rolex Series season finale in Mexico City, No. 19 Make A Wish/Air Force Reserve/Commercial Defeasance BMW Riley co-drivers Memo Gidley and Michael McDowell capped a successful first season of Daytona Prototype competition with a breakthrough victory for Finlay Motorsports.

Since Mexico City, a lot has changed. The team announced just prior to La Gran Final de la Serie Rolex Sports Car that it was switching to Ford-powered Crawfords for the 2006 season, and that it would be expanding to a two-car operation in the Daytona Prototype category. Canadian rising star Michael Valiante was signed to co-drive the team's No. 27 machine with team owner Rob Finlay, who is stepping into Daytona Prototypes after a year in Grand-Am Cup in 2005. All four drivers were busy getting acquainted with their new rides in the Hoosier Tire Test.

"It's funny, a lot of people were shocked when we told them we were going to a Ford Crawford instead of a BMW Riley that we just won at Mexico in, and was very competitive towards the last three-quarters of the season," Finlay said. "Ford is just a phenomenal engine manufacturer. They're providing us resources, their guys are here testing the car, and making sure everything is running right. Steve Dinan did a fantastic job last year with us on that, but as the program got bigger, we really needed an engine manufacturer that had the resources here in the United States.

"With Crawford, they're right down the street from us. It's the same with Ford, they're right across the street. That makes the transition a lot easier. Crawford has been phenomenal. They've given us an open book as well. Andy Wallace jumped into the No. 19 car just to make sure everything's okay, so they've been phenomenal to share data with us. Those are the kinds of things that make that decision a lot easier."

For the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Finlay Motorsports is still in the process of completing its driver lineup for both cars. Finlay believes that--with a year under its belt--the No. 19 team is well-equipped to challenge for race victories and the Daytona Prototype championship in 2006. For the No. 27 team, Finlay sees 2006 as a year of development, with a concerted effort toward the championship in 2007 and 2008. For himself, Finlay is looking to challenge for the Jim Trueman Award in 2006, and feels he's got the proper co-driver and package to do just that.

"Whenever I go out there, as much as I'd like to think of myself competing with the McDowells, the Gidleys, the Valiantes and the Pruetts, I'm a realist," Finlay explains. "There's a group of guys out there who are all competing for that trophy. Those are the guys that I compete against, and those are the guys I want to compete against. That, to me, is a challenge. It's exciting. Any time it goes from where I am up to the front, it's because Michael Valiante's driving. But if I can be competitive within my group, that works for me. It's a great opportunity. It's really exciting, and that's what I'm shooting for this year."

ACTOR PATRICK DEMPSEY BIG PART OF HYPER SPORT'S FUTURE

Racing twice in the Rolex Series in 2005--in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and at Homestead-Miami Speedway--Hyper Sport brought its No. 9 Infiniti Doran to the Hoosier Tire Test with ideas to compete in North America's premier endurance race once again in 2006.

"We ran a full Grand-Am Cup Series schedule in 2005, and a couple times in the Daytona Prototype category," said Joe Foster, co-driver in the No. 9 machine. "The competition here is great, and we have every intention of being at Daytona in January. Other than that, it's still up in the air."

The team plans to run a two-car team in Grand-Am Cup in 2006, with one car featuring team owner Rick Skelton and actor Patrick Dempsey. Foster will be in the second car with a driver still to be named. If things go according to plan, said Foster, the Grey's Anatomy star could see Rolex Series action as early as next season.

"He doesn't want to jump into it just to do it," said Foster. "He wants to be competitive, and he knows that that will only come with more experience. Hopefully, if he continues to get better and gets more accustomed to the race cars, he can compete in a GT car at the season finale at Miller Motorsports Park in Salt Lake City. As far as 2007 goes, we hope he's in the Rolex Series full time."

TRUSPEED MOTORSPORTS TURNS FIRST LAPS IN HOMESTEAD

Rob Morgan, a former full-time competitor in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and several sports car divisions, has put together TruSpeed Motorsports to run a limited Rolex Series schedule. Morgan, who named the team after his California automobile dealership, will co-drive with his father -- sports car veteran Charlie Morgan -- in the No. 47 Pontiac Riley.

The team purchased the former No. 39 Pontiac Riley from Jim Matthews, who ran a limited schedule in 2005. John Wright of Wright Tuning will help prepare the car, while former factory Saleen engineer Steve Trindale will be the chief engineer.

"We're not sure about running the Rolex 24," Rob Morgan said. "As of right now, we'll probably run a lot of the sprint races. We've got a few teething problems, but overall, the car is a wonder to drive. The car is very well balanced. Our biggest problem is that the drivers are not used to the car and the crew is not used to working on a Daytona Prototype."

The Morgans combined to win the AGT class of the 2002 Grand American finale at Daytona International Speedway, in the No. 47 Morgan-Dollar Motorsports Corvette. The team came within 15 minutes of winning the GTS class in the 2003 Rolex 24 At Daytona, with the class eventually won by a Mosler with a driver lineup including Andy Wallace.

Morgan-Dollar Motorsports currently fields a two-truck lineup in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, with a lineup including three-time series runner-up Dennis Setzer.

TPC RACING LOOKS FOR RETURN TO ROLEX SERIES GT PODIUM IN 2006

TPC Racing, which earned the Rolex Series Super Grand Sport (SGS) team and driver titles in 2004 with drivers Marc Bunting and Andy Lally, is ramping up its program for 2006 with an eye toward competing for another championship in 2006. The team fielded four cars in many Rolex Series events in 2005, but the team will sharpen its focus for next season.

"It was quite a few cars last year," said team owner and driver Michael Levitas. "We had a lot of teams and a lot of effort. We're really concentrating our effort for next year and consolidating to a two-car team. Grand-Am has done a great job putting together some great names and some great events and we're excited about being a part of it."

The team's efforts will undoubtedly be enhanced by the new Porsche GT3 Cup (Type 997) that will be used for the first time in Rolex Series competition next season. However, Levitas was quick to point out that the Porsche GT3 Cup the team used in 2005 was a stout competitor as well.

"Porsche has done a marvelous job with this new GT3," Levitas said. "We're really excited. Right out of the box, it seems like a great car. We're still impressed with the old car, but it seems like the best car they have is the one they're building. I think you'll see reappearance on the podium by TPC."

GOLDIN BROTHERS RACING MAKES EASY TRIP TO TEST AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY

South Florida-based Goldin Brothers Racing competed in only one event in 2005, withdrawing from an anticipated full season after experiencing mechanical problems in developing its new Mazda RX-8. Steve and Keith Goldin spent the remainder of 2005 working on the car, and have been pleased with the results at the test.

"We had a few brake issues Monday, but we've got them dialed in," said Steve Goldin, who resides in the Homestead area. "Now, we're working on the handling of the car. While we got off to a slow start Monday, we're pleased with the way the test is going today."

Since last year's Rolex 24, the team put together two new transmission packages, redesigned the fuel injection and has made the car lighter. Having another Mazda RX-8 in the field will also help the Goldins.

"Our good friends at SpeedSource have helped us considerably," Goldin said.

Scott Finlay and a driver to be announced will join the brothers in the Rolex 24. The team plans to run the Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead, and will run a total of six or seven races, depending on funding. CCM Cellular has renewed as sponsor for the Rolex 24, with the team seeking another major sponsor.

-garra-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Andy Wallace , Tony Stewart , Mario Haberfeld , Justin Wilson , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Marc Goossens , Graham Rahal , Dennis Setzer , Michael Valiante , Rob Dyson , Elliott Forbes-Robinson , Peter Baron , Andy Lally , Michael McDowell , Sylvain Tremblay , A.J. Allmendinger , Patrick Long , Ryan Briscoe , Jim Matthews , Rob Morgan , Michael Levitas , Oswaldo Negri Jr. , Marc Bunting , Rick Skelton , Steve Goldin , Mike Rockenfeller , John Wright , Mark Patterson , Scott Finlay , Rob Finlay , Joe Foster , Alex Job , Brian Tuttle , Max Crawford , Michael Shank , Patrick Dempsey
Teams Doran Racing , Alex Job Racing , SpeedSource , Riley Motorsports