Ford Mustangs Dominate Saturday's Opening Day of KONI Sports Car Challenge Testing at Daytona; Rehagen Racing and ICY/Phoenix Racing strongest in GS and ST respectively in first of three test days
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 3, 2009) - Ford Mustang GTs were the class of the Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge field in Saturday's "Roar Before the Rolex 24" test session at Daytona International Speedway, sweeping the top six Grand Sport (GS) practice times on the first of three test days to open the 2009 campaign.
The lead car belonged to Ken Wilden, who set the fastest time of 2:00.918 (105.989 mph) late in the afternoon session in the No. 59 Rehagen Racing RehagenRacingProducts.com Ford Mustang GT. Wilden passed fellow Rehagen Racing driver Nick Gullatta, who had set a time of 2:01.262 (105.689 mph).
James Gue, the 2008 KONI GS runner-up with Bret Seafuse, was third on the charts in the No. 37 JBS Motorsports Trumansburg Shur Save Ford Mustang GT, followed by Hugh Plumb and Jack Roush Jr. in the No. 61 Horsepower Ranch Sunset Hills Vineyard Ford Mustang GT; Matt Plumb and Mike Canney in the No. 60 Horsepower Ranch Sunset Hills Vineyard Ford Mustang GT; and Bryan Ortiz and Roberto Bengoa in the No. 57 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT.
In Street Tuner (ST) competition, Kristian Skavnes was quickest of the two practice sessions, setting a best time of 2:11.162 (97.711 mph) in the No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy.
Overall, 30 cars made on-track appearances. Sunday's KONI Sports Car Challenge practice begins at 11 a.m., and the final session ends at 3:45 p.m.
Rehagen Racing Continues Where Team Left Off
Dean Martin had to rebuild the Rehagen Racing team after losing three of its drivers during the offseason.
However, the team showed Saturday its driver power and horsepower in claiming three of the top six positions in practice. Leading the way was Ken Wilden in the No. 59 Ford Mustang GT; he was flanked by Nick Gullatta in the No. 58 Ford Mustang GT and Bryan Ortiz in the No. 57 Ford Mustang GT.
Rehagen Racing finished 1-2 in the season finale at Virginia International Raceway last October, with Mike Canney and Hugh and Matt Plumb charging to victory. In the offseason, Canney formed Horsepower Ranch, taking the Plumb brothers and Jack Roush Jr. with him. Martin was in the second-place finishing car.
But Martin landed Wilden, whom he won with at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2007, and garnered the likes of Gene Martindale and Nick Gullatta for two cars on Saturday. Wilden will be a fulltime driver in 2009. Andrew Caddell was also driving the No. 58 car.
"I think this is a Mustang track for sure," Wilden said. "I don't think we are going any faster than we were last year. I think you'll see guys go for it tomorrow. Our car ran flawlessly today. We've got some issues we're going to try and sort out to make our car more manageable over the long run. We put on some new tires and I actually cooled down a lap before setting that fast one."
The newly-formed Horsepower Ranch didn't show any major issues Saturday. The cars came in at fourth and fifth on the charts Saturday, both cars faster in the afternoon session than the morning's practice. Hugh Plumb, who drove with Canney last season, was quickest on two of the three test days in the 2008 January Test Days, and said the No. 61 started out well.
"We're out to win a championship this year, and we need to be the best every weekend," Hugh Plumb said. "I think we're headed on the right course. Today, we did well, and we look to improve on that throughout the weekend. Come the race, we look to be on the top of the podium."
TRG Fastest Porsche on First Day
The fastest Porsche on the first day of KONI Sports Car Challenge was the No. 41 TRG Porsche 997, with Andy Lally and John Potter driving the car.
Lally drove for three teams in KONI competition in 2008, earning a victory driving for TRG with co-driver Scott Schroeder. TRG has two other cars - the Nos. 39 and 41 Porsche 997s - in its operation this weekend. Spencer Pumpelly and Duncan Ende drove the No. 39 and Schroeder and Beau Borders drove the No. 40.
Lally has several victories at Daytona in the past, but none have come in KONI action. TRG is also looking for its first KONI victory at the 3.56-mile track.
"We've got a very well set-up car," Lally said. "It's as finely tuned and about as good as it's going to get. It handles excellent, we've got a great brake package; we just can't go any faster.
"We're just going to have to have a perfect race," Lally said about having a shot to win the race. "The other thing is that we just have to have long runs."
Added Ende: "Daytona is exactly the perfect track for us, but we ran here very strongly last year before we fell out at the end of the race. Of course, a Porsche won last year (from BGB Motorsports) so it can be done. I think we're going to field the best Porsches, and if we call a good setup and stay up front we can have a good shot."
Ranger Sport Racing Team Starting Sixth Season in KONI Sports Car Challenge
Barry Ellis, Fraser Wellon and Frank Rossi will start their sixth season in KONI Sports Car Challenge GS competition in 2009, after debuting in 2004 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In that race, the three piloted the car to a career-best second-place finish.
After admitting progression throughout each season, the team drivers and owners are looking forward to running at Daytona at the end of the month. The team's No. 88 Ranger Sport Racing Hop-A-Jet Porsche 997, which will be piloted by Ellis and Wellon, was built last season, while the No. 89 Porsche 997 is a veteran machine, and will have Rossi and Marcelo Abello as co-drivers
Though the team struggled to find speed its drivers and owners say is needed to be competitive, Ellis said one advantage was the team's presence. Several teams decided to forego the three-day test and concentrate on the single test day prior to the Fresh From Florida 200.
"We certainly hope to get a lot accomplished during the test here," Ellis said. "We came here with a list of things we're going to try. We know we're not going to have the horsepower here, so we're working on the handling and trying to make it the best handling car we can."
The trio's best finish at Daytona came in 2007, with a ninth-place result.
ICY/Phoenix Racing Quickest ST Team of Day
Notching the fastest KONI ST time of the day was Kristian Skavnes, who turned a lap of 2:11.775 (97.257 mph) in the No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy. Skavnes, who paired with Andrew Aquilante, was among the fastest cars in last year's three-day test session at Daytona as well.
Second and third went to the same driver - Tom Long - who piloted two Mazda MX-5s for Freedom Autosport. His fastest time came in the afternoon session, when he lapped the track at 2:11.162 (97.614 mph) in the No. 145 machine. He was also third quickest in the No. 146 Mazda MX-5.
Skavnes was fourth in the KONI ST point standings in 2008 and won at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with Chuck Hemmingson. The New Jersey native led the points twice in 2008 before falling victim to problems at the end of the season.
Burrows, Hopwood Pleased with RSR Motorsports' Mini Cooper S
Driving their third car in as many seasons, Adam Burrows and Trevor Hopwood are set to regain momentum from the middle portions of the 2008 season and claim their second championship since moving into the KONI Sports Car Challenge in 2007.
Burrows finished second and Hopwood sixth in the 2008 ST point standings, after winning the 2007 title despite not winning a race. This season, they will drive for RSR Motorsports in the No. 198 Mini Cooper S after signing with car owner Randy Smalley's team last fall.
Both noted brakes when discussing their first on-track performances, which came during the morning session. Burrows said he had "never driven so deep into a turn before and came out without crashing," and Hopwood said he was ecstatic with the handling.
"There is no question these guys have done a lot of detail work on these cars," Burrows said. "You can tell the quality and craftsmanship is there. The handling is amazing; the braking is great. These cars are well put together, and it's going to be a lot of fun."
The team's No. 196 Mini Cooper S also made on-track appearances with Smalley, veteran Owen Trinkler, Joe Toussaint and rookie Jade Buford behind the wheel.
Other News and Notes
Several drivers made rounds in the KONI Sports Car Challenge garage area looking for rides for Daytona and the season. Among them were Mark White and Chip Herr...The No. 5 Blackforest Motorsports Dodge Challenger made its on-track debut with Tom Nastasi behind the wheel. The car managed only five laps during the first session.