Wide-Open Championship Battles and Star-Studded Driver Lineups Highlight Inaugural Discount Tire Sunchaser
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 29, 2006) -- Virtually all of the 2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve championships will be decided among a star-studded entry list second only to the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona as the Rolex Series makes its inaugural visit to Miller Motorsports Park for Saturday's nine-hour Discount Tire Sunchaser (SPEED, Live, Part 1 -- 2:00 p.m. ET, Park 2 -- 8:30 p.m. ET).
Rolex Series stars and many open-wheel racing standouts will take on the challenge of nine hours of racing on the 4-5-mile, 24-turn layout at Miller Motorsports Park, the longest road course in North America. Those teams and drivers will be vying for the coveted Daytona Prototype and GT championships at the new facility near Salt Lake City, Utah.
Leading the way, as he has since the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen in June, is German racer Jorg Bergmeister, who is looking for his first Rolex Series Daytona Prototype driver title. A three-time winner in Rolex Series competition this season, Bergmeister has not finished worse than ninth in any race thus far in 2006, and a similar performance this weekend alongside 17-year-old co-driver Colin Braun will earn him the championship.
Bergmeister's lead heading into the Discount Tire Sunchaser is 19 points, 437-418, over No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley co-drivers 2004 Daytona Prototype co-champion Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz, with defending Daytona Prototype co-champion Max Angelelli still alive in the championship as well. Angelelli, driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley, takes 414 points with him to Salt Lake City.
The championship will belong to Bergmeister if he is able to finish 14th or better, regardless of the results posted by Pruett, Diaz or Angelelli. That said, anything can happen in a nine-hour enduro, and the No. 76 team has posted its worst results--back-to-back ninth-place finishes--in the last two races.
Pruett and Diaz, meanwhile, have kept the pressure on with victories in both the Crown Royal 200 at The Glen earlier this month and last weekend's Sonoma 250. They will be aided in their quest for the title this weekend by 2003 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon. In his last Rolex Series appearance, Dixon earned the overall victory in the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona alongside IndyCar teammate Dan Wheldon and Ganassi NASCAR driver Casey Mears.
In addition to the battle for the driver championship, the No. 01 trio will have the added incentive of bringing the second team championship in three years to the CompUSA organization, as well as giving Lexus its first-ever Rolex Series engine manufacturer title. The No. 01 team currently leads the Daytona Prototype team championship by four points, 418-414, over the No. 10 SunTrust team, with the No. 76 Krohn Racing team another three points back. Lexus holds a two-point advantage in the engine manufacturer standings, 486-484, over Pontiac, which has won the last two engine titles. Riley--which is the chassis of choice for all three of the front-running teams--wrapped-up its third-consecutive Daytona Prototype constructor's championship with last weekend's victory by Pruett and Diaz.
Angelelli's title hopes, as well as those of the SunTrust team, will be riding on the shoulders of co-drivers Angelelli, car owner Wayne Taylor and two-time Champ Car race-winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Angelelli and Taylor have been down this road before, as they co-drove to the 2005 Daytona Prototype driver and team championships and challenged for the driver and team titles in the 2004 season finale. It will be Hunter-Reay's first-ever race in a Daytona Prototype, although he has made four Rolex Series starts in 2006 in the GT class.
While the Daytona Prototype championships will come down to the aforementioned drivers, teams and manufacturers, there are a host of intriguing driver combinations that could steal a victory this weekend and wrap-up the season on a high note.
One combination that definitely cannot be overlooked is the No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Porsche Crawford with regular driver Mike Rockenfeller being joined by his German countryman Ralf Kelleners for the Discount Tire Sunchaser. The No. 23 machine, which has been one of the fastest cars at virtually every race, won twice thus far in 2006 with Rockenfeller and Patrick Long sharing the driving duties. Long will not compete in the Discount Tire Sunchaser due to other commitments, but the team remains optimistic that it can close out the year with another victory.
Another race-winning lineup in 2006 is owner/driver Adrian Fernandez and co-driver Mario Haberfeld in the No. 12 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Pontiac Riley. Fernandez and Haberfeld earned their first Rolex Series feature win in June's EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and picked up their first podium result since that victory with a third-place performance in the Sonoma 250 last weekend. They are hoping that momentum, coupled with the fact that they will be joined by rising IndyCar star Vitor Meira as a third driver, will translate to one more victory in 2006.
For teams that have not yet won this season, the Discount Tire Sunchaser represents their last chance. Certainly, the No. 99 GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing Pontiac Riley duo of Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney has shown the speed to win, and they will share the car this weekend with 1996 Champ Car champion Jimmy Vasser.
Since opening the season with a fourth-place performance in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, co-drivers Darren Law and David Donohue have seen their No. 58 Red Bull Porsche switch from the Fabcar to Riley chassis. They will be joined by 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice as they search for a season-ending victory. Their teammates in the No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley, Hurley Haywood and JC France, will also be joined by a "ringer" of sorts, with Brazilian Formula 1 and Champ Car veteran Roberto Moreno set to log at least one shift behind the wheel.
On the heels of a second-place performance in the Sonoma 250, No. 4 The Boss Snowplow Pontiac Crawford teammates Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace--who have won at least one Rolex Series race in the last two seasons--look to keep their streak alive in the Discount Tire Sunchaser. They will be aided in their quest by Dutch racer Jan Lammers.
Other notable Daytona Prototype entries include the No. 75 Krohn Racing Ford Riley with owner/driver Tracy Krohn and Swedish standout Nic Jonsson being joined by the always-entertaining Boris Said, the trio of Memo Gidley, Michael McDowell and Guy Cosmo in the No. 19 Playboy/Uniden Racing Ford Crawford, the No. 5 Make A Wish/Z-Line Designs/Finlay Motorsports Ford Crawford combination of Michael Valiante, Rob Finlay and Raphael Matos, the No. 6 Playboy/Michael Shank Racing/Mears Motor Coach Lexus Riley trio of Mike Borkowski and Burt and Brian Frisselle, Christian Fittipaldi and owner/driver Eddie Cheever Jr. in the No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve/Cheever Racing Porsche Crawford, Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri Jr. in the No. 60 Flight Options/Net App Lexus Riley, the No. 77 Kodak/Amp'd Mobile Ford Doran in the hands of Harrison Brix, Michel Jourdain Jr. and Champ Car standout Oriol Servia, and Alex Figge and Ryan Dalziel in the No. 89 Vonage/Playboy/Palms Casino Pontiac Riley. Figge and Dalziel were originally scheduled to share the car with Champ Car rising star A.J. Allmendinger in the Discount Tire Sunchaser, but Allmendinger will not compete owing to other commitments.
Completing a 26-car Daytona Prototype field will be Shane Lewis and Craig Stanton in the No. 3 Southard Motorsports BMW Riley, Brian Tuttle and Rod MacLeod in the No. 7 Tuttle Team Racing Pontiac Riley, Patrick Huisman and a co-driver or co-drivers to be named in the No. 8 Synergy Racing Porsche Doran, Doug Goad and Marc-Antoine Camirand sharing the No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Racing Pontiac Crawford, the No. 11 CITGO Racing by SAMAX Pontiac Riley trio of Milka Duno, Marc Goossens and Stefan Johansson, Matthew Alhadeff and Bill Auberlen in the No. 30 4M/Motul/enVista BMW Riley, Randy Ruhlman, Kenny Wilden and Paul Dallenbach sharing the No. 40 Preformed Line Products/Key Bank Pontiac Riley, Charles and Rob Morgan and BJ Zacharias co-driving the No. 47 Querencia Golf Club/TruSpeed Motorcars/Wright Motorsports Porsche Riley, and Oliver Kuttner and Forest Barber in the No. 78 Doran Racing Ford Doran.
The GT driver, team and manufacturer titles will also be on the line in the Discount Tire Sunchaser. Andy Lally and Marc Bunting lead the driver standings and the No. 65 TRG/F1 Air Pontiac GTO.R team for which they driver tops the team standings heading into the season finale, but the battle is far from over. No. 72 NEC Porsche GT3 co-drivers Robin Liddell and Wolf Henzler--who took the GT class victory in the Sonoma 250 last weekend--trail Bunting and Lally by just eight points, with the No. 72 team trailing the No. 65 by the same margin.
Pontiac has slightly more breathing room in the GT manufacturer championship, holding a 21-point advantage over 2005 GT manufacturer champion Porsche. If Pontiac wins the GT title, it will become the fourth different manufacturer to win the GT championship in four years. BMW claimed the 2004 GT crown and Ferrari was the 2003 GT manufacturer champion.
For the race, Bunting and Lally will be joined by 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona GT winner Spencer Pumpelly in the No. 65 machine, while Liddell and Henzler will be aided by their Tafel Racing teammate, Andrew Davis. Davis and Henzler are also scheduled to share the No. 73 NEC Porsche GT3 with team owner Jim Tafel, who in turn will share the No. 74 Rembrandt Charms Porsche GT3 with Eric Lux and Ian James.
Although they were eliminated from championship consideration with a sixth-place class result in last weekend's Sonoma 250, No. 64 TRG/iRise Pontiac GTO.R co-drivers Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards have visited Victory Lane several times in 2006 and look to close out the year with another "W" with co-driver Kris Wilson. Other potential candidates for the GT class win include No. 80 Shoes for Crews/Synergy Racing Porsche GT3 co-drivers Leh Keen and David Murry, as well as multiple-time Trans-Am and IMSA champion Tommy Kendall and 2005 Grand-Am Cup Series Grand Sport (GS) champion David Empringham in the No. 98 Ironclad/Wine Country Motorsports Pontiac GTO.R. A total of 21 GT machines have been entered for the Discount Tire Sunchaser.
This weekend will also see a return to action for the Grand-Am Cup Series, which will contest its penultimate round at Miller Motorsports Park on Friday afternoon. No. 81 Wheel Enhancement/Synergy Racing Porsche 997 co-drivers Patrick Long and Brent Martini lead a tight battle for the GS class title, while No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW 330i teammates Will Turner and Don Salama head the Street Tuner driver standings.
On-track activities at Miller Motorsports Park get underway with a promoter test day on Wednesday, August 30, with Rolex Series and Grand-Am Cup practice and Grand-Am Cup qualifying scheduled for Thursday, August 31. On Friday, September 1, the starting grid for the Rolex Series Discount Tire Sunchaser will be established, followed by the 200-mile Grand-Am Cup event. Saturday's nine-hour Rolex Series season finale is scheduled to take the green flag shortly after 12:00 Noon local time (2:00 p.m. ET).
SPEED will carry live coverage of the Discount Tire Sunchaser in two parts, the first of which hits the airwaves at 2:00 p.m. ET and resuming at 8:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, September 2. SPEED will also televise the Grand-Am Cup 200 on Saturday, September 23 at 1:00 p.m. ET.
Live coverage from throughout the weekend, including live timing & scoring data and audio webcasts, will be available on the official web site of the Grand American Road Racing Association, www.grandamerican.com.
<pre> Schedule of Events:
Thursday, August 31 11:45 a.m. -- 12:15 p.m. Rolex Series GT practice 12:15 p.m. -- 1:15 p.m. Rolex Series Practice 1:15 p.m. -- 1:45 p.m. Rolex Series Daytona Prototype practice 2:00 p.m. -- 2:45 p.m. Grand-Am Cup practice 4:45 p.m. -- 5:30 p.m. Rolex Series practice 5:45 p.m. -- 6:00 p.m. Grand-Am Cup ST qualifying 6:15 p.m. -- 6:30 p.m. Grand-Am Cup GS qualifying 8:00 p.m. -- 8:45 p.m. Rolex Series practice
Friday, September 1 10:00 a.m. -- 10:45 a.m. Rolex Series practice 11:00 a.m. -- 11:45 a.m. Grand-Am Cup practice 1:30 p.m. -- 1:45 p.m. Rolex Series GT qualifying 2:00 p.m. -- 2:15 p.m. Rolex Series Daytona Prototype qualifying 2:45 p.m. START Grand-Am Cup 200 (200 miles/45 laps/2 ½-hour time limit)
Saturday, September 2 9:30 a.m. -- 10:00 a.m. Rolex Series practice 12:00 p.m. START Discount Tire Sunchaser (9 hours)