Ernie Irvan Prepped To Join All-Star Cast for Rolex 24 After Testing PTG BMW M3s at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Jan. 22, 1999: Tom Milner's champion Prototype Technology Group (PTG) BMW M3 team takes to the racetrack with a pair of its fast and reliable BMW M3 four-doors and an all-star cast of drivers that includes NASCAR Winston Cup veteran Ernie Irvan for the 37th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona, the traditional season-opening endurance classic set for Saturday and Sunday (Jan. 30-31) at Daytona International Speedway. Irvan, of Mooresville, N.C., driver of the NASCAR Winston Cup M&M Racing Pontiac and winner of the 1991 Daytona 500, is competing for the first time since an accident at the Winston 500 at Talladega, Ala., last October. As he did for Rolex 24 testing earlier this month at Daytona, Irvan joins a PTG lineup that includes regulars Bill Auberlen, of Redondo Beach, Calif., Mark Simo, of Carlsbad, Calif. - the 1997 and 1998 Professional Sports Car Racing (SPORTS CAR) GT3 driver's champions, respectively - Boris Said, of Carlsbad, Calif., and Peter Cunningham, of West Bend, Wis., for this weekend's twice-around-the-clock motorsports marathon. Internationally renowned Hans Stuck, of Austria, also joins the PTG fold for this race, as are team newcomers Johannes Van Overbeek, of San Francisco, and Brian Cunningham (no relation to Peter), of Danville, Ky. "This race has always been fascinating for me," says Irvin. "I would love to have on my resume when I'm old and retired that I won my class at the Daytona 24-hour. And this is the team to be with if you want to win here." "Our BMW M3s are in capable hands as we go for our third win in a row here," says Milner, whose Winchester, Va.-based team captured the USRRC's GT3 driver's, team and manufacturer's (for BMW) championships in 1998, and the same titles in 1997 and 1998 in the rival SPORTS CAR series. "Not many teams have won three of these in a row, so we've notched up our belts in hopes of joining some elite company." Irvan already feels in the midst of some elite company. "These guys are some of the best road racers in the world, and I feel like the weak link," says Irvan, who when asked at the test session if he'd ever raced in a car with doors, jokingly responded, "these cars have doors?" "Boris and Mark talked me into doing this, and everyone was incredibly helpful during the test," Irvan continues. "I'm confident I'll be up to speed when the time comes. We gradually chipped away at our lap times at the test. I got down to the 2-minute mark. And I'm feeling better and better, physically (after last October's accident) every day." "Ernie's probably his own worst critic," says Said, who also happens to be a regular on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in a pickup co-owned by Irvan and Simo. "He's a racer, and he definitely knows his way around this track ... especially the banked parts!" Irvan, Simo, Said and Peter Cunningham are grouped this weekend in the No. 6 M3, while Auberlen, Stuck, Van Overbeek and Brian Cunningham share the No. 10 M3. For Stuck, whose rich road racing resume includes championships in Sportscar Endurance, IMSA Supercar, and German Touring Car, as well as a pair of 24 Hours of Le Mans victories, it will be somewhat of a throwback weekend after racing predominantly world sports cars and prototypes during the last decade. "But stepping into a GT3 car is still a lot of fun for me," he says. "I'll race anything that has a steering wheel. The M3 is built to race. It's quick, it's precise. The car and this team are proven winners here. I'm proud to be a part of the effort." One of the novelties for Stuck and the rest of the field will be racing the nighttime hours under the glow of all-new lights installed at Daytona for last October's Pepsi 400. "Me, I enjoy racing in the darkness," Stuck says. "The racing purists might say it's a traditional part of racing. But it'll be nice for the fans in the stands and those watching on TV to finally be able to see what's going on during the night. Plus, the lights won't be lit to full capacity (only to about 20%), so we still have the flavor of racing in the dark." Five BMW M3s are entered in all this weekend. The two PTG cars, sponsored by Yokohama, BMW Financial, Level One and Flextronic (with additional sponsorship expected), are joined by: the Nos. 45 and 54 BMW M3s of Florida-based Bell Motorsports, and the No. 17 BMW M3 of T.C. Kline Racing. Practice and qualifying are Thursday and Friday (Jan. 28-29). Race time is 1 p.m. EST Saturday. ESPN2 will broadcast 10 hours live: from 12:30-4 p.m. EST Saturday (race start), and again from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. EST Sunday (race finish).