Bakers dozen of champions for Rolex 24

In a 43rd annual Rolex 24 at Daytona Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series field of 62 cars this year, there are 13 champions - just since the turn of the century. The Grand Am publicity machine managed to gather 11 of them together at...

In a 43rd annual Rolex 24 at Daytona Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series field of 62 cars this year, there are 13 champions - just since the turn of the century.

The Grand Am publicity machine managed to gather 11 of them together at one time to discuss their participation and the differences between their "day jobs" and the activities they'll participate in this weekend in the mind- winter twice-around-the-clock enduro.

For the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup group of Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch, the opportunity to drive a sports car where they'll be competing in the Daytona 500 in two weeks time was an opportunity they just couldn't pass up.

Biffle, Kenseth and Busch - all of whom work with the estimable Jack Roush - are well aware of their boss' success on this circuit in the Rolex 24. "This is a tremendous event," said Busch, the 2004 Cup titleholder. "That's why we wanted to be involved. The number one thing is to have fun and learn as we go."

2003 Cup champ Kenseth "never drove these cars before," so he's spending time learning the 3.56-mile road course and the Daytona Prototype Ford/Multimatic to which he's been assigned with Biffle, Busch and sports car veteran Scott Maxwell. "It was our choice to do this race," Kenseth said, "and the car drives great, like it should. I'm having fun."

The 2000 Craftsman Truck and 2001 Busch Series champ Biffle is finding this new experience great fun. "I've never raced in rain before and I'm excited every time I get in the car. I've learned a lot, particularly from Scott who is an accomplished road racing star," he said.

Bobby Labonte, the 2000 Cup champion would love to have "the spoiler and rear wing for my Cup car," he joked. After talking with brother Terry about driving this race a couple of years ago, the opportunity presented itself in 2005 and, in fact he intends to do a couple more Grand Am races before the year is up. "It's my first time on the road course here and I hope to say I had a blast. The cars sure are fun to drive."

Last year's Rolex Sports Car Series co-champs, Scott Pruett and Max Papis may be driving for different teams this year but they like the perspective of running as a champion. "This is an awesome collection of drivers who spotlight our series," Pruett declared. "This is a different sort of racing for some of these guys to do because they have to deal with other team drivers and long stints behind the wheel."

Papis is "really proud to represent Grand Am because the series is growing tremendously. This is the largest number of champions together in one race ever," the Italian noted; they've all come together because of their passion for this sport."

2003 Champ Car titleholder Paul Tracy last ran a 24-hour race in 1986 so he's a bit rusty in this genre. "Other guys on this team have more experience than me, which is one of the reasons I wanted to be involved. I just want to help the team because, ultimately it's still a point race for the regular Grand Am drivers."

The 2003 Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype champion Terry Borcheller is one of the regulars to whom Tracy alluded. "This is an extremely difficult race," he reminded. "It's not just one person who wins it; it's all up to the depth of the team, the pit stops, the preparation that help win the Rolex 24."

Current Champ Car World Series titleholder Sebastien Bourdais was born and raised in le Mans, France, home to the most famous 24-hour contest and, for him the Rolex 24 is not much of an anomaly. While he is amongst "such a successful group. I'm here to have a great time."

Endurance racing is familiar to 2002 Rolex Series SRP champion Didier Theys, who is competing in the DP class here this weekend. His advice to the newcomers? "You don't win this race in the first turn" and "don't wreck!" The veteran Theys thinks it will be "very tough to win this year; everyone is very prepared."

This is Scott Dixon's second visit to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He competed last year and learned "it' rains here a lot!" The 2003 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champ said his car feels "pretty good. The team's done a lot of development and the car should be a lot of fun to drive during the race."

The two other champions in the field, Tony Stewart (2002 Cup titleholder) and 2002 Champ Car champion Cristiano da Matta were unable to attend the press conference. Stewart, who had just arrived from Cup testing in California, was attending a compulsory safety meeting; da Matta had an engagement to test his new PKV Racing down the road in Sebring.

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Max Papis , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Scott Pruett , Scott Maxwell , Sébastien Bourdais , Jack Roush , Cristiano da Matta