Bill Oursler's Daytona Notebook - Friday

The Grand American Sports Car Rolex series, in its brief existence, has proved to be an exciting championship, whose hallmark has been tight, hard fought competition. In large measure, this equality has been based in the regulations which first ...

The Grand American Sports Car Rolex series, in its brief existence, has proved to be an exciting championship, whose hallmark has been tight, hard fought competition. In large measure, this equality has been based in the regulations which first created the new Daytona Prototype category at the start of the 2003 season, and which this year will see all the production cars running in a single class.

The weakness, if there has been one, can be found in the limited number of recognized stars driving in the Rolex tour. For its annual 24-Hour opener, also sponsored by Rolex at the Daytona On international Speedway next month, the Grand Am management has taken care of that problem by importing no less than a dozen or more single seat and Nextel Cup headliners.

The result should make for a more attractive entertainment package to those fans not familiar with the Rolex Sports Car tour. Certainly based on the results of the first day of the three-day test weekend here, the Rolex 24 should be an all-out dog fight that will ultimately be determined by luck, skill and the team making the fewest mistakes.

This fact was clearly shown on the time charts where less than a second separated the five quickest cars. Of these, four were Riley chassis - two powered by Pontiac engines and two by Lexus V-8s. The fifth Daytona Prototype was a Crawford, also with a Pontiac pushrod V-8.

Still, for all the hype over the interloping "outlanders", it was the series regulars that came to the fore on an afternoon in which the fastest time of the day jumped from one camp to another, rather like a fumbled football no one wants. In the end, it was Wayne Taylor - co-driving with his ex-Cadillac teammates Max Angelli and Emanuel Collard - posting a 1:46.7 to nip the similar Racers Group entry of Max Papis, Jorg Bergmeister and Oliver Gavin by six tenth's of a second.

Third fastest was the Citgo Howard Boss Motorsport Pontiac Crawford of Andy Wallace, Jan Lammers and NASCAR's Tony Stewart, who drove for the Max Crawford group on several occasions last year, always looking impressive. On Friday the top Crawford was just a tenth further off the top time at 1:47.2, followed by Chip Ganassi's Comp USA Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett, Luis Diaz and Ryan Briscoe at 1:48.1.

Both Pruett and Papis, who shared the 2004 title honors for Ganassi, will battle each other on equal terms for those same rewards this season. Rounding out the top five was the New Century Mortgage Group Lexus Riley of Jamie McMurray, Stefan Johansson and Cort Wagner, clocked at 1:48.4.

Porsche dominated the Production category Friday with the Flying Lizard Motorsports 911 GT3 of Johannes van Overbeek, Patrick Long, Lonnie Pechnnix and Jon Fogarty topping the charts. Their time was nearly ten seconds off Taylor's Prototype pace at a 1:56.0. Second quickest at 1:57.7 was the TPC 911 of John Littlechild, Randy Pobst, Mike Fitzgerald, Manuel Matos and Spencer Pumpelly.

In all there were an impressive 58 cars on the grounds Friday, 31 of which were Daytona Prototypes, the largest number of any prototype class since the era of the FIA Group C and IMSA GTP pumpkin seed coupes of the 1980's and '90's. That statistic is the overriding message of Friday's test session. Combined with the driving talent on hand including visiting firemen like NASCAR's Labonte brothers - Terry and Bobby - and former Champ Car titlist Paul Tracy, the Rolex Grand Am Sports Car Series has become a force in professional road racing no matter who is temporarily atop the time charts. - Bill Oursler

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Jan Lammers , Tony Stewart , Stefan Johansson , Max Papis , Paul Tracy , Jon Fogarty , Scott Pruett , Wayne Taylor , Jamie McMurray , Randy Pobst , Luis Diaz , Oliver Gavin , Jörg Bergmeister , Patrick Long , Johannes van Overbeek , Ryan Briscoe , Spencer Pumpelly , John Littlechild , Chip Ganassi , Manuel Matos , Cort Wagner