JUSTIN WILSON AND A.J. ALLMENDINGER SCORE PODIUM FINISH AS CHAMP CAR STARS SHOW STRENGTH IN ROLEX 24-HOUR EVENT DAYTONA, Fla. (January 29, 2006) -- The turbocharged Ford-Cosworth engines of the Champ Car World Series won't fire in anger for ...
JUSTIN WILSON AND A.J. ALLMENDINGER SCORE PODIUM FINISH AS CHAMP CAR STARS SHOW STRENGTH IN ROLEX 24-HOUR EVENT
DAYTONA, Fla. (January 29, 2006) -- The turbocharged Ford-Cosworth engines of the Champ Car World Series won't fire in anger for another two months but some of the stars of the series got an early jump on 2006 preparations with strong runs in this weekend's Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Six of the men that were on the grid for the 2005 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford finale were on hand on Daytona International Speedway, and while the list featured drivers with deep and diverse road-racing resumes, it was a pair of relative newcomers that helped carry the Champ Car banner to the Rolex podium.
RuSPORT drivers Justin Wilson and A.J. Allmendinger helped spark the Michael Shank Racing team to a second-place overall finish in the weekend, scoring a runner-up spot along with co-drivers Oswaldo Negri Jr. and Mark Patterson. The event was Allmendinger's first-ever foray into endurance racing and the first for Wilson in the United States. The team finished second to the Target Chip Ganassi machine that featured former Champ Car drivers Scott Dixon and Casey Mears along with Indy 500 champ Dan Wheldon.
The team showed notice early that it would be a force as Wilson took the #60 car to the front, wresting the lead from Rocketsports Racing's Michael McDowell on Lap 93 and holding it for the next 12 laps. Wilson then yielded to Allmendinger, who built a 14-second lead over his stint before an electrical problem found during his driver change cost the team three spots. Undaunted, the team soldiered on as darkness fell on Daytona, running in the top three for the majority of the evening before a damaged toe link dropped the team two laps off the pace.
"The team did a great job, we had a good, strong car all night and I have to thank the team for that," said Wilson. "It was pretty hairy a couple of times out there, especially when we had the toe link problem, but the guys did a great job getting the car fixed and keeping us in contention.
"This race is a bit tougher than Le Mans in some aspects," Wilson said of the Daytona event, "The track is shorter and it's very busy out there. At Le Mans you have a long straight where you can catch your breath a little bit, but here you are always battling. It was a lot of fun."
Again, the MSR team fixed the problem and the drivers kept the car on the track, making up time and positions as other machines fell to the wayside, and greeted the morning sun from the second spot. Wilson ended his final stint with two hours left in the race, turning the machine over to Allmendinger for the final stint of the day. The Californian held the #58 Red Bull Porsche of David Donohue at bay before a flat tire scuttled its charge and gave the Michael Shank Racing team its first-ever Rolex 24 podium.
"That was the first time that I have ever fought to stay awake in a race car," grinned Allmendinger. "Really, the car was very strong and I have to thank Mark Patterson and Michael Shank for giving us this chance and for Oswaldo Negri, for teaching me about driving this car. He helped me so much that it felt like I had driven the car before I ever climbed into it. I have to come back here again and try to win one of these."
The day started with another Champ Car veteran taking the bit and running with it as 2003 Champ Car champion Paul Tracy took the #6 Grayson Elliott/MSR Lexus/Riley to the front at Lap 23 and kept it there for the next 30 laps. Tracy started 12th and in typical Tracy fashion, had the car in third after just five trips around the 3.56-mile layout.
"We had a great car and I was able to make passes pretty much anywhere around the track," Tracy said. "I got a couple guys right off the bat but the car was so good that I was able to make up ground through the infield section as well as the oval. I was making easy laps and it looked good."
Meanwhile, things weren't going as well for the other Champ Car stars that had opted for a weekend in sunny Florida. Sebastien Bourdais, who had started fourth, suffered a broken suspension piece in his #78 Doran/Ford that would eventually doom to team to an early retirement. Jimmy Vasser suffered a similar fate, except for the fact that was watching his car's problems from the relative safety of his pit stall. The #99 Gainsco/Blackhawk Racing Pontiac/Riley was involved in an accident when another car spun directly into its path, leading to a lengthy stop for repairs that dropped it out of contention. The team battled hard to repair the car and despite the fact that the team was 20 laps down before the 1996 Champ Car titlist got in the car, Vasser and his four-man team kept the car rolling al the way to the finish.
"You just never give up in this race," Vasser said. "The race wasn't even half over when I got in the car and the guy that won this race last year won by 11 laps, so you know anything can happen. That in mind, you just want to run hard and give the car back to your teammates in a good spot."
Tracy's run for the Rolex ended soon after he got out of the cockpit when a broken halfshaft on his car led to a pair of trips to the garage. The team eventually retired just after the race's halfway point, ending the day in 54th place, just two spots ahead of the Bourdais entry. McDowell ran up front early in the day in the Finlay Motorsports machine but a late-night problem stole his chance for victory as well, leaving the team to finish in sixth place.
The Champ Car World Series drivers will now get back to the task of preparing for the 2006 championship, a 15-race season that gets underway April 7-9 with America's Fastest Street Race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Incidentally, Allmendinger and Wilson will be reunited with their MSR teammates at Long Beach as the Grand American Rolex Series will compete as part of the bill at Long Beach, the first appearance for the Grand-Am series on the streets of Long Beach.