Daytona 24: Larry Connor preview

Connor Has High Hopes for Rolex 24 CENTERVILLE, Ohio, Jan. 28 - Larry Connor of Centerville, Ohio will be part of one of the most star-studded fields of drivers assembled for any American auto race when he participates in the Rolex 24 at Daytona...

Connor Has High Hopes for Rolex 24

CENTERVILLE, Ohio, Jan. 28 - Larry Connor of Centerville, Ohio will be part of one of the most star-studded fields of drivers assembled for any American auto race when he participates in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Feb. 5-6.

Drivers representing more than 100 professional auto racing championships are entered in the 43rd edition of North America's most prestigious endurance sports car race. In addition to top sports car racers from around the globe, five NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champions (Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Terry Labonte) are entered, as are three Champ Car World Series titlists (Sebastien Bourdais, Paul Tracy and Cristiano de Matta), two Indy Racing League IndyCar champs (Scott Dixon and Scott Sharp), and the reigning Indy 500 winner (Buddy Rice).

Looking over the entry list posted on www.grandamerican.com, one gets the distinct idea that this race has become a day-long IROC with a wide variety of cars.

Connor will drive one of 29 cars competing in the top class, Daytona Prototype (DP), up from 17 just one year ago. Another 33 cars are entered in the GT division in the twice-around-the-clock enduro to make up the 62-car field. The divisions have anywhere from an 8 to 20 mph difference in speed, which means different braking points, driving lines and just plain intense traffic.

Duncan Dayton, Mike Borkowski and Paul Mears Jr. will share the driving duties with Connor in the Michael Shank Racing entry. The team is headquartered in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, on the southeast edge of Columbus. Dayton lives in Danbury, Conn.; Borkowski is from Scottsdale, Ariz. and Mears lives in Orlando, Fla.

Their car is the Mears Motor Coach Riley Pontiac #6, a yellow car with black, white and red trim that incorporates an open road as part of its paint scheme.

In addition to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Petit Le Mans, Connor has raced in the Rolex 24 before, running a Lola Nissan with the Archangel Motorsports team in the now-defunct Sports Racing Prototype II class in 2002. That effort ran into some problems and didn't finish the event, which is always the first goal of everyone entered in a 24-hour enduro. Just to finish is a great accomplishment.

The Michael Shank Racing team finished fourth in the DP class in last year's Rolex 24 with a DORAN JE4 Lexus, and Connor has high hopes for this year's race.

"I think we have a good package, a good team, a good driver line-up, and a real good chance to finish the race and do well," he said. "I'm really happy to be with Michael Shank Racing for this race. It's the first time I've run with them, but they're professional, very organized and dedicated.

"Duncan [Dayton] and I have driven together in the past, and he's a great teammate," Connor continued. "I've raced against Mike Borkowski, and he's a top-flight driver. Paul Mears seems to be a good, solid guy too, so I think it's an excellent driver line-up."

Connor, who is a two-time SCCA Formula Atlantic champion, has driven this DP twice in testing. "I drove the car at a test at Homestead [another track in Florida] and at the test at Daytona a few weeks ago," he explained. "It's a good car; I think we have a great package. Actually I was a bit surprised that a 2,100-pound car handled as well as it did."

Connor said this might not be his only race with this team this year. "Potentially I may do Mont-Tremblant [Quebec, Canada] in May and Watkins Glen [New York] in June," he said.

Connor said he hasn't been doing much differently in preparation for the Rolex 24, the most grueling event on the series' 14-race calendar. "I work out five or six days a week year-round, so I'm not doing much differently with my training," he said, adding "I will try to get a lot of sleep leading into that weekend, though."

The weekend starts with practice and qualifying on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 3-4. The race will begin at noon on Saturday, Feb. 5 and conclude at noon on Sunday, Feb. 6.

Fourteen and a half of the 24 hours will be covered live on SPEED beginning at noon on Saturday, Feb. 5 and continuing until 11 p.m., except for a one-hour break between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. There won't be any live coverage in the wee hours of the morning, but it will resume at 8 a.m. Sunday morning and conclude at 12:30 p.m. that day. All times are Eastern.

For more information on Connor, the chief executive officer of The Connor Group, a real estate investment firm, please see www.theconnorgrp.com. Other interesting information may be found at www.michaelshankracing.com, www.grandamerican.com, www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com and www.restartcommunications.com.

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Duncan Dayton , Kurt Busch , Scott Sharp , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Larry Connor , Sébastien Bourdais , Buddy Rice , Mike Borkowski , Paul Mears Jr. , Michael Shank
Teams Michael Shank Racing