Trans-Am triumvirate of champions look for repeat victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Three-time Trans-Am champion Paul Gentilozzi and two-time titlist Scott Pruett look to score a repeat victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona...
Trans-Am triumvirate of champions look for repeat victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Three-time Trans-Am champion Paul Gentilozzi and two-time titlist Scott Pruett look to score a repeat victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance classic on February 2-3. Joining Gentilozzi and Pruett, who teamed up to win the overall 1994 Rolex 24 in a Nissan 300ZX GTS class car, is 2000 Trans-Am champion Brian Simo. Together, the triumvirate owns six Trans-Am championships and 49 Trans-Am victories. Road racing specialist Michael Lauer rounds out the talent pool piloting the No. 3 Johnson Controls/HomeLink Jaguar XKR.
"With the history of success of our driver line-up and the car's performance during the test days, I'd say we're a threat to win," said Gentilozzi, who has nine starts in six different marques at Daytona. "That's why we're here - to win, plain and simple."
Gentilozzi's chief rival on the Trans-Am circuit, Brian Simo, is part of that winning plan. "I thought after all these years of making him look at my taillights, I'd finally let him look at my steering wheel," quipped Gentilozzi, who has 23 Trans-Am and seven IMSA wins. "He just gets to drive, he doesn't get to look at anything. Seriously, this is the first time Brian and I have been teammates, other than playing golf, and I consider him to be a large part of the winning equation."
Simo intends to deliver. "The thought of being a competitor to Paul isn't on my mind now because I look at him as a teammate, not a competitor," explained Simo, who finished second to Gentilozzi in the 2001 Trans-Am championship. "Being a professional racer, you look at the race at hand. I look at Paul as a friend. He's a fierce competitor, he elevates my level of play."
Pruett, who has three additional wins in the GTO and GTP classes, is looking forward to a return visit to Daytona with the Rocketsports stable. "It takes one thing to win a pole, something else to win a race, and a lot more to win a championship," said Pruett, who co-drove the winning Jaguar XJR12 to victory in 1991. "We've got the experience from that as well as our combined experience at Daytona. We'll be one of the teams to beat."
Gentilozzi believes he knows what it'll take to score the repeat win at Daytona. "First it takes desire, then great preparation, and finally, some luck," revealed Gentilozzi, who ranks first in all-time Trans-Am top-three (55), top-five (86), and top-ten (114) finishes. "This is not a race, but a 24-hour drive. The only pace that matters is the one we set for ourselves.
"Daytona isn't a technically challenging track, but it is very fast," continued Gentilozzi. "The challenge at Daytona is running four classes with 70-plus cars for 24 continuous hours with a speed differential of 30-40 mph. The banking and the high speeds also stress the car in ways that regular tracks don't."
Simo agrees with Gentilozzi's assessment. "I'm looking forward to what Rocketsports puts together for not just any race, but the Rolex 24," Simo said. "I think the team has a lot to do with it (winning). I'm pretty confident that we'll be strong in qualifying - it doesn't really matter who qualifies the car, you've got three champions and we can all get the car around the track."
Simo shared some additional insight. "At some point, you don't just look at who is fastest, you look at the other assets of the driver - how are they in the rain, in long stints, and in night conditions," explained Simo. "You start to look for strengths other than just pure speed."
"Daytona is a very different kind of race," stated Pruett, who has two CART wins to his credit. "It's definitely more demanding, physically speaking, on both the driver and the equipment. There's lots of darkness. Plus, you don't ever know what to expect that'll make it a more difficult race - rain, wetness, fog. You never know until the race - or your race - is over."
Lauer, who routinely competes in historic races, agrees that Daytona is unique unto itself. "You're not looking for blinding speed out of the car, but rather reliability and handling capabilities," he said. "The Rolex 24 is really more of an endurance contest. You don't win this in the first hour. You've got to discipline yourself and your teammates to be patient and protect the equipment; let the other teams make the mistakes and be in a position to capitalize on them."
All the drivers understand that the Rolex 24 is truly a team effort. "We've all won enough races and championships to know that this takes a team effort," said Pruett. "We've all got to be pulling our weight in the same direction, and I'm convinced we will."
Gentilozzi is confident in his team, his co-drivers, and his equipment. But he has one more reason to win - to put a Jaguar back in Winner's Circle in the Rolex 24. "Winning is certainly the first reward for your effort," he explained. "But when you add to the history and heritage of a brand, especially one like Jaguar, that just amplifies and enhances the reward.
"I wish the Corvettes were here," said Gentilozzi. "That's the best-financed GTS effort in the last 10 years. It would be a great challenge to have them running...and listen to them whine.
"They haven't seen anything yet," concluded Gentilozzi.