Daytona 24: SAMAX Motorsports preview

SAMAX Motorsports Ready to Challenge the World's Best at Daytona Wednesday January 24, 2006. - Florida-based SAMAX Motorsports is ready to challenge the world's best drivers and teams this weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the opening round of...

SAMAX Motorsports Ready to Challenge the World's Best at Daytona

Wednesday January 24, 2006. - Florida-based SAMAX Motorsports is ready to challenge the world's best drivers and teams this weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the opening round of the 15-race Grand-American Rolex Sports Car Series 2007 schedule. The twice around the clock race at the 3.56-mile (5.73 Km) Daytona International Speedway road course will feature a combined entry list of 70 Daytona Prototypes (DP) and GT sports cars. SAMAX will field two Pontiac Riley prototypes for the 45th annual classic edition. Eight drivers from seven countries will share duties for SAMAX.

"Without a doubt this is the best group of drivers that I have ever had the opportunity to work with," commented SAMAX team principal Peter Baron. "If you look across all the entries in the 24, there are only a handful of line-ups with no weaknesses, and we firmly believe we are amongst the strongest."

#11 CITGO Racing by SAMAX Pontiac Riley

Regular season drivers Milka Duno and Canadian Patrick Carpentier, now living in Las Vegas, will be joined for the season opener by English driver Darren Manning and Scotland's Ryan Dalziel in the #11 CITGO Racing Pontiac Riley. Last season at Daytona, Duno, from Caracas, Venezuela teamed up with Dario and Marino Franchitti and Kevin McGarrity to bring home the CITGO car in eighth place overall, while Carpentier, who was making his first-ever start in a prototype, led Eddie Cheever's Lexus Crawford during 68 laps over a period of two hours late Saturday night. However, a mechanical failure, while in fourth place, foiled their podium bid two hours from the end of the race.

Manning, a seasoned veteran of open wheel racing, was quick during the series winter test sessions setting fast laps on a regular basis. Although Manning was not accustomed to an endurance-racing car, owner Peter Baron was impressed with his showing and asked the former Formula One BAR Honda test driver and IRL regular to join his team for the 24-Hour classic. Dalziel, a European driver who made a name for himself in North America, finished runner-up two years in a row in the Atlantic Series before switching to sports cars in 2005. He made 13 combined starts in the Rolex GT class and ALMS GT1 category, finishing twice on the podium; his first-ever with SAMAX at Miami/Homestead in 2005. Last year, he started 14 Daytona Prototype races, finishing once on the podium and twice in the Top-5.

#7 SAMAX Pontiac Riley

Tomas Enge, of the Czech Republic, will lead the #7 SAMAX Pontiac Riley entry. This will be Enge's first Daytona 24 race, but the Indy Racing League competitor is a Le Mans champion. He has raced the French classic event since 2002, collecting the GTS pole the first three years and winning the class in 2003. He won the GT1 pole the following year, and was runner-up last season in the Aston Martin GT1 class entry. The much experienced Enge will be teamed with a talented trio of younger drivers: Atlanta native Chris Festa, now living in Tallahassee, Florida, Roger Yasukawa of West Hollywood, California, and Christian Montanari, a citizen of the Republic of San Marino. Although well versed in open wheel competition, the trio has had limited experience in endurance racing. All three began their careers in Karting before moving up to open wheel racing. Yasukawa, 29, and Festa, 20, followed the US open-wheel ladder system from the Barber Dodge series to Atlantic. After two seasons in England in 1997 and 1998, Yasukawa came back to America to pursue his route. Following a full season in Atlantics in 2002 where he won at the Milwaukee Mile, he graduated to the Indy Racing League. Since 2003, he has entered 36 IRL races with his best season coming in his rookie year where he finished 12th overall with eight Top-10 finishes.

Festa began his open wheel career in 2003 after five years of Karting. He successfully raced Skip Barber Formulas, Fran-Am 2000, Formula Ford 2000 and Toyota Atlantics before moving up to the Indy Pro Series (IPS) in 2005. He recently signed a deal with Ganassi Racing who announced an IPS program for 2007. As for Montanari, he spent his career in Europe in Formula 3 and F-3000. During the last two seasons, the 25 year-old driver competed in the World Series by Renault, finishing 8th overall in 2005 and 7th in the 2006 final standings.

"Our team has come alive since the addition of Steve Challis as our Lead Engineer," said Baron. With him, our cars are now showing incredible speed and drivability. Our fantastic crew, led by Geoff Carter, has been planning for this race since last year's season finale in Salt Lake City. Two weeks after the season ended, we were testing at Daytona for the 24-Hour. We have been waiting for this race to start for five months and finally we are there. The team has done all the 24-Hour prep and practice we can handle. I don't think our expectations have ever been this high. As long as we avoid incidents, I think there is a good chance to see both cars on the podium," concluded Baron.

Weekend Schedule

The action starts Thursday morning with two practice sessions scheduled for the Daytona Prototypes. Following practice, the prototypes will take the track for the first round of qualifying at 3:45 p.m. with the top 30 securing their positions on the grid. A second qualifying session is scheduled on Friday morning for those failed to qualify on Thursday.

-credit: samax motorsports

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Milka Duno , Ryan Dalziel , Tomas Enge , Darren Manning , Eddie Cheever , Patrick Carpentier , Kevin McGarrity , Peter Baron , Marino Franchitti , Skip Barber , Christian Montanari , Chris Festa
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing