Daytona 24: Season opener preview

Lineup of International Superstars Set To Shine In 43rd Rolex 24 At Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 2, 2005) -- Upwards of 250 drivers representing more than 100 auto racing championships, countless race victories and 26 countries will...

Lineup of International Superstars Set To Shine In 43rd Rolex 24 At Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 2, 2005) -- Upwards of 250 drivers representing more than 100 auto racing championships, countless race victories and 26 countries will open their respective racing seasons this weekend at Daytona International Speedway in the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series 43rd Rolex 24 At Daytona on February 5-6.

The twice-around-the-clock race on the 3.56-mile road course at the "World Center of Racing" traditionally serves as the "kick off" of the international racing calendar, and also represents the opening of Speedweeks in Daytona. With an entry list of superstars from every major North American racing series, champions from all over the world, and a newly-renovated infield at Daytona International Speedway, the 2005 Rolex 24 At Daytona clearly rates as the biggest event in Rolex Series history and ranks among the biggest events in the history of the famed Rolex 24.

The field will feature 18 drivers who have claimed an overall victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Leading the way will be five-time overall winner Hurley Haywood, who scored triumphs in 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979 and 1991. Haywood will be joined in the No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche Fabcar by Timo Bernhard--who claimed an overall Rolex 24 At Daytona victory in 2003--as well as JC France and Porsche factory drivers Mike Rockenfeller and Romain Dumas.

Andy Wallace--a Rolex 24 At Daytona overall winner in 1990, 1998 and 1999--shares the No. 20 CITGO Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford with 1988 and 1990 overall winner Jan Lammers and 2002 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. Wallace came within 20 minutes of taking his fourth overall triumph last year when the car he was sharing with NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. and driven at the time by Stewart encountered a suspension failure and crashed at the end of the famed Daytona Superstretch.

Three-time overall winner Butch Leitzinger (1994, 1997 and 1999) and Elliott Forbes-Robinson--who co-drove with Leitzinger to the overall triumphs in 1997 and 1999--have teamed up once again with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series star Jimmie Johnson in the No. 4 The Boss Snowplow Pontiac Crawford for Howard-Boss Motorsports. Their co-driver for the 1997 victory, Rob Dyson, returns to the Rolex 24 this weekend as well, co-driving the No. 5 Essex Racing Ford Crawford with his son, Chris Dyson, as well as James Gue and budding sports car superstar Harrison Brix.

Leitzinger's 1994 co-driver Scott Pruett--a defending Rolex Series Daytona Prototype co-champion--is also back co-driving the 2004 championship-winning CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley with Mexican rising star Luis Diaz and Australian hotshoe Ryan Briscoe. Pruett is no stranger to success in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, as in addition to his 1994 overall triumph, he earned GTO class victories in 1987 and 1988, a GTP class victory in 1992, a Group C class win in 1993 and a GTS class victory in 2002. He qualified on the pole position for last year's race.

Didier Theys, who claimed overall Rolex 24 victories in 1998 and 2002, will share the No. 77 Doran Racing Lexus Doran with former FIA-GT champions Fabrizio Gollin and Matteo Bobbi. Defending Rolex Series Daytona Prototype co-champion Max Papis--who was also one of Theys' co-drivers in the 2002 Rolex 24 overall triumph--returns for another run at overall honors in the No. 66 Krohn Racing/TRG Pontiac Riley with Jorg Bergmeister--who took an overall Rolex 24 triumph in 2003--and General Motors factory pilot Oliver Gavin.

No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley car owner and driver Wayne Taylor--who earned a Rolex 24 overall winner's watch in 1996--returns once again with his lightning-quick regular co-driver Max Angelelli and Frenchman Emmanuel Collard. IRL IndyCar Series star Scott Sharp, who shared the overall victory with Taylor in 1996, is set for another run as well, co-driving the No. 39 Orbit Racing Pontiac Riley with car owner Jim Matthews, as well as Belgian sports car ace Marc Goossens and 2003 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Guy Smith.

TRG team owner Kevin Buckler, who took an overall Rolex 24 victory in 2003, will co-drive the No. 65 TRG Porsche GT3 Cup with 2004 Rolex Series Super Grand Sport (SGS) co-champions Marc Bunting and Andy Lally, as well as Carlos de Quesada and Hugh Plumb in the GT class. Buckler will be a busy man this weekend, as TRG, Krohn Racing/TRG and TRG East account for eight of the 64 cars on the entry list.

Karl Wendlinger, an overall Rolex 24 winner in 2000, will also participate in the GT class, co-driving the No. 51 Red Bull Ebimotors Porsche GT3 Cup with fellow Austrian Dieter Quester, English driver Johnny Mowlem and Belgium's Vincent Vosse.

All of the aforementioned teams will be looking to unseat the No. 54 Kodak EasyShare Bell Motorsports Pontiac Doran lineup of 2004 overall Rolex 24 winners Terry Borcheller, Christian Fittipaldi and Forest Barber, who will be joined by 2003 Champ Car World Series champion Paul Tracy and German driver Ralf Kelleners as they attempt to repeat.

Not to be overlooked, however, are a host of drivers who have enjoyed success at the highest levels and will be going for their first overall Rolex 24 triumph this year.

When looking for favorites, one need look no further than Chip Ganassi Racing, which brings a three-car assault to Daytona. In addition to the No. 01 machine, NASCAR star Jamie McMurray, former Formula 1 and Champ Car pilot Stefan Johansson and former Rolex Series GT champion Cort Wagner will provide a formidable challenge in the No. 02 New Century Mortgage Lexus Riley. The team's No. 03 Target-sponsored Lexus Riley also features a power-packed lineup with 2003 IRL IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon sharing the ride with his IndyCar teammate Darren Manning and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Casey Mears.

Joining their IndyCar brethren will be Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti, who will co-drive the No. 2 CITGO Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford with Milka Duno and Dario's younger brother, Marino Franchitti. Wheldon and Franchitti will face a stiff challenge from their Andretti-Green Racing IndyCar teammate Bryan Herta, who shares the No. 44 Doran Racing Pontiac Doran with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champions Terry and Bobby Labonte as well as sports car standout Jan Magnussen. Further bolstering the field from the IndyCar ranks is 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice, who shares the No. 67 Krohn Racing/TRG Pontiac Riley with Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Boris Said.

There will be a total of five NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champions in the field, as the Labontes and Stewart will be joined by reigning NEXTEL Cup king Kurt Busch and 2003 NEXTEL Cup champ Matt Kenseth. Busch and Kenseth will share the No. 49 Crown Royal Ford Multimatic with their Roush Racing teammate Greg Biffle and sports car standout Scott Maxwell.

The Champ Car World Series is also well-represented, as the series' past three champions will be in action this weekend. Joining Tracy in the field will be 2002 Champ Car champion Cristiano da Matta and 2004 Champ Car titlist Sebastien Bourdais, who will share the No. 79 Newman Racing/Silverstone Racing Pontiac Crawford with Academy Award-winning actor and five-time Champ Car World Series champion team owner Paul Newman as well as Michael Brockman.

Others to watch in this weekend's Daytona Prototype field include the No. 3 Cegwa Sport/Southard Motorsports Lexus Fabcar quintet of Darius Grala, Mark Patterson, Bohdan Kroczek, Quentin Wahl and Shane Lewis; Paul Mears Jr., Mike Borkowski, Larry Connor and Duncan Dayton, who will share the No. 6 Mears Motor Coach Pontiac Riley for Michael Shank Racing; brothers Burt and Brian Frisselle, who will co-drive the No. 8 Rx.com/Synergy Racing BMW Doran with Tommy Erdos and Mike Newton; Rick Skelton, Joe Foster, David Donner and Blake Rosser, who will debut the No. 9 Hyper Sport Infiniti Doran; the No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Racing Pontiac Crawford driving quartet of Doug Goad, Stephan Gregoire, Bob Ward and Roberto Moreno; Johnny Miller, Chris Bingham, Roger Scotton, Steve Ivankovich and Vic Rice, who will co-pilot the lone Chase chassis in the field in the No. 18 Chase Competition Engineering/CB Motorsports Pontiac Chase; the No. 19 Ten Motorsports BMW Riley of open-wheel veteran Memo Gidley and young up-and-comers Michael McDowell, Michael Valiante and Jonathan Bomarito; the No. 29 Brumos Racing Porsche Fabcar in the hands of Tim, Josh and Jake Vargo and Brady Refenning; the No. 50 Blackforest Motorsports Ford Multimatic of Tom Nastasi, Jeff Bucknum and Henry Zogaib; the No. 58 Red Bull Brumos Racing Porsche Fabcar of David Donohue, Darren Law, Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen; the No. 74 Robinson Racing Lexus Riley of George Robinson, Wally and Paul Dallenbach and Johnny Unser; and Steve Marshall and Peyton Sellers, who will share the lone Picchio in the field in the No. 86 Synergy Racing BMW Picchio.

In the GT category, previous overall winners Buckler and Wendlinger will have their hands full with a number of strong challengers for class supremacy.

Among them will be the defending Rolex Series GT championship-winning No. 21 Prototype Technology Group BMW M3 team of two-time GT driver champion Bill Auberlen, Joey Hand, Chris Gleason and Ian James. Likewise, look for a steady fight from the No. 22 Prototype Technology Group BMW M3 team of Justin Marks, RJ Valentine, Tom Milner and Kelly Collins.

Leading the way among a host of Porsche teams will be the No. 36 TPC Racing Porsche GT3 Cup of team owner/driver Michael Levitas, Randy Pobst, John Littlechild, Spencer Pumpelly and Jean-Francois Dumoulin. Pobst turned in the fastest lap in the GT class during Daytona Test Days early last month. TPC Racing will field three Porsches this weekend.

TRG will field four GT entries in addition to the previously mentioned No. 65 machine, one of which will be shared by 16-year-old racers Colin Braun, Brad Coleman and Adrian Carrio and veteran sports car driver and coach Ross Bentley. Also ranking among the GT favorites amid a number of fast Porsches is a three-car assault from ORISON-Planet Earth Motorsports; a pair from Farnbacher Racing USA; the No. 73 Baldwin-Tafel Racing Porsche GT3 Cup of Jack Baldwin, Jim Tafel, Craig Stanton, Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis; and the No. 75 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup of Johannes van Overbeek, Lonnie Pechnik, Seth Neiman, Jon Fogarty and Patrick Long. Completing the GT field will be three Ferrari 360s, three Chevrolet Corvettes, a Pontiac GTO and a Mazda RX-8.

In addition to the 2005 Rolex Sports Car Series season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, the weekend's activities also include the season-opener for the 2005 Grand-Am Cup Series. Friday's Grand-Am Cup 200 will see a total of 73 entries for a 57-lap event which will be subject to a three-hour time limit.

The weekend's on-track activities get underway on Thursday with Rolex Series practice beginning at 10:00 a.m. ET and running for 90 minutes. The Grand-Am Cup Series machines will see their first practice action from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., followed by another Rolex Series practice from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. At 2:45 p.m., the Grand-Am Cup Series has another 45-minute practice session, followed by Rolex Series Daytona Prototype qualifying from 3:45 to 4:00 p.m. The first round of Rolex Series GT qualifying takes place from 4:15 to 4:30 p.m., with the 15-minute Grand-Am Cup Series ST class qualifying session set for 4:45 p.m., followed by Grand-Am Cup GS qualifying from 5:15 to 5:30 p.m. The day's on-track activities wind down with Rolex Series night practice from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Friday's sessions will get underway at 9:30 a.m. ET with a 45-minute Rolex Series practice session, followed by the final Grand-Am Cup Series practice before the Grand-Am Cup 200 scheduled to run from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. From 11:40 a.m. to 12:00 Noon, Rolex Series cars that qualified higher than the 31st position will have an opportunity to improve their grid position in a final qualifying session, with the final, 45-minute Rolex Series practice before the Rolex 24 At Daytona scheduled to take the green flag at 1:00 p.m. Friday's activities wind down with the Grand-Am Cup 200, which is scheduled to start at 2:15 p.m.

Saturday's race day schedule calls for a driver autograph session from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m. ET in the new Daytona International Speedway Garage Fan Walk. Pre-race ceremonies begin at 11:15 a.m., and the 43rd Rolex 24 At Daytona takes the green flag at 12:00 Noon ET.

SPEED Channel will provide live television coverage of the Rolex 24 At Daytona in three parts. SPEED's coverage begins at 12:00 Noon ET on Saturday, February 5 and runs until 7:00 p.m. ET. After a one-hour break, the Rolex 24 returns to the SPEED Channel airwaves from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., with the third and final part of the broadcast slated to begin on Sunday, February 6 at 8:00 a.m. and running through the checkered flag and post-race victory celebrations. The Grand-Am Cup 200 will air at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 5 at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Live Timing & Scoring data from all sessions and audio updates throughout the race will be available on the official web site of the Grand American Road Racing Association, www.grandamerican.com.

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Nic Jönsson
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Krohn Racing , Doran Racing , Flying Lizard Motorsports , Michael Shank Racing