Daytona Test: Saturday report

Rolex Roundup: Daytona Test Days - Day 2 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 8, 2005) -- Following a three-hour delay due to track maintenance, on-track activity on Day 2 of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Test Days got underway at...

Rolex Roundup: Daytona Test Days - Day 2

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 8, 2005) -- Following a three-hour delay due to track maintenance, on-track activity on Day 2 of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Test Days got underway at 12:00 Noon ET and testing was extended to 7:00 p.m.

With another "Chamber of Commerce" weather day in Daytona Beach, 55 cars turned a total of 2,587 laps (9,209.72 miles) on the second of three days of testing. Scott Pruett turned in the day's fastest lap at 1:47.654 (119.048 mph) driving the No. 03 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley, while Johannes van Overbeek logged the fastest time of the day in the GT class. Van Overbeek turned a lap at 1:57.335 (109.140 mph) in the No. 75 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup.

The cars have turned a total of 6,604 laps (23,510.24 miles) around the 3.56-mile circuit through two days of testing activity. Daytona Test Days wraps up tomorrow, with sessions scheduled to get underway at 9:00 a.m. ET and running until 3:00 p.m. The sessions are open to the public.

CHIP GANASSI RACING ANNOUNCES ROLEX 24 DRIVER LINE-UP, PLANS FOR 2005 SEASON

During an afternoon press conference, Chip Ganassi Racing announced a new partnership, driver line-ups for the Rolex 24 At Daytona and plans for the 2005 season. New Century Mortgage Corporation will sponsor the No. 02 Lexus Riley with two-time Rolex Series GT champion Cort Wagner and Stefan Johansson as the full-time drivers. The duo will be joined by NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray for the 24-hour race.

"To reach the top in the mortgage industry, you need to be fast, reliable, and good at what you do," said New Century President Pat Flanagan. "New Century's FastQual technology delivers, and so does Chip Ganassi Racing in the world of motorsports. We're pleased to join a team with such an outstanding record of success."

In addition to McMurray, three other Ganassi drivers from different disciplines of racing will be forming a super Target team. 2003 IRL Champion Scott Dixon, IRL driver Darren Manning and NASCAR driver Casey Mears will all drive the No. 03 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley in the Rolex 24.

"I got a good taste of what Grand American racing is like last year at Fontana, but this will be my first 24-hour endurance race and I'm really excited about it," Manning said. "There are so many things that can happen in a two hour race, and this will be like running 12 races back-to-back, so it's going to be really interesting. The three of us all have good road course experience and we work really well together, so I'm sure we'll be able to hold our own out there and give them all a run for their money."

Last year's Daytona Prototype co-champion Scott Pruett will be back in the No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley, but will be joined by a new co-driver -- Luis Diaz. Diaz drove the No. 02 CompUSA machine last season, but the two will join forces to defend the title for Chip Ganassi Racing.

"I am thrilled and so motivated heading into this season and this race," said Diaz. "I learned so much in my first season and I really feel that I can improve on that even more this year especially working and sharing driving duties with Scott Pruett. I take great pride in the confidence Chip Ganassi and CompUSA have shown in me and I'd love to be able to contribute directly in repeating the team's championship again this season."

Pruett and Diaz will be joined by young Australian Ryan Briscoe, a Toyota Racing F1 test driver, who has been invited by Chip Ganassi Racing to make his North American racing debut by taking part in the race.

NEWMAN UNINJURED IN FIRE DURING TESTING

Academy Award-winning actor and accomplished sports car racer Paul Newman escaped injury today when his No. 79 Silverstone Racing/Newman Racing Ford Crawford caught fire following a spin in Turn 2 at approximately 2:45 p.m. ET. The car did not make contact with any barriers, but as Newman attempted to restart the engine, flames appeared from the engine compartment at the rear of the car.

The fire was isolated to the engine compartment and did not make its way into the cockpit. Newman made his way out of the car, was taken to the track's infield medical center for precautionary measures and was released.

"I don't know what happened," Newman said. "I'm fine. It just caught on fire somehow."

While the cause of the spin and the fire is not immediately known, it is likely that a mechanical failure was the culprit. The 79-year-old Newman won the GTS class in the 1995 Rolex 24 At Daytona, and owns four championships in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) competition. He first took an interest in auto racing while filming the motion picture "Winning" in 1968.

2004 GRAND-AM CUP CHAMPION BACK WITH NEW NAME AND SPONSOR

Last year's Grand-Am Cup Series GS champions announced today during an afternoon press conference their new sponsor and team name for the 2005 Grand-Am Cup season. Team Sahlen will be looking to defend its title with a five-car effort and Sahlen's as its sponsor.

All of the team's race cars will feature Sahlen's famous flag logo, which will be emblazoned across the red, black and yellow racers.

"This is a truly great partnership opportunity for our team and drivers," Will Nonnamaker said. "Sahlen's has knowledge of what makes a good partnership work in Grand American, and we are very pleased to be working with them."

"Having Sahlen's involved with our team this year will give us further leverage towards a successful season," Joe Nonnamaker said. "We have worked extremely hard to bring about the champion status on our team and with Sahlen's on board we anticipate another successful year."

Sahlen's, known for premium quality meat products, is a familiar name to Grand American race fans. Sahlen's has been the primary sponsor for both Rolex Series events at Watkins Glen International in 2004. Sahlen's will return again as the primary sponsor of this season's Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen.

BUSCH, KENSETH AND BIFFLE GET ACQUAINTED WITH DAYTONA PROTOTYPE

Daytona International Speedway is familiar territory for Roush Racing teammates Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, but the NASCAR veterans are trying something completely different at the "World Center of Racing" this weekend.

The Roush trio is getting its first taste of the DIS road course, the Rolex Sports Car Series and its top class, Daytona Prototypes, as they prepare for the prestigious Rolex 24 At Daytona on the weekend of February 3-6. The drivers are sharing the No. 49 Crown Royal Ford Multimatic with Canadian sports car ace Scott Maxwell for Multimatic Motorsports.

"These guys have incredible natural talent, so that's not an issue," Maxwell said. "It's more just getting them familiar and comfortable with the differences of sports car racing in a new car and a new track they've never been around. They each had a good run at it yesterday, and I think today they're going to show improvement every session. I'm pretty impressed."

Prior to this weekend, none of the NASCAR regulars had ever driven a Daytona Prototype. However, all three drivers have acquitted themselves well and seem to be enjoying themselves despite the steep learning curve.

"This is a whole different world for me," Biffle said. "I've got some experience road racing in NASCAR, and that's about all the experience I have. With the Multimatic team and Scotty helping me transition to this car--he's probably getting tired of me asking a lot of questions--but he's been very, very helpful and everybody has. I just need to keep off the grass and keep it on the race track. I'm really excited. It's the most fun I've ever had, probably, in a race car. I just need to spend some more time getting used to it."

"I was looking forward to it as something different," echoed Kenseth, the 2003 Nextel Cup champion. "I had more time off this winter than what I did last year. Our off-season is short, but it was our choice to do this race. We didn't have to do this race, we wanted to do it."

The off-season has been especially short for Busch, the reigning Nextel Cup Series champion, and his participation in the test and the Rolex 24 At Daytona will shorten that off-season even further. However, the champion viewed this as an opportunity that was too good to pass up.

"This is a great opportunity to jump in a car that we've never had a chance to race," Busch said. "The Multimatic team has such a championship-caliber car and working with Scott Maxwell is great. It's actually free time and it's fun. I'm excited about learning a new track and a new style of car, and working with a different group of guys. I guess it does take away from our off-season, but again, we're professional racers. We love to be in race cars."

All three drivers are still getting acquainted with the nuances of sports car racing, and at this point, the Rolex 24 At Daytona is their only scheduled Rolex Series appearance of the year. However, the sports cars will join the Nextel Cup Series later in the year at Daytona during the Pepsi 400 weekend as well as in August at Watkins Glen, and Busch wouldn't rule out another Rolex Series run later in the year as 2002 Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart has been know to do.

"This is a chance to get our feet wet and understand more about these cars," Busch said. "I'm sure (Multimatic Motorsports vice president) Larry (Holt) will probably kick us out after this 24-hour race when we tear up his stuff. But if the opportunity arises, there's definitely a chance."

GOLDIN BROTHERS RACING RETURN TO ROLEX SERIES

Brothers Steve and Keith Goldin are set to move up to the Grand American Rolex Series full time in 2005, fielding a new Mazda RX-8 in America's premier sports car series' GT division. The Goldin Brothers Racing entry in next month's Rolex 24 At Daytona will also mark the reintroduction of the Mazda into the Rolex Series. The last team to field a Mazda in the series was also the Goldin Brothers, in the 2001 Rolex 24.

Both Steve and Keith Goldin, along with the team's third driver, Scott Finlay, are accomplished Sports Car Club of America racers. The trio took the top three positions in the 2004 SCCA Florida Series, driving Mazda RX-7s.

"We took delivery of the car back in June, drove it on the street for 80 miles, and then literally took it apart," Keith Goldin said. "Then we took the chassis and suspension to Tommy Riggins' shop in Jacksonville. The car will be pretty exciting. We've worked with Mazdas for a long time, but this is the first time we've properly built one from the ground up. There will be no other car like it in the world."

The Homestead, Florida-based team plans to contest the entire 14-race Rolex Series schedule.

BRUMOS RACING TESTS AFTER BUSY OFF SEASON

After the 2004 season ended at California Speedway a few months back, Brumos Racing took no time in getting to work on its Porsche Daytona Prototypes in hope for better results this season. As part of those improvements, the cars ended up in Germany and look to be contenders for the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

"At the end of last season, we were disappointed that the Brumos cars did not find a podium," team owner Bob Snodgrass said. "In search of better success, we contacted our friends at Porsche and made an agreement with them that they would look at our cars and do some consulting in an attempt to improve them. As a result of that, we have had our car in Germany for four or five weeks and did intensive wind tunnel research on the car. This week we are very pleased to see the progress in the right direction.

"This is an evolution not a revolution. What we are trying to do here is move the car forward for the 24-hour race, and we are really confident about that. For the upcoming shorter races, we have some work to do, but we are not looking for an overnight success."

Brumos Racing will campaign three Porsches in the Rolex 24 At Daytona next month. The No. 58 machine will be driven by regular drivers Darren Law and David Donohue, with Germans Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr. Five-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Hurley Haywood and JC France will pilot the No. 59 Porsche with Germans Mike Rockenfeller and Timo Bernhard, and Frenchman Romain Dumas. The No. 29 Brumos Racing Porsche will also be hitting the track as a one-race lease that Snodgrass hopes will turn into something more.

"We've won the Rolex 24 At Daytona six times, and no other team can say that," Snodgrass said. "Our goal and expectation for the race is seven."

DEFENDING ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA CHAMPIONS PREPARE TO DEFEND TITLE

The 2004 Rolex 24 At Daytona winning team -- the No. 54 Kodak EasyShare Bell Motorsports Pontiac Doran -- is testing at Daytona International Speedway this weekend and hope to repeat their success at this year's twice-around-the-clock event.

"We've made a lot of changes to the Doran this year that are brand new for this practice," team owner Jim Bell said. "We're trying to sort the car out. We're trying to sort the management system out, trying to figure out how to make the car go around on Hoosier tires, because this is the first time we've ever been here on the Hoosiers. We have a stellar driving lineup. Paul Tracy is doing a great job. This is the first time he's ever driven a race car with a roof, and he's doing a real good job. Ralf Kelleners adapted to our car in an instant -- immediate. Of course, we have Christian Fittipaldi and Terry Borcheller.

Borcheller, Fittipaldi and car owner Forest Barber were part of last year's winning team. Tracy and Kelleners complete the driver line up.

"I think we're not going to be unbelievably strong in qualifying for the Rolex 24 At Daytona," Fittipaldi said. "I think we'll probably qualify somewhere in the top 10, but I think we're going to be very, very strong in the race. We're running a lot of stuff on older tires and heavier loads of fuel, and I think we're counting on being pretty good in the race. We unfortunately don't have the same speed as some of the Rileys and one or two of the Crawfords. We're a little bit behind them, but I think our strengths are going to show up in the race."

-garra-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Darren Manning , Ralf Kelleners , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Scott Pruett , Jamie McMurray , Sascha Maassen , Lucas Luhr , Luis Diaz , Scott Maxwell , Will Nonnamaker , Joe Nonnamaker , Terry Borcheller , Hurley Haywood , David Donohue , Paul Newman , JC France , Johannes van Overbeek , Ryan Briscoe , Tommy Riggins , Forest Barber , Romain Dumas , Chip Ganassi , Mike Rockenfeller , Bob Snodgrass , Keith Goldin , Cort Wagner
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing , Team Sahlen , Multimatic Motorsports , Flying Lizard Motorsports