Rolex Roundup: Daytona Test Days Day 1 - Thursday, January 5, 2006 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 5, 2006) -- Alex Gurney clocked the fastest lap on the first day of Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve...
Rolex Roundup: Daytona Test Days Day 1 - Thursday, January 5, 2006
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 5, 2006) -- Alex Gurney clocked the fastest lap on the first day of Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve Daytona Test Days on Thursday. Gurney logged a best lap at 1:45.265 (121.750 mph) in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing Pontiac Riley that he is sharing with car owner Bob Stallings, Rocky Moran Jr. and 1996 Champ Car champion Jimmy Vasser for Test Days and the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
In the GT class, Andrew Davis was quickest in the No. 74 Tafel Racing Porsche GT3 with a lap at 1:54.136 (112.287 mph). Davis is co-driving the No. 74 machine at Daytona Test Days with Eric Lux, Charles Espenlaub and Graham Rahal, the son of open-wheel racing legend Bobby Rahal. Testing continues at Daytona International Speedway on Friday.
PATRICK DRAWS ROLEX 24 INVITE FROM WALLACE; RUNS FIRST-EVER DAYTONA PROTOTYPE LAPS
Danica Patrick turned approximately 20 laps at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday during the first day of Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series testing in preparation for the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 28-29.
The 23-year-old Patrick tested the No. 2 Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford with an eye toward competing in the 44th annual twice-around-the clock event, and is sharing the car at the test with recently-retired NASCAR star Rusty Wallace. The 1989 NASCAR champion has officially announced his participation in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, and has invited Patrick to join the team, which will also include American road racing stalwart Boris Said, and Scottish sports car ace Allan McNish.
"We're running the Rolex 24 for sure," Wallace said. "We're going to get (Patrick) in the car and get her some time, and see if she likes driving the car. It's kind of up to her if she wants to be the fourth driver in the car. She's got the invitation, there's no doubt about that, but we feel like we're going to have a good, winning team, and we feel like we're organized."
After testing the car Thursday afternoon and evening Patrick--the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and Indy Racing League IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year--plans to accept Wallace's invitation.
"I want to run it," Patrick said. "If it's up to me, and he's leaving it open, I'd love to run this race. I think it's one of those races that you just need to stay consistent. Even with what I was doing out there, I was able to still not drop too far off in lap times with traffic. As soon as I pick up my speed on the track, hopefully that'll stay consistent with traffic. I want to do the race, so if he lets me, I'm in."
Neither Wallace nor Patrick has ever competed in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, but both drivers have had a long-standing interest in participating on the 3.56-mile road course that incorporates much of the Daytona International Speedway oval.
"I've never run a race like this," Wallace said. "I've told everybody I'm retired full time. I've been 25 years in NASCAR Cup racing and 33 years of racing totally. I'm done now, but I've told everybody going in that the one race that I've always wanted to run was the 24 Hours of Daytona. It was the race that the likes of Andretti and Foyt and the late Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. ran, and it's just a race I'd like to run."
"Any kind of track that people come back to time and time again means it's pretty good," added Patrick. "I have to imagine it's going to be a lot of fun going racing on the road course and the oval at the same time. Just the prestige of this race is enough. I'm looking forward to it."
For his part, Wallace has enjoyed the challenge of adapting to the Rolex Series Daytona Prototype, which he admits is a completely different animal than what he was used to in NASCAR competition. He is also adapting to the notion of competing in a 24-hour race.
"I've been talking to a lot of people about how to run the race," Wallace said. "The only fear I've got is if it starts raining. That's the thing that gets me a little bit nervous. I got to test here a couple weeks ago and struggled some with my downshifting and struggled with some entries into the corners.
"I called Tony Stewart at home and got him out of a poker game. He was saying, 'when those cars do this, you need to do this, or you need to do that. That's the biggest thing. You can't compare them to a Cup car at all. Those cars get five-and-a-half, six inches of body roll in the back, and these cars are half-an-inch or something like that.' Our car drove completely different. These things brake incredibly. You can go out there and put some big numbers on the board and run some fast laps, but the race is all about staying on the course, running 24 hours, not tearing a gearbox up, and not doing anything stupid. That's my goal right now."
Wallace and Patrick will resume testing on Friday.
FERNANDEZ COMPLETES FIRST DAY IN ROLEX SPORTS CAR SERIES
Adrian Fernandez had only one prior opportunity to run in a 24-hour race, but it was a defining moment in his motorsports career.
"I ran a Volkswagen Beetle in the (1981) 24 Hours of Mexico," Fernandez recalled. "We didn't finish, but I came away from the race, saying, 'This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.'"
One day after announcing that his Lowe's Fernandez Racing team will compete in the full 2006 Rolex Series season, Fernandez and his Rolex 24 At Daytona co-drivers Scott Sharp and Mario Haberfeld got acquainted with their new mount at Daytona Test Days. Fernandez is confident that his new team will adapt quickly to Rolex Series competition.
"I have no question that our team will be a winner here," Fernandez said. "It's just a question of getting experience, getting time in the car. We got into the IRL in 2004, we didn't start the first race at Homestead and our next race at Phoenix was a disaster. We just didn't have the time in the car, but eventually, we got it."
That year, Fernandez won three of the final six races, along with a second place finish, in his final full season behind the wheel.
"I know our team is going to be very competitive, but it's tough," Fernandez said. "We need to take the time to learn a lot of things, but I think the big thing here is that Riley has really helped us a lot with our chassis. We didn't have that help in the IRL. Riley is a great company and a great car to work with, and that's going to make a big difference for us. If we are straightaway competitive, it will be because of their help."
Haberfeld, a veteran of eight years racing in England and two years in the Champ Car World Series, has one Rolex Series start, racing for SAMAX/Tuttle Team Racing in the 2005 season finale at Mexico City.
"Driving with a roof over my head is a very different experience for me," he admitted. "I was worried about how I would react, but I was surprised how close the car felt like an open-wheeled car. The Daytona Prototype obviously feels slower and reacts slower, but it has the same feeling as a Champ Car. When Adrian called me about driving with him, I felt it was the perfect opportunity."
For Sharp, the test brought back memories of December 2002, when he joined Brumos Racing for the first test of a Daytona Prototype.
"We did a 24-hour test, and that was the first time a Daytona Prototype really hit the track," Sharp said. "We raced the following February with six Daytona Prototypes, and then it doubled both of the next two years. Obviously, the level of competitiveness, the level of preparation, the growth of the class, everything has been tremendous.
"Adrian's IRL team pays first-class attention to detail and preparation of our cars," Sharp added. "I'm sure he will bring that attitude over here to the Rolex Series."
Fernandez said that former crewmen from the Panther and Rahal IndyCar Series teams have joined his Daytona Prototypes effort for the season.
"I think it's pretty cool, because a lot of people from different series are here to race," said Fernandez. "I feel like I can be racing here for awhile, even through I'm 42. It's exciting. This is a great opportunity. It's a long-term deal, and I'm happy to get back on the road courses. This is a series that is growing and has a lot of potential, and it's exciting to be back."
Fernandez also will do double-duty in Mexico City March 4-5, running in both the Rolex Series and in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series.
CHAMP CAR STAR TRACY JOINS FUSION RACING WITH MSR FOR ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA
In a news conference on Thursday afternoon, the newly-formed Fusion Racing with MSR team announced that Canada-based Graydon Elliott Group has signed on to sponsor the team's No. 6 Lexus Riley, and that the team's four drivers for the Rolex 24 At Daytona will be long-time Rolex Series competitors Paul Mears Jr. and Mike Borkowski, as well as Canadian standouts Kenny Wilden and 2003 Champ Car champion Paul Tracy.
The No. 6 Graydon Elliott machine will run alongside Michael Shank Racing's No. 60 Flight Options Lexus Riley to be driven in the Rolex 24 by Oswaldo Negri Jr., Mark Patterson and Champ Car stars Justin Wilson and A.J. Allmendinger. After the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the full-time driver lineup for the No. 6 machine will be Borkowski and Wilden, with Mears scheduled to compete in selected events, while Negri and Patterson have signed-on for the full year in the No. 60 Daytona Prototype.
"Graydon Elliott's corporate profile is very similar to ours and we have put everything in place to grow together," said Fusion Racing partner and MSR team owner Mike Shank. "I am also very happy that Mears Transportation will remain with the team this season, as they have been excellent to work with. They have such a strong presence in Florida that the races at Daytona and Homestead are almost like home events for us."
Tracy made his decision to join the team after testing several different cars during last month's Hoosier Tire Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Tracy's decision appears to have been the right one, as the winningest active Champ Car driver logged the quickest time during the third of the day's four test sessions.
"It's just a decision I had to make," Tracy said. "Mike was the first guy that approached me about driving here. I was really searching for an opportunity to do the first three or four races, but obviously, driver lineups are pretty much set for the season. It was pretty tough for me to find a situation where I could do three or four races and not the whole season.
"This deal was here, and they were obviously very keen with Graydon Elliott because they're a Canadian company and me being Canadian. Really, when it came down to it, I had to look at all the options and say, 'What's my best shot at winning the race?' I think it's driving with Mike and these guys. That's my best shot at winning the race and that's why I'm here. I'm really looking forward to it and I think it's exciting."
CROWN ROYAL IROC SERIES SETS 2006 SCHEDULE; WILL RUN PAIR OF EVENTS AT DAYTONA
Officials from the Crown Royal IROC Series announced on Thursday that Daytona International Speedway will host a pair of events on its four-race 2006 calendar, including a return to the same 3.56-mile road course used by Rolex Series.
Celebrating its 30th season in 2006, the Crown Royal IROC Series will open the campaign on the 2.5-mile oval at the "World Center of Racing" on Friday, February 17, but will return to the DIS road course for Round 3 on Thursday, June 29 during the weekend that also includes the Rolex Series and the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series.
The Daytona road course first hosted the IROC series for the 1973-74 season finale. However, this year's event will mark the return of IROC to a road course for the first time since Rusty Wallace won at Watkins Glen International in 1991.
"We've missed the road racing element of the series over the years and I can't tell you how thrilled we are to add a road course back into the mix," said IROC President and General Manager Jay Signore. "This will be the first time the Crown Royal IROC Series will race on the Daytona road course since our inaugural season. I want to thank (Daytona International Speedway President) Robin Braig and his staff, as well as everyone at NASCAR and the Grand-Am series for working with us on the schedule to make road racing once again part of the challenge for the Crown Royal IROC championship."