Daytona24: PR1 Motorsports preview

PR1 Motorsports Team and Drivers Ready for Maiden Rolex 24 At Daytona Voyage Fresno, Calif. (January 19, 2009) -- After completing six days of testing at Daytona International Speedway over the all-important "off season", Fresno,...

PR1 Motorsports Team and Drivers Ready for Maiden Rolex 24 At Daytona Voyage

Fresno, Calif. (January 19, 2009) -- After completing six days of testing at Daytona International Speedway over the all-important "off season", Fresno, California-based PR1 Motorsports feels ready for their maiden attempt at one of the most prestigious events in motorsports, the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 24-25.

Following years in open-wheel racing, including championships and race wins from the Formula Ford Zetec Championship to the Formula Atlantic Championship, PR1 made the leap to the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series during the 2008 season. A pair of top-10 finishes in seven starts with the No. 32 Miracle Sealants Pontiac GXP.R was a promising beginning in a very competitive GT class for PR1's rookie sports car season.

Armed with the knowledge gained from those seven events, the entire team is optimistic that the twice-around-the-clock race will be a breakout of sorts for young drivers Mike Forest, of Edmonton, Alberta, Thomas Merrill, of Salinas, Calif., Jeff Westphal, of San Carlos, Calif., and Al Salvo, of Arcadia Calif. Patrick Barrett of Los Osos, Calif., is also on the team's roster and will pilot the Miracle Sealants Pontiac if needed as a replacement driver during the 24-hour race.

Despite an average driver's age of just 25 years old, team owner Bobby Oergel is confident that the team's strengths will shine in the endurance race format.

"As a team, we're very familiar with each of our drivers from when they were with us in the open-wheel program," Oergel said. "And while obviously we would have liked to have been at the top of the time charts during testing, this race is about consistent laps and good pit stops. If we can do those things, keep the Miracle Sealants Pontiac GXP.R clean, and avoid trouble, we'll end up near the front."

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is the annual 24-hour race around Daytona International Speedway's 3.56-mile road course that features some of the biggest names in motorsports. Among the drivers scheduled to race include three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, IndyCar Series star Danica Patrick, ABC hit Grey's Anatomy actor and racer Patrick Dempsey, Indy 500 and Formula One race winner Juan Pablo Montoya, motorsports star Scott Pruett and NASCAR stars AJ Allmendinger, Boris Said, and Casey Mears.

Mike Forest (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada):

We've gained a lot of experience driving at Daytona over the winter. Its very unique, with respects to the requirements from a driving point of view, a set-up point of view on the Miracle Sealants Pontiac GXP.R, and making sure the car can last the entire 24 hours. But we gained a lot of experience, and that's going to help during the race. Its pretty exciting knowing that the Rolex 24 At Daytona is our first 24 hour race, and there are so many more variables to think about during the race. That's part of the challenge, and hopefully that will highlight some of the strengths we have here at PR1.

Our goal for the Rolex 24 is to put together a top five effort. I think that would be really big as Daytona rookies, and once you get into the top five anything can happen. The key to that is consistency, staying out of trouble and running consistent, fast laps.

Al Salvo (Arcadia, Calif.):

It was really great to come back in January after the November test and try to apply what we learned then. There are two corners on this track that are critical for fast laps -- Turn 1 (just after the start/finish line, coming off of the oval banking) and the chicane (on the oval back stretch, a very high speed corner) -- and I needed to get laps in the Miracle Sealants Pontiac GXP.R to learn the place. I improved on both corners and I'm feeling really comfortable in the car right now.

The Rolex Series, and the Rolex 24 in particular, has some amazing names participating in it -- some of the sport's all-time greats. Any newcomer to this race has to feel a bit intimidated. It's a matter of getting over the awe of who's involved and just focusing on the driving.

Thomas Merrill (Salinas, Calif.):

The January test weekend on the whole went really well for us, and I can't wait to get back to Daytona for the race. When we first came out here in November, it was about learning the place and getting comfortable with everything. January was really about getting up to speed in the Miracle Sealants Pontiac GXP.R, and really making sure we could do decent, consistent laps on both new and old tires. I'm pretty happy with where the car was when we left and I think we can shave a little bit more time in the race weekend practice sessions. From there, it's all about having a consistent race and being there at the end.

Coming from a history of open-wheel and sprint races, the Rolex 24 is going to be about calming down and pacing ourselves. Its been a learning curve for all of us -- this whole PR1 Motorsports team has really come from formula cars and its about making sure we're focused over longer periods of times.

Jeff Westphal (San Carlos, Calif.):

I came from racing open-wheel cars last year, so it's been a big transition to racing a GT car like this Miracle Sealants Pontiac GXP.R with a lot of weight. At the end of the test, I've just started to feel like I've grasped the differences that I need to pursue. In my mind, where I think I need to go faster based on the open-wheel car is the exact opposite in the sports car. That's finally clicked, which is nice, because it ended our last test on a good note. There's more that needs to come, I'll be the first to admit, and I need to work on that. Now I just need to get my mind in the right spot to come back to Daytona for the race.

From what I hear, a lot of the Rolex 24 is just plugging away the laps and not taking many risks. If you've got the speed, that helps, but you just can't make mistakes. If we can do that over 24 hours, the results will take care of itself.

-credit: prim

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya