Homestead open test, day two notes

Negri, Pumpelly Fastest Again in Homestead-Miami Speedway Test HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Feb. 26, 2008) -- The second day of Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Tuesday ended...

Negri, Pumpelly Fastest Again in Homestead-Miami Speedway Test

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Feb. 26, 2008) -- The second day of Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Tuesday ended the same as it did Monday, at least at the top of the charts.

Oswaldo Negri in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley and Spencer Pumpelly in the No. 67 TRG Porsche GT3 set fastest times for the second consecutive day at the 2.3-mile, 11-turn stadium course. The two-day test was to help prepare competitors for the GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami. Times were unavailable for publishing both days.

The test was open to all Rolex Series teams and featured 19 Daytona Prototypes and 20 GT machines.

The GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami is scheduled for Saturday, March 29.

Michael Shank Racing Laying the Framework For a Championship?

The hottest team in the Rolex Series this winter may just be the two-car effort of Michael Shank Racing. To this point in 2008, the orange No. 60 Ford Riley and the blue No. 6 Ford Riley have posted the fastest times in January Test Days and swept the front row with both cars at the Rolex 24. Negri, the Rolex 24 at Daytona polesitter, was fastest again Tuesday.

The No. 6 machine led 119 laps of the Rolex 24 until mechanical troubles with just hours left in the race forced the car out of the lead and into a 14th place overall finish. Negri led 15 laps to help the car finish sixth overall.

After Negri posted the quickest time on both test days, there's no longer an argument about if the team can break through this season, but when.

"Our philosophy is that there are so many top notch teams here in the Rolex Series that you cannot blink," Negri said. "That's what I told my engineer, 'if we keep doing the ordinary, we're going to be ordinary. Let's do whatever it takes to go get ahead of those guys.' Last year, I would say, we were not up to speed with those guys. I do feel that the Pirelli Tires are helping me a lot."

A season ago, the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley spent the winter running quick times in tests and captured the pole at the Rolex 24. After a poor finish at the endurance race, the team rattled off a Rolex Series-record seven victories on the way to the team and driver championship with Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty.

One difference between the two programs at the time was that the GAINSCO team was still searching for their first Daytona Prototype win. Michael Shank Racing has already been to victory lane, at the 2006 season finale at Miller Motorsports Park.

"For sure, there are some parallels," Negri said. "But we are not waiting on them; we're going to try and run away from them. We're thinking the lions are running after us, and that's the deal. I'm not sitting still. We can't underestimate anyone here and we'll just keep working hard with all of the Michael Shank Racing team."

Are the makings in place for another team to "come from nowhere" in 2008?

Pumpelly, Miller Giving TRG Leadership in Rolex GT

Second verse, same as the first for Spencer Pumpelly and the TRG team in Rolex Series GT.

The Mason Neck, Va. native topped the charts for GT competitors for the second straight day, teaming with Tim George Jr. in the No. 67 Porsche GT3. Also fast were Bryce Miller and Ted Ballou in the No. 66 Porsche GT3 and RJ Valentine and Bryan Sellers in the No. 65 Porsche GT3.

TRG team principal Kevin Buckler was ecstatic about the pairings and speed.

"We're pretty excited," Buckler said. "Our team has really gelled this year; we've got a great group of drivers and team members back again and we couldn't be more pleased with the results. All the teams here were really quite fast. It's funny, because the difference between first and tenth really is not that much. Being quickest both days were good and I'm real proud of the guys.

TRG cars finished second, third and fourth in this year's Rolex 24, behind the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8, which did not test at Homestead. And TRG was just a whisker away from winning at Homestead last season, as Andy Lally finished less than a second behind the No. 70's fulltime drivers, Sylvain Tremblay and Nick Ham.

Though Lally is gone fulltime, leadership remains a constant with the TRG camp, even for newcomers like Bryce Miller. Miller left Farnbacher Loles Motorsports after helping that team to a team title.

"Bryce Miller has really stepped up to take the spot that Andy Lally held and that's our goal this year," Buckler said. "We're putting Bryce in that lead position, and based on his driving he's certainly capable of doing that. Ted Ballou, his co-driver, was right up there with the front running guys this weekend.

"Spencer, as usual, was great this week and so was Tim George at the end of the day today," Buckler concluded. "RJ Valentine loves Homestead and was great with Bryan Sellers, and I think all three cars will be looking for a podium when we come back."

Level 5 Brings New Ferrari to Grand-Am Seeking Potential

Level 5 Racing has a long history with Ferrari, and now the two are looking to make more history together with Grand-Am.

The Crawford-built Ferrari 430 GT chassis was one of several GT cars competing in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 test at Homestead-Miami Speedway this week. Fulltime drivers Scott Tucker and Ed Zabinski, as well as veteran sports car racer Andy Wallace, each found time behind the wheel of the Italian marquee.

The team expects the mid-engine car to be a frontrunner throughout the remainder of the 2008 Rolex Series season, said team principal Brian Weaver.

"We're a couple of days in now," Weaver said. "We had the shakedown at VIR, but this test is actually the first time that we've seen it and had our guys in it, which is exciting. We've gotten a lot of attention from the paddock, which is kind of fun."

The car was built specifically for Grand-Am, showing a large investment in the series not only from a financial standpoint but also for future racing endeavors.

"It's interesting," Weaver said. "We've been kind of quiet up until now with all of the preparations. The cool thing about it is that this car was built specifically for Grand-Am; you can't really run it in any series. The Rolex Series is a great series, and having a Ferrari in it is going to be a lot of fun.

"We've got a lot of history with Ferrari," Weaver continued. "We chose the Rolex Series because there's a ton of growth potential here. The fact that we can have a great car and kind of stand out from the crowd is a good opportunity with the brand. We don't want to just be another marquee but because of our relationship and history with Ferrari it was a natural choice for us."

Sigalsport Prepares To Defend Race Title

Gene Sigal and Matt Plumb were on hand at Homestead-Miami Speedway, taking the first steps in defending their team's GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami race win from a year ago.

Well, not exactly. Sigalsport captured the win a season ago, with Bill Auberlen and Matt Alhadeff behind the wheel. Though each driver has moved on this season, the team still wants to prove that they can compete for Rolex Series wins.

"It's exciting for Sigalsport to come back to Miami," said Sigal, the team's owner as well as pilot. "This was our first DP win in only eight tries. I know we're going to have some tough competition, there are teams setting blistering paces out here."

From the outside, a lot has changed for the Sigalsport BMW from a season ago. In addition to the driver changes, the yellow and blue paint scheme and the No. 5 has given way to a red and black No. 7.

Internally, however, consistency has been one of the team's key strengths.

"Our team has been around for five years now, all with the Grand-Am Series," Sigal said. "We've got guys that have been around that entire time, and even the guys that are new aren't really new; we had relationships with them in the past. My new co-driver Matt Plumb, we've always had a chance to work together away from the pro events and I think it's going to be a good combination so we'll see what happens."

Sigal drove the Tuttle Racing Daytona Prototype at the test, with his co-driver on hand to provide coaching.

"Matt was here for the two days and kind of helped me get up to speed in the car," Sigal continued. "I had to get out of the seat for Daytona, so the only time I've had in the car recently was one test at Daytona and that's not enough time to drive one of these cars."

Sigal also hinted at one more big change before the team returns for the GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami.

"The team unfortunately couldn't come to the test this week because of sponsorship issues, but we're going to be running a very exciting sponsor from the Miami area at the race and do our best to defend our win," Sigal said.

SAMAX Switches Power for Homestead Test

With a disappointing finish at the Rolex 24 in the rearview mirror, SAMAX racing has shown up at Homestead-Miami Speedway with BMW power in the No. 2 BMW Riley. Defending GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami winner Team Sigalsport is the only other team to be powered by BMW.

The SAMAX team, which consists of drivers Ryan Dalziel and Henri Zogaib, was clearly excited by the new engine so far.

"For us it's really good," Dalziel said. "We were definitely down on power at Daytona, and I think what we have now is very similar to the high-end Fords and Pontiacs that are out there. For us it was a decision we had to make. It was more of a decision on what do we go with, and BMW Dinan seemed to give us the best support."

As a team, the goal is becoming a power in the Rolex Series week in and week out.

"We wanted to be a number one team rather than a five or six, and that was a lot of our thought process," Dalziel continued. "For sure Steve Dinan (of BMW Dinan, who built the team's engine) is pushing very hard and he's happy he has a built in program to work with, and a team like SAMAX is exactly where he wants to be."

That championship goal took a hit with a disappointing 20th place in class at the Rolex 24 for the No. 2 machine driven by Zogaib. For Dalzial, it was even worse, with mechanical difficulties forcing a 23rd place finish among the Daytona Prototypes.

"For us, it's important to have a really strong finish at Miami," Dalziel concluded. "Especially after the disappointment at Daytona, it's important for us to come back strong."

-credit: garra

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Andy Wallace , Alex Gurney , Ryan Dalziel , Jon Fogarty , Kevin Buckler , Andy Lally , Sylvain Tremblay , Spencer Pumpelly , Oswaldo Negri Jr. , Bryan Sellers , Matt Plumb , Nick Ham , Gene Sigal , Henri Zogaib , Bob Stallings , Michael Shank , Ted Ballou , Scott Tucker , Tim George Jr. , Ed Zabinski , Bryce Miller
Teams SpeedSource , Michael Shank Racing