Homestead-Miami Speedway December Test Notebook - Day 2 HOMESTEAD, Fla. (December 6, 2006) -- The two-day Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve test session at Homestead-Miami Speedway ended Wednesday amidst...
Homestead-Miami Speedway December Test Notebook - Day 2
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (December 6, 2006) -- The two-day Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve test session at Homestead-Miami Speedway ended Wednesday amidst much fanfare, as stars from various forms of racing joined regular series teams turning laps in anticipation of the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Canadian Michael Valiante unofficially turned the fastest lap of the two-day in the No. 19 Finlay Motorsports Ford Crawford with a lap of 1:13.884 (112.068 mph) Wednesday afternoon on the 2.3-mile, 11-turn speedway road course. 2005 Daytona Prototype co-champion Max Angelelli was second-fastest in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley with a time of 1:13.910 (112.028 mph), also coming during the final session Wednesday. The top 15 Daytona Prototypes were within one second of the best time.
Next up for the Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototypes and GT machines are the traditional Daytona Test Days, scheduled for January 4-6, 2007 at Daytona International Speedway. The 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona takes the green flag on January 27.
GORDON, JOHNSON AND HORNISH PREPARE FOR ROLEX 24
NASCAR Cup Series champions Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. have undoubtedly earned their share of jewelry from their racing exploits over the years, but all three drivers have their eyes on the Rolex watch emblematic of winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Gordon, Johnson and Hornish were all busy testing Daytona Prototypes at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Wednesday in preparation for the 24-hour race slated for Jan. 27-28 on the road course at Daytona International Speedway. Gordon will share the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley with 2005 Daytona Prototype co-champions Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli, who also claimed the overall victory in the 24-hour race during their championship-winning season.
Hornish is listed as one of four drivers in the No. 60 Flight Options/Net App Lexus Riley, alongside his Penske Racing IndyCar teammate Helio Castroneves and Michael Shank Racing Rolex Series regulars Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri Jr. Patterson and Negri finished second in the 2006 Rolex 24, co-driving the No. 60 machine with then-Champ Car teammates A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson.
Johnson announced late yesterday that he will co-drive the Lowe's-sponsored No. 91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley with Jim Matthews, Marc Goossens and Champ Car race-winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Johnson--who finished second overall in the 2005 Rolex 24 At Daytona--also announced that he will drive in the Rolex Series race at Daytona next July in conjunction with the track's annual midsummer NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race.
Gordon will be making his first appearance in January's Rolex 24. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Gordon turned his first laps in the Daytona Prototype and was immediately impressed with a car that is completely different than the one he drives on a weekly basis in the NEXTEL Cup Series.
"It's been a blast," Gordon said. "Yesterday, I was pretty excited just to be able to drive a car that performs like this on a road course. It's a lot of fun. Obviously, with our track record in the Cup series on the road courses, I like the road courses. I think Wayne Taylor's team and Max, they've just been fantastic to work with. They taught me a lot and I'm having fun."
Fresh from a whirlwind tour through New York City, where he picked up his first NEXTEL Cup Series championship, Johnson arrived in Homestead early Wednesday morning and set out to work toward improving his best finishing position by one place in the Rolex 24. Having experienced the race twice before, Johnson is eager to compete against superstar drivers from various different forms of motorsports once again in 2007.
"That's really what keeps me coming back," Johnson said. "My first experience with that was three or four years ago, and I was amazed at how many world class drivers and champions there were. All the names that I've watched as a kid growing up, racing all types of vehicles, they were all there.
Gordon is a four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and three-time winner of the Daytona 500, while Johnson earned his first NEXTEL Cup Series title and Daytona 500 victory earlier this year. With their extensive list of accomplishments, however, both drivers view a victory in the Rolex 24 as another crown jewel.
"That is very, very high on my list of things to do," Johnson said. "Finishing second in the race a few years ago really piqued my interest. I want to come back and I want to win the 24 Hours of Daytona someday. My great friend Casey Mears won it last year (with IndyCar Series champions Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon as his co-drivers). Just to see the pride he had on his face, celebrating with him and sharing that, it's special. Being the Daytona 500 winner, the Brickyard 400 winner and the NEXTEL Cup champion, if I was able to win the 24 Hours of Daytona, it would be phenomenal."
"It would be huge," Gordon added. "Obviously, when I got into NASCAR, it was a steep learning curve to learn the history of the sport. The first Daytona 500 that I won, I don't think I fully appreciated it enough because I was still in the learning process. I think that's the thing here. I'll admit that I don't know a lot about the history of the 24-hour race. I've always admired it. I've always thought it would be something that would be a lot of fun."
Like Johnson, Hornish is also coming off a dream 2006 season in which he won his first Indianapolis 500 and his third IndyCar Series championship. It will be the second Rolex 24 At Daytona appearance for the Ohio native and his first since 1999, and serves as a homecoming of sorts for Hornish as he drove for Michael Shank Racing in the Toyota Atlantic series in 1999 before moving into IndyCars.
"This was a great opportunity that Mike presented to us to come out here and race," Hornish said. "Especially with Helio, he usually beats up on me a little bit on the road courses. Hopefully, it'll give me an opportunity to run a little bit longer with him as well. I'm happy to have this opportunity."
Hornish also echoed the sentiments of his NASCAR counterparts with regard to the star power being generated in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"If you look at NASCAR championships, Daytona 500s, IndyCar championships, Indy 500s, if you look at the depth there and the amount of champions, it's pretty unbelievable," Hornish said. "I'm glad to see there's that many people out there, because when you go out and win something, you want to beat the best people. You don't want everybody to try to take it away from you and say, 'If this guy would have been there, you wouldn't have won.' I think it's great that they have that many talented drivers in it. I think it's really going to be a great show for everybody."
Several more stars from NASCAR and open-wheel racing are expected to announce their own plans to compete in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in the weeks leading up to the race.
FINLAY MOTORSPORTS HOPING SPEED YIELDS RESULTS IN 2007
With more than 35 Rolex Series machines turning laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway during the two-day test, it was young Canadian Michael Valiante who set the pace, turning a best lap time of 1:13.884 (112.068 mph) in the No. 19 Finlay Motorsports Ford Crawford.
Valiante, who will share the No. 19 machine with team owner Rob Finlay during the 2007 Rolex Series season, is pleased with the progress the team has made since he came on board at the beginning of 2006.
"We're really starting to get a handle on the car," said Valiante. "The engineers and crew guys have been working so hard this year, and the speed is really starting to show. This is the perfect way to end 2006, and it gives us a little momentum heading into next year."
The Finlay team showed speed throughout the latter part of 2006, as the duo was quick in practice and qualifying, but incurred misfortune during some races. Valiante points to the breakout win by Oswaldo Negri Jr. and Mark Patterson for Michael Shank Racing in the season-ending Discount Tire Sunchaser at Miller Motorsports Park as a confidence booster for his team.
"What Oz and Mark did in Salt Lake City was great for teams like ours," said Valiante. "We've definitely had the speed to contend with some of the top cars, and if we're put in a situation to win one of those races next year, I think we can do it. Rob has really been progressing as a driver, especially with how challenging the cars are to drive now. I really enjoy the new tire from Hoosier and, of course, I'm really happy how this test went."
AIM AUTOSPORT LOOKS TO BUILD MOMENTUM AS ROLEX 24 NEARS
Toronto-based AIM Autosport, which has a long legacy of success in the open-wheel ranks, joined the fray in testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway Tuesday and Wednesday. The team, which made one Rolex Series start during the 2006 season, was shaking down the No. 61 AIM Autosport Lexus Riley combination. The Riley chassis was purchased from Chip Ganassi Racing and comes to AIM Autosport with an impressive legacy of success, having won the Daytona Prototype championship in 2004.
AIM Autosport driver Mark Wilkins did the majority of the work behind the wheel during the two-day test, with Burt and Brian Frisselle also getting laps in the car as the team works finalize their driver lineup for the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"This is our first time running the five-liter Lexus and the new Bosch system, so we just wanted to get down here to work out the bugs so we can be ready to get down to business at Daytona in January," said team manager Ian Willis. "We are building up our team to prepare for the Rolex Series season and we know we have a lot of work to do yet, but this test was a good step forward for us and we're looking forward to the test at Daytona."
HAYWOOD SEEKING ELUSIVE FIFTH ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA VICTORY
Five-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Hurley Haywood has newfound confidence heading into 2007, as the Brumos Racing team will start the season with the Riley chassis they debuted late last year. In terms of the Rolex 24, however, Haywood's mindset hasn't changed.
"Speed isn't the only factor when taking part in a 24-hour race," said Haywood. "The key is making as few mistakes as possible. Our goal will be to set up the car in a race trim, not necessarily to get the fastest lap times. We have a strong team this year and hopefully things will fall into place."
Haywood believes Joao Barbosa and Roberto Moreno, both of whom have driven for the Brumos team in the past, will join him and regular co-driver JC France in the No. 59 Brumos Porsche Riley for the Rolex 24. The legendary sports car pilot is also impressed with the list of accomplished racers that have also signed on to compete in the world famous event.
"Racers are racers, and they want to compete," said Haywood. "It's exciting to be able to race against stars from all over motorsports because when they come here, it's equal ground. With so many competitive cars on the track, this race gets better and better every year."