DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 4, 2007) - Star drivers from all walks of motorsports descended upon Daytona International Speedway Thursday for the first of the traditional three-day Daytona Test Days, the unofficial beginning of the 2007 Grand-Am...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 4, 2007) - Star drivers from all walks of motorsports descended upon Daytona International Speedway Thursday for the first of the traditional three-day Daytona Test Days, the unofficial beginning of the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve and KONI Challenge Series.
From Formula 1 to sports cars, from NASCAR to the American open-wheel ranks, the list of accomplishments decorating the participating drivers seems endless, as more than 60 Rolex Series cars turned laps on the famed 3.56-mile, 14 turn road course in final preparation for the 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 27-28.
Italy's Max Angelelli paced the field on the first day, logging a 1:44.357 (122.809 mph) in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley in the final afternoon session. Angelelli is no stranger to Daytona, having won the 2005 Rolex 24 alongside Wayne Taylor and Emmanuel Collard en route to the Daytona Prototype championship with Taylor.
"Needless to say we are very happy with our first day of testing," said Angelelli. "We had a very good result in our test at Homestead before Christmas, and I am amazed that once again the guys put together such a good effort in a short time since we started this new team (Wayne Taylor Racing). Everyone has been doing a fantastic job and this is just a fantastic team. I won't say that I'm surprised at the result today because everybody has been showing great dedication and motivation over the last several weeks, working at night, on the weekends, all night long sometimes. It was a good day. We are much improved since last year. I hope we can continue on this path."
Angelelli and Taylor will again share the No. 10 Pontiac in this year's twice-around-the-clock classic, joined by four-time NASCAR Cup champion-and three-time Daytona 500 winner-Jeff Gordon and Danish hotshoe Jan Magnussen. Magnussen and Angelelli co-drove to victory at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last season.
In the GT class, German racer Dirk Werner turned the fastest lap in the No. 85 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Porsche GT3, posting a lap at 1:53.036 (113.380 mph) in the final session of the day. Werner is sharing the machine during the session with Leh Keen, Pierre Ehret and Jorg Hardt.
The newly-named KONI Challenge Series also got its first taste of Daytona's high banks Thursday, as nearly 70 cars logged laps in preparation of the series' season-opener at Daytona, January 26.
Romeo Kapudija turned the fastest lap of the day in the No. 54 Hyper Sport Ford Mustang GT, a lap time of 2:03.204 (104.023 mph) to lead the Grand Sport class. In ST, Travis Walker logged the quickest time in the No. 75 Kensai Racing Acura TSX at 2:12.085 (97.028 mph).
VISION RACING JOINS DAYTONA PROTOTYPE RANKS WITH INTRIGUING DRIVER LINEUP
Vision Racing, which is owned by Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League CEO Tony George, added to the eclectic mix of teams and drivers for the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona as the team's No. 00 Porsche Crawford, which was purchased from Cheever Racing, made its public debut today at Daytona Test Days.
The team has entered IndyCar Series regulars Ed Carpenter, Tomas Scheckter and Anthony Foyt to co-drive as well as George himself, who is exploring the possibility of taking a stint or two during the twice-around-the-clock event. He did not drive during Thursday's test sessions, but does plan on getting some seat time on Friday, which would be George's first time behind the wheel of a race car in quite some time.
"It's been quite a while, in fact, it's been so long I can't really remember," George said. "It was 2001, I think, driving a USAC midget, and then I raced in the Chili Bowl a couple of times. That was probably the last time I ran. The last time I really did road racing was when I did the IMSA Firehawk Series back in '93 or something like that. I can't really remember it's been so long ago. One time I drove one of Danny Ongais' Interscope Lolas, and that was fun. I've never been in one of these cars myself. This is going to give me an opportunity to get back in the seat and see what it feels like, see what I do, and see if I can be a part of the team as a driver. If not, I'll be content to work it from the other side of the wall."
George is certainly familiar with prestigious events, and like so many others throughout the motorsports world, he has long had an interest in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. However, this is the first time that he has entered a car for the race and could also be his first time driving in it.
"One of the things that attracted me to the Daytona 24 this year was the fact that we've had a race team now that's been up and going for a couple of years," George said. "Running in this race is something that I personally have always wanted to do, but always seemed to get a late start in trying to look for a ride. The last few years, I really haven't been doing any driving at all, but started the race team. I thought this year might be the year that we would look at getting a car and doing an entry ourselves. It's been a fun project in the off-season. We've been working on putting this together and it's giving the guys a new challenge to try and conquer. Certainly, it's been a challenge. We're trying to get familiar with the equipment, and the drivers have never been in a car of this type before, so it's very much a learning experience for the team.
"For as long as this race has been around, it's been an attraction to drivers to come and compete in this type of endurance race and one with this much prestige. It's kind of fun to see all of the different racers from various disciplines come together for this event. In the last few years, there have been several IndyCar drivers and Champ Car drivers in the field along with all the NASCAR drivers that are joining the regulars. That's what makes it special, I think. Certainly, to be able to field our own team and run our own stable of drivers is something that is of interest to me, and that's why we're here."
SIGALSPORT GETS FLYING START TO 2006 ROLEX SERIES SEASON
Some of the most impressive times on the first day of Daytona Test Days came from the No. 05 Sigalsport BMW Riley in the hands of two-time Rolex Series GT champion Bill Auberlen. The Californian turned in the quickest time in the second of three sessions on Thursday and wound up fourth-quickest on the day as he and the team prepare for their first full season of Daytona Prototype competition in 2007.
"Sigalsport and Dinan have done a lot of work in the off-season to make a more competitive package," Auberlen said. "We converted to (the) BOSCH (engine control unit) early and got kind of a handle on it. We've got Karl Wendlinger driving, myself, Matt Alhadeff and Gene Sigal, the owner. The car seems to be going quick. It was basically quickest all through the first session, then at the end dropped to second. In the second session, it was quickest all through the whole thing, and the last session I didn't drive. The other guys are getting used to it. At least we've got something that runs towards the front, and that's where we belong. There's no reason we shouldn't have been there, we just weren't doing our job right. The trick is not to stop and keep after it. That's what we need to do."
After competing in the GT class for the past several years, Auberlen could not hide his excitement for the opportunity to drive a Daytona Prototype this time around. That he posted quicker times than most of the field on Thursday was simply icing on the cake.
"I love it," said Auberlen of his Daytona Prototype. "GT is not a fun place to be in Daytona. When you get to run for the overall lead and run with the great drivers that are all in these cars-I mean, you look at the names that are in these cars-and then to be in the front of all these wonderful drivers is a real treat. I'm real proud to be there."
FORMER ROLEX 24 WINNER OPTIMISTIC AT 2007 CHANCES
While just less than a month remains before the 45th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, 2004 overall winner Christian Fittipaldi feels very optimistic about his chances this year, his second with Cheever Racing.
"I don't want to say a lot, but it's looking pretty good right now and I'm very, very optimistic for the race," said Fittipaldi, who will join owner/driver Eddie Cheever Jr., Emmanuel Collard and Sascha Maassen in the No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve Porsche Crawford. "Of all the years I've come here, this is the year that I have the best chance. I'm not saying that our 2004 setup was bad, but I think right now we have a better setup than the year we won."
Ironically, the team struggled through the opening two sessions Thursday, with alternator problems leaving the team able to run only a lap or two before the batteries failed. But that failed to discourage Fittipaldi.
"Immediately, the car was pretty quick, even without me getting a 100-percent clear lap," Fittipaldi said. "We fixed the problem, and spent the rest of the day getting time for Emmanuel and Sascha."
Cheever, who had a strong run in the 2006 Rolex 24 ended with engine problems late in the race, was more cautious in his approach.
"All horses look good in the barn," said the 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Cheever Racing will also field the No. 51 NetVu Video Porsche Fabcar, with drivers Harrison Brix, Mike Newton and Tommy Erdos.
"We were struggling a little bit with a power steering problem," Brix said. "The Fabcar chassis is very responsive, and has performed very well in our testing. Everybody on the team is excited to run it, and we're looking forward to running it in the Rolex 24."
BANNER RACING WORKING TO GET NEW PONTIAC GXP.Rs UP TO SPEED
Since debuting the Pontiac GXP.R during Rolex Series testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month, Banner Racing has been working diligently to get the new race car sorted out. That work continued at Daytona Test Days today, where the team's No. 06 GXP.R-which is being co-driven at the test by Johnny O'Connell, Tim Lewis Jr. and owner/driver Leighton Reese-has been joined by a second entry, the No. 07 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R for Paul Edwards, Kelly Collins and Andy Pilgrim, which posted the ninth-quickest time in the GT class on Thursday.
"The goal for us is to get the car comfortable to drive over a long period," Collins said. "There is no point to go and try to knock off super fast times when the 24 is all about a fast, consistent pace. Our car wasn't supposed to be done until the practice at the end of the month, but Leighton's guys and the GM Racing and Pratt & Miller team really pulled hard to get the car here. We have been doing some testing, so Paul and I are up to speed. Andy is getting some good time in the car today and we will be looking to improve Pontiac's GT record in the 24 come the end of the month."
The No. 06 machine wound up 24th on the GT time sheets after Day 1 as the team worked through teething issues, as is the case with virtually every new race car. However, if the performance of the GXP.R's Rolex Series predecessor, the GTO.R, is any indication, it won't be long before the car is a consistent front-runner.
"We have been battling a mystery steering gremlin in the (No.) 06 car," Reese added. "It is running fine and with the limited speed we are able to go it seems to be handling well. With the steering issue we are not able to run ten-tenths to really sort the handling. The team, GM Racing and Pratt & Miller have all put in a lot of work to get the cars here for the test and we are just sorting through the new car blues today."
DORAN RACING LOOKS TOWARD FOUR-MAN ROLEX 24 LINEUP
Doran Racing unveiled its driver lineup for the Rolex 24 At Daytona today, with Rolex Series race winner Memo Gidley, Michel Jourdain Jr. and Oriol Servia joining Fabrizio Gollin in the No. 77 Kodak Ford Doran.
Gidley drove the past couple years for Finlay Motorsports, scoring his maiden victory in the series in the 2005 finale in Mexico City with Michael McDowell. Jourdain has competed in a variety of racing formats, including Rolex Series races for Doran in the past. Servia has most recently competed in the Champ Car World Series.
"I tested with the team at Homestead, and got along well with the guys," said Gidley. "I'm pretty happy with the car. We're down a little bit with straight-line speed, but it's not anything we can't overcome. I'm definitely enjoying my experience here."
HOWARD MOTORSPORTS, DYSON RACING TOGETHER AGAIN IN 2007
Although an official announcement for the team is not expected until next week, No. 16 Thetford/Norcold Pontiac Crawford driver Chris Dyson seemed committed to some participation in the Rolex Series in 2007, continuing Dyson Racing's efforts with Howard Motorsports.
"We're going to continue our relationship with Howard Motorsports and the Crawfords, and we're looking forward to better results this season," said Dyson, who is entered on the No. 16 machine with his father, Rob, as well as Guy Smith and Oliver Gavin.
"I think that the Crawfords have done a tremendous job on the chassis development, particularly in the aero department," said Dyson. "We're still learning with the new tire, but we got a good jump on the development at Homestead (last month). The reliability has been good, so I think we've got an excellent chance in the Rolex 24."
Dyson, like most competitors, is excited to compete against a lot of the world's top racers.
"The entry list for this race is terrific," he said. "You look down the grid, and it's like a 'who's who' in motor racing. It's a credit to the organizers. The Rolex 24 At Daytona remains a huge draw for anyone. And, it only makes it more competitive and more interesting when you're racing against household names and the best in the business."
BELL MOTORSPORTS JOINS VICI RACING IN ROLEX 24 EFFORT
Bell Motorsports, the winning entry for the 2004 Rolex 24 At Daytona, is preparing the No. 18 XM Satellite Radio Porsche Fabcar under the VICI Racing banner for this year's race. The car competed in the first half of 2006 as the No. 58 Brumos Racing entry, before being sold to Cheever Racing.
"When we got the car on December 21 it was a bare tub at Dave Klym's (Fabcar shop)," Jim Bell said. "We've been working with Cheever to get it ready. It's been an uphill climb. This car was totally parked since early in last season."
Terry Borcheller was joined by Fittipaldi, Forest Barber and Andy Pilgrim in the 2004 Rolex 24 victory. This year, he will co-drive with Uwe Alzen, Robert Renauer, plus former Champ Car drivers Gaston Mazzacane and Nicky Pastorelli.
"We don't have a lot of time under us yet, but I'm happy to be here," Borcheller said. "We've got a lot of work to do before the Rolex 24, because we got the car late after the whole thing came together. Everybody's had to work real hard through the holidays, and I'm real proud of them having a car here for the test days. A couple of weeks ago, I didn't think that was going to be possible."
TEAM SAHLEN UNLEASHES FLEET OF CARS AT DAYTONA
Team Sahlen brought a variety of cars to the test, including two Porsche GT3s and a Pontiac GTO. However, the team is focusing its efforts on its new No. 43 Corvette, being driven this weekend by Joe Nonnamaker, his sons Will and Wayne, and Joe Sahlen.
"This is a brand-new chassis," Will Nonnamaker said. "This is the first car Hoerr Racing built to Prep 2 rules. Everyone's talking about the new Crawfords, Rileys and Pratt & Millers in GT, but they can't forget the success Hoerr Racing has had in the past in American Challenge, GTO and Trans-Am. They were dominant for many years."
Nonnamaker said the team plans to bring two new Hoerr HRPworld.com Corvettes to the Rolex 24, along with two Porsches. Testing for the team this weekend are Robb Brett, the father-son team of Jim and Bob Michaelian, Tom Malloy and Ernie Becker in the No. 41 Porsche; John Mayes, David Kaemmer, Michael Auriemma and Chris Wilcox in the No. 42 Porsche; and Sahlen and the three Nonnamakers in the No. 49 Pontiac GTO, that raced under the Horizon Motorsports banner in 2006.
KINETIC MOTORSPORTS ANNOUNCES RUN AT KONI CHALLENGE CHAMPIONSHIP
Kinetic Motorsports has arrived at Daytona International Speedway for the January Test Days at Daytona, and for the team created by Kinetic owners Russell Smith and Nic Jonsson, it is the first professional appearance of the Kinetic effort anchored by Jonsson as well as world renowned driver Boris Said in the KONI Challenge Series.
The new team will field multiple BMWs throughout the 2007 season in the Grand Sport (GS) class and have signed Savvion President and CEO, Shawn Price, as well as 17-year-old Puerto Rican driver Bryan Ortiz as additional drivers. Tracy Krohn, who competes with Jonsson in the Rolex Series, has also signed on with Kinetic and will drive one of the BMWs at select companion events this season along with co-driver John Kotts.
"We have every intention of running up front this season and gunning for a GS championship," said Kinetic General Manager Ed Hall. "We are here to stretch our legs and to get the cars on the track in preparation for the upcoming race season. Having signed the drivers that we have, I feel that a championship is quite possible. Nic and Boris have years of professional driving under their belts and even more specifically, BMW factory experience. We have a strong team in place for 2007 with Shawn and Bryan joining us along with Tracy and John and I am eager to see what the future holds for us."
For Jonsson, the test days will be a bit different this year as he is embarking on his first appearance in professional racing as both an owner and driver.
"The entire weekend will be spent concentrating on getting acquainted with the new BMWs as well as preparing ourselves for the KONI Challenge Series race here at Daytona," said Jonsson. "To be able to start the season at the perhaps the world's most famous racetrack is something that always impresses fans as well as the teams that compete in Grand-Am. Daytona is an extremely fast track and I think that after these valuable test days, we will be able to dial in the cars for a shot at the podium. Having talented drivers like Boris, Brian, Shawn, Tracy and John on board as teammates is something that I am looking forward to as both an owner and driver. We are all very excited to get behind the wheels of the Kinetic BMWs and especially have the chance to shoot for the championship."
THE ROAR BEFORE THE ROLEX 24
On Friday, Jan. 5 and Saturday, Jan. 6, sports car fans will get all-access with the inaugural Roar Before The Rolex 24 At Daytona.
The Roar Before The Rolex 24 At Daytona will prep sports car fans for the 45th anniversary of the Rolex 24 on Jan. 27-28 with fan forums, displays, entertainment in the NEXTEL FANZONE and a technical talk about the Daytona Prototype from Howard Motorsports.
In addition, sports car fans will be able to view all the Rolex 24 At Daytona testing action from anywhere in the historic infield of Daytona International Speedway (with exception of the hot pits) and will have access to the garage area. Admission for the inaugural Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona is $5 at the gate and children 12 and under are free. Gates open at 9 a.m.
Tickets for the 45th anniversary of the Rolex 24 on Jan. 27-28 are available by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or by logging onto www.racetickets.com