Rolex Roundup: Daytona Test Days - Day 3 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 7, 2006) -- The Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve Daytona Test Days concluded on Saturday with the Rolex Series machines ...
Rolex Roundup: Daytona Test Days - Day 3
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 7, 2006) -- The Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve Daytona Test Days concluded on Saturday with the Rolex Series machines completing a total of 10,181 laps (36,244.36 miles) over three days of testing.
Saturday's final session saw Lucas Luhr post the fastest lap of Daytona Test Days with a lap at 1:43.431 (123.909 mph) aboard the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche Crawford that he co-drove with Porsche factory drivers Mike Rockenfeller and Patrick Long. Defending Rolex 24 At Daytona overall winner and Daytona Prototype co-champion Max Angelelli was second-quickest in Test Days with a lap at 1:43.698 (123.590 mph) in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley that he co-drove with Wayne Taylor, Emmanuel Collard and Ryan Briscoe.
Sascha Maassen's lap at 1:43.953 (123.286 mph) in the No. 58 Red Bull Porsche Fabcar from Friday turned out to be the third-quickest lap of Daytona Test Days. Maassen was sharing the car with Brumos Racing teammates David Donohue, Darren Law, Hurley Haywood, JC France and Ted Christopher.
Andrew Davis made it three days in-a-row atop the GT time charts after posting a class-best lap at 1:52.704 (113.714 mph) in the No. 74 Tafel Racing Porsche GT3 in the final session. Davis partnered with Eric Lux, Graham Rahal and Charles Espenlaub at Daytona Test Days, and will also share the car with the threesome for the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
BRISCOE FINDS HIMSELF IN FAMILIAR TERRITORY, JOINS SUNTRUST TEAM FOR ROLEX 24
Open-wheel standout Ryan Briscoe made his Rolex Series debut in 2005, competing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in the No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley, which was coming off the 2004 Daytona Prototype championship.
The 2006 Daytona Test Days brought Briscoe back to the Rolex Series, as this year he will drive in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley in the Rolex 24 At Daytona--which is fresh off its own Daytona Prototype title run. The only difference between this year and last year for Briscoe is that the No. 10 machine that he will share with Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor and Emmanuel Collard, is also the defending Rolex 24 At Daytona winner.
"It's definitely a positive," said Briscoe. "There's definitely pressure to keep up the performance and consistency, but that's absolutely what I'm here to do. So it's great to be a part of this organization. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think we had a chance to win. They proved it last year, and now I want to be a part of defending the win."
Although Briscoe has had limited time behind the wheel of the No. 10 machine, he finds himself growing more and more comfortable in the closed cockpit of the Pontiac Riley.
"It took a few laps just to get up to speed and get a feeling for the car," said Briscoe. "After a few laps, I was feeling really comfortable and felt as though I could drive the car to the limit comfortably. It's very different to drive compared to open-wheel car, but it is just another racing car, so you just have to adapt your driving style to it."
One thing Briscoe does admit will take time is getting used to such a large field, and so many cars running on the track at the same time. With more than 70 cars participating in the Daytona Test Days, Briscoe always found himself in traffic.
"Yesterday, I was practicing and I didn't get one free lap," said Briscoe. "You've just got to keep that in mind that it's going to be the same for everyone and really be patient. You've got a lot of slower cars out there. You've really just got to be patient and take your time and not get frustrated. I think that's the big thing. You're not just racing for yourself, but for a team with three other drivers. You keep in mind that it's the same for everyone. It's just the approach you have to have here."
With only three weeks before the green flag drops on the 44th Rolex 24 At Daytona, Briscoe admits that he's excited to ring in the 2006 racing season.
"Daytona is an amazing place to be at because it's got so much history and just the size of it when you walk in," said Briscoe. "The race itself, the Rolex 24 At Daytona, is a very famous race and known all over the world. To be able to take part in it in the top class with the best team is a real special thing."
DEMPSEY TURNS FIRST GRAND AMERICAN LAPS; EYES ROLEX SERIES IN 2007
Patrick Dempsey is no stranger to driving a car at high speeds, dodging in and out of traffic. The Grey's Anatomy star gets that every morning driving to and from Hollywood. But in the cockpit of a race car, Dempsey had never experienced the fast-paced, high-adrenaline world of Grand-Am Cup Series action until climbing into the No. 54 Hyper Sport Ford Mustang GT for this weekend's Daytona Test Days.
Turning his first laps at Daytona International Speedway this morning, in preparations for his Grand-Am Cup Series debut on the track less than three weeks from now, Dempsey admitted that it took a couple of laps before he fully realized where he was.
"Being at this track, with all the history, it took me a while just to get back into my body," said Dempsey. "I was so excited about being here. This is a great series to start off, and the people around me have been very supportive. Today was just a big learning day for me--and I think the season will be a big learning curve for me. I just want to get as much seat time as possible and earn my way up the rankings."
Dempsey, an avid racing fan, is stepping up to Grand-Am Cup Series competition in 2006, with an eye toward the GT class of the Rolex Series in 2007. Dempsey and team co-principals Joe Foster and Rick Skelton all agree that developing a driver for any series takes time. And in the case of Hyper Sport, Foster and Skelton want to make sure it's done right.
"Our program is taking a step forward by including Patrick," said Foster. "It's going to help the whole series grow. We have a Daytona Prototype that we're not running here because we want to make sure Patrick's program goes good. He had his first run in the Mustang this morning, and everything went well, and we're excited to be here."
"The Rolex Series is no longer a goal for us, it will be a reality," added Skelton. "Our goal is to build slowly and methodically, and do things right, which will take time. Hopefully by next year, Patrick will be in the car with us for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. That's the plan right now, and we have every intention of seeing that goal come to fruition. And because of Grand American's affordability, we will also be able to continue our GS program in Grand-Am Cup."
Even Dempsey, the critically-acclaimed actor, couldn't help but notice the star-studded field that the Rolex Series has assembled for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. And if Dempsey has his way, he'll someday be remembered as much for his driving ability as for anything else.
"You have all these stars from all these different series that show up," said Dempsey. "When you see them at different events, they all talk about the Rolex 24 At Daytona and how competitive these series are. They also talk about how much fun they have and how much joy they have in the cars. I think that says a lot about the series and how they've developed a car that people really enjoy driving. To be hanging with this group is a tremendous honor. These guys are my heroes, and I get in awe when I see all my favorite drivers and a lot of guys that I know from just going to the tracks."
REIGNING INDY 500 CHAMPION WHELDON READY FOR SECOND STRAIGHT ROLEX 24
When 2005 Indianapolis 500 and Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon signed-on to drive for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in the IndyCar Series, the Englishman earned the equivalent of an "automatic bid" for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, what with the team's two-car Daytona Prototype program.
Wheldon is co-driving the No. 02 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley with his new IndyCar teammate, Scott Dixon, as well as Casey Mears, who will drive the No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge for the Ganassi team in the 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. It will be Wheldon's second consecutive Rolex 24 At Daytona, as he co-drove last year with then-IndyCar teammate Dario Franchitti, Milka Duno and Marino Franchitti for Howard-Boss Motorsports.
"This is my second year at the race, and it was kind of a star-studded field last year," Wheldon said. "It's even better this year. I'm kind of afraid to think about how good it's going to be in four of five years. For me personally, I love being part of this race, because it kind of gets you back into the swing of things. The cars are obviously good to drive. They're a challenge. The track is a good track, and it just gets your mindset correct for what's coming up. It's also extremely enjoyable. I love the race. There have been a lot of great winners of this race, and I'd love to add my name to the list."
The trio of Wheldon, Dixon and Mears is intriguing, as all three drivers came up through the now-defunct Indy Lights open-wheel series before branching out into successful, albeit different, career paths.
"It's cool," Mears said of being reunited with Dixon and Wheldon. "Not only racing with Dan and Scott, but coming back and walking through the paddock here and seeing a bunch of people I used to race with. There are a lot of former open-wheel guys and current open-wheel guys. I raced against both Dan and Scott in Indy Lights. It's fun. It's good to see people you haven't raced with in a while. It's like seeing an old friend. Getting a chance to race with them, they're both champions in their own right. To be on the same team together is an honor for me."
"It's how it works," Wheldon added. "That's why, in this business, it's important to approach business with the mindset of treating everybody with a lot of respect. It's such a small arena. For example, Bryan Herta, my teammate from last year, he's teamed with somebody he races hard against, Buddy Rice. It's that kind of race. It's fortunate that I'm teamed with these two, because they're two guys that I get along well with, respect immensely and can learn a lot from. Although our paths have taken different directions, we've all been successful in what we've done and we've ended up at a good organization. It's been good for us."
PACIFIC COAST MOTORSPORTS READY WITH ROLEX 24 "SLEEPER LINEUP"
Rolex Series newcomer Pacific Coast Motorsports has been flying under the radar during Daytona Test Days, with some more "high profile" drivers grabbing many of the headlines. However, that's just the way team president Tyler Tadevic likes it, as he feels the team's lineup of former Toyota Atlantic competitors Alex Figge, Ryan Dalziel, Jon Fogarty and David Empringham in the team's No. 89 Pontiac Riley could be tough to beat.
"We feel like we've got one of the best driver lineups in the paddock," Tadevic said. "Between Alex and Ryan, our full-time guys, and Dave and Jon coming in for the 24, we think it's a stout lineup. All the guys are within a small amount of time of one another all the time. These guys have won and raced at the highest levels. We definitely feel like we have the sleeper driver lineup, because we don't have any household names as it were, but the bottom line is that any one of my guys can go toe-to-toe with any other driver in the paddock and be just as fast."
Tadevic also mentioned that the team has secured a new sponsor to be announced prior to the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The team is raring to go in its first full-year of Daytona Prototype competition after competing previously in Toyota Atlantic and the ALMS.
"I don't want to get ahead of myself, but we're excited about making that (sponsorship) announcement," Tadevic said. "We worked hard all last year to find a primary sponsor to really help pay the bills, and we weren't able to do that. We come here and before we even get into our first race, we were able to nail down a significant primary sponsor for the car. Definitely, from a commercial aspect, this series is the most promising series in any kind of racing as far as we're concerned. That's why we're here."
MEIRA ADDS TO INDYCAR SERIES PRESENCE AT DAYTONA TEST DAYS
Add Vitor Meira to the growing list of IRL IndyCar Series drivers and owners planning to compete in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Meira, whose runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500 was among four second-place finishes in IndyCar Series competition, finished seventh in the 2005 championship driving for Rahal Letterman Racing. He also has two career poles and 15 top-five finishes in 46 career starts.
"It's exciting, because this is something totally new for me," said the 28-year-old Brazilian. "I drove quite a lot of sports cars in Brazil, including a 24-hour and five 12-hours or 1,000 miles, but they were all in open-roof cars. I never drove something like the Daytona Prototypes, but I'm sure it won't take me long to get used to it.
"My goal is to be back here in the car for the Rolex 24. I want to run the 24 hours, I want to do a good job, then go back to IRL and start and finish a good championship, but this series is a good option, too, I'm also opening doors."
Indianapolis 500 winner and defending champion Dan Wheldon, 2005 IRL rookie of the year Danica Patrick, former IRL champs Scott Dixon, Scott Sharp and Tony Stewart, Indy 500 winners Buddy Rice and Eddie Cheever, 2005 race-winners Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta, drivers Patrick Carpentier, Ryan Briscoe and Alex Barron, and car owner Adrian Fernandez are all planning to run in the Rolex Series opener. Cheever and Fernandez are also planning on running teams in the complete 2006 Rolex Series.
"There's so many great drivers here from so many different disciplines, the Rolex 24 has become a great draw for drivers to come to this race," said Herta, third-place finisher in the 2005 Indy 500. "It's the chance to race against -- and test yourself -- against guys in other series that we don't get to race against very often. It also gives me the opportunity to race with Buddy Rice, who I'm usually competing against."
Herta and Rice will share the No. 28 Finlay Motorsports Ford Crawford with Michael Valiante and Rob Finlay, while Barron joins Memo Gidley and Michael McDowell in the team's No. 19 entry.
"This is a really good outfit, and it's going to give us a good shot here," Rice said. "There's a lot of real good people in the field, and that's what makes it so exciting, that so many people from different forms of motorsports around the world can join us here and do this one race. It's a lot of fun to come and do these deals. I'm glad it falls in a time frame where a lot of us can come here and do this."
"I love the Daytona Prototype," said Carpentier. "It's a fun car to drive, and I think I'm really going to enjoy it. Maybe this is where I'll end up racing this season."
Carpentier joins Cheever and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 39 Cheever Racing Crown Royal Lexus Crawford. The team also fields the No. 51 car for Tommy Edros, Mike Newton, Warren Hughes and Stefan Johansson.
FITTIPALDI EXUDES CAUTIOUS CONFIDENCE FROM CHEEVER CAMP
2004 Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Christian Fittipaldi has been in his share of Daytona Prototypes. From his win in the twice-around-the-clock classic with Terry Borcheller, Forest Barber, Harrison Brix and Alex Barron in the No. 54 Kodak EasyShare Ford Doran for Doran Racing two years ago, to his stand-alone Phoenix triumph with Jorg Bergmeister in the No. 66 Pontiac Riley for Krohn Racing last September, the Brazilian has had unquestioned Rolex Series success.
But in 2006, Fittipaldi finds himself a mainstay in the brand-new No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve Lexus Crawford with co-driver/team owner Eddie Cheever. And if heading into a season driving a car that has never entered a race is difficult enough, Fittipaldi is well aware that the first time the machine will line up on a starting grid, it will be in North America's premier endurance race.
"I always head into a race season with a lot of confidence," said Fittipaldi, who was joined by Cheever and IndyCar driver Patrick Carpentier for the test sessions at Daytona. "This year, I'm just being more realistic. There's no doubt in my mind that this car can be successful, but in any form of racing, the first few races are the hardest. Here, our first race is the Rolex 24 At Daytona, which makes things even tougher."
Fittipaldi admits that the landscape of the Rolex Series has changed in the two years since he was on the top step of the podium in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway. He believes that in 2006, teams will have to virtually be perfect for all 24 hours to have a chance to compete for the win.
"When we won in 2004, we ran a few laps where the car was too hot, and to tell you the truth, when we came in to the pits to take a look at it, I thought our chances were done," said Fittipaldi. "Last year, the No. 10 car lost a few laps when they made contact with another car, and they still won. There has never been a year where the winner never had to deal with some sort of problem. I believe that this year, a single problem will knock you out of contention. The competition will be so good, and there are so many good teams and drivers. There will always be someone waiting for you to catch your bad break, so they can take advantage."
TAFEL RACING MAKES CASE FOR "FAVORITE" STATUS IN GT CLASS
Andrew Davis was excited with the progress of the No. 74 Tafel Racing Porsche GT3, which posted the fastest GT team of the test. Davis recorded a lap of 1:52.704 (113.714 mph) to top the No. 82 Farnbacher Porsche and the No. 64 TRG Pontiac GTO.R at the session.
"The amount of progress we've made is pretty astounding," said Davis, who co-drives with Graham Rahal, Eric Lux and Charles Espenlaub. "The team has expanded quite a bit from last year, but (team manager) Tony Dowe and the guys at the shop have hit the ground running. We've got an aggressive plan, and we want to come out and take charge in the championship. We want to be contenders all year long. We're excited about everything."
Rahal, 17-year-old son of former Rolex 24 At Daytona winner, took his first laps at Daytona on Saturday morning.
"The first few laps were interesting getting up to speed, but the car felt good and handled well," Rahal said. "I think we're in the ballpark with the GTOs. I've driven at Indianapolis, Sebring, Road Atlanta and now, Daytona. It's always great to get to get experience at another great track, and Daytona's history makes it really special. I know dad won here. This will also be my first experience racing at night, but everyone said with all the lights, it's really not like driving at night."
The younger Rahal will be hoping that history can repeat at Daytona. His father was a relatively unknown sports car racer when he shared the winning Porsche with Brian Redman and Bob Garretson in the 1981 Rolex 24. The victory helped him land a ride in Indy Cars, and he went on to the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three CART championships, and is now a successful car owner on the circuit, fielding cars for Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick -- who will both race in the Rolex 24.
TRG LOOKS FOR ROLEX 24 VICTORY IN MAIDEN RUN FOR PONTIAC GTO.R
After running a pair of Daytona Prototypes in the Rolex 24 last year, Kevin Buckler's TRG operation will concentrate on the GT class for 2006.
TRG tested six cars, using the same driver combinations it plans to bring back for the Rolex 24. The team will have a pair of Pontiac GTO.Rs, the No. 64 for Paul Edwards, Kelly Collins, Jan Magnussen and Andy Pilgrim, and the No. 65 for Andy Lally, Marc Bunting, R.J. Valentine and Johnny O'Connell.
"I think we're in good shape for the race," said Magnussen. 'The car's got good speed, and it's real easy to drive."
In addition, TRG will field a quartet of Porsche GT3 Cup cars, the No. 66 for Steve Johnson, Robert Nearn, Cyrille Sauvage and Stephane Ortelli; the No. 67 for Mark Bullock, Bohdan Kroczek, Bill Keith and Pat Flanagan; the No. 68 for Jim Lowe and Jim Pace; and the No. 69 for Jake Vargo, Josh Vargo, Brady Refenning and Mark Herrington.
"We're all over the board, with a couple of new guys, a couple of good old friends and a couple pros," said Buckler, who captured Rolex 24 GT honors in 2002 and won the event overall the following year. "The GTOs are running fantastic. We're really down on our straightaway speed compared to the Porsches -- our car just doesn't have enough grunt. But it's good on the infield. It's all going to come down to being a good, reliable package, like it always does here. Enjoying success at the Rolex 24 means staying out of trouble."
DAYTONA TEST DAYS END EARLY FOR NO. 4 HOWARD-BOSS MOTORSPORTS TEAM
Andy Wallace parked the No. 4 The Boss Snowplow Pontiac Crawford after having a small fire during Saturday morning's test.
"I don't know what actually broke, but I saw a little bit of smoke and I lifted off," Wallace said. "I came in the pits, but by the time I got there, the whole thing was ablaze. I got back just in time. It looks like there's oil everywhere, and I don't think that car will run again today."
No. 99 GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing Pontiac Riley driver Rocky Moran Jr., who suffered a muscle strain in his neck following a crash in Turn 1 on Friday at Daytona Test Days, has been released from Halifax Medical Center. Moran was at the track visiting with his teammates--including co-drivers Alex Gurney and Bob Stallings--wearing a neck brace.
On Saturday, No. 73 Tafel Racing Porsche GT3 driver Chad McQueen was injured in a collision with the barrier exiting the chicane at the end of the Daytona Superstretch. McQueen was awake following the incident, and was transported to Halifax Medical Center where he is currently in intensive care in serious condition. McQueen was co-driving the No. 73 machine at Daytona Test Days with Jim Tafel, Mike Cawley and Shawn Price.