Defending Rolex 24 At Daytona Champion Montoya Leads First Day Grand-Am Rolex Series Test DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 4, 2008) - The 2008 international racing season officially got underway today at Daytona International Speedway as 61 Grand-Am...
Defending Rolex 24 At Daytona Champion Montoya Leads First Day Grand-Am Rolex Series Test
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 4, 2008) - The 2008 international racing season officially got underway today at Daytona International Speedway as 61 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 machines turned the first laps of the season in preparation for the 46th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Today's opening day of the three-day January Test Days saw 15 Daytona Prototypes better the pole time of 1:43.475 set by Alex Gurney one season ago.
The day's fastest lap was turned by the race's defending champions in the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing Lexus Riley, as NASCAR Sprint Cup and former Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya turned a lap of 1:41.232 (126.60 mph) in the midday session.
Montoya made his return to Daytona Prototypes after teaming with 2004 Rolex Series co-champion Scott Pruett and up-and-comer Salvador Duran in the 2007 event. The Colombian star wasted no time in getting reacquainted with the Rolex Series after a season in NASCAR.
"It's been fun; it's very different to drive but a lot of fun in the Daytona Prototypes," Montoya said. "It doesn't really matter how fast you are today, you know, you need a reliable car and I think as drivers we've got a great group of drivers. I think that's going to be a big, big key to try to win this race."
Pruett, who will drive the 2008 Rolex 24 with Montoya, Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti and season long teammate Memo Rojas, was happy with the way the day progressed.
"The car felt really good," Pruett assessed. "We came down here with the TELMEX car and tested in November and we're real pleased. I'm not spending much time in the car at all. We've got three other guys in the car -- Dario hasn't spent much time in these cars at all. Juan, of course, did a great job last year but we're getting him back acclimated after he's been in NASCAR. I went out this afternoon around lunch and the car was really good, so I said 'I'm done' and got dressed and turned it over to the other guys for the rest of the time."
Turning the second quickest lap of the day was Ryan Briscoe in the No. 9 Penske-Taylor Racing Pontiac Riley, running a 1:41.277 (126.544 mph) in the same early-afternoon session as Montoya. Briscoe will share the car in the Rolex 24 with IndyCar Series teammate Helio Castroneves and Penske NASCAR pilot Kurt Busch.
Defending Rolex Series co-champions Gurney and Jon Fogarty found themselves in a familiar position with the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley near the top of the time charts again today, with Gurney turning the team's fastest lap 1:41.761 (125.942 mph) in the cool day. The duo was joined today by 1996 Champ Car World Series Champion Jimmy Vasser and will be joined on Sunday and in the Rolex 24 by back-to-back NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson.
Vasser joined the team in the season-ending Sunchaser 1000 in Utah last season as well as in the 2007 Rolex 24, while Johnson tested with the team this winter.
"It is a huge advantage to have the same team back," said Gurney, whose father, racing legend Dan Gurney, will be the Grand Marshal for the Rolex 24. "I don't know how many teams have that going, maybe a couple of the other top teams, but you are just that much farther ahead of the game. It is just like testing where you learn things along the way, so with the crew and all their knowledge and what they know about this car, we are just that much farther ahead. It's a great feeling and I think it will serve us well."
A familiar face topped the GT time charts, as Andy Lally turned the day's fastest lap in the No. 66 TRG Mitchell Rubber/Marquis Jet Porsche GT3 Cup. Lally's time of 1:51.386 (115.059 mph) was one of 10 GT machines to top last year's GT pole time of 1:51.800.
Rehagen Mustangs Show Horsepower in Opening KONI Challenge Test
Mike Canney had two reasons to be happy during the first KONI Challenge Series test session of 2008.
"It didn't rain," he said laughing following the two-session test. The other reason was his car was fastest overall among 33 Grand Sport cars.
Ford Mustangs flexed their muscle, taking four of the top-five overall positions with Canney's No. 60 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang heading the charts. He left it to co-driver Hugh Plumb to set the time of 2:01.018 (105.902 mph) during the second session.
The Rehagen Racing squad had the best day of any team -- at least in terms of overall times -- with the No. 59 Ford Mustang second in GS and No. 154 Ford Mustang in fifth. The No. 3 Blackforest Motorsports Ford Mustang was fourth, just behind the No. 83 BGB Motorsports Porsche 997.
Canney brought the No. 60 over to Rehagen to make it a five-car team.
"The guys in the shop have worked all season for this moment," Canney said. "It's good for them to come down to Daytona and see the fruits of their labor."
Plumb, who has specialized in Porsche-powered cars over the past few seasons, quickly found the differences between Porsches and Mustangs. He said while the speeds were accomplished only in testing, the team found a little momentum heading into the second day Saturday.
"We had success in the fact that four wheels didn't fall off the car today," Plumb said. "With the fact that the car is quick, it shows the team will start to gel together. We need to put some good test days behind us and then look forward to the race."
Driver Andrew Aquilante said ICY/Phoenix Racing's goals are to win races and a Grand-Am KONI Challenge Street Tuner (ST) championship in 2008 and took the first step toward each of those Friday. Aquilante's co-driver David Rosenblum set a time of 2:11.314 (97.598 mph) during the second session in the No. 141 Subaru Legacy, the best of 29 cars overall on Friday.
The Subaru Legacy accomplished a lot in little time last season, as the team won twice despite running an abbreviated schedule. Expecting to campaign both cars fulltime in 2008, Aquilante believes both cars have a shot at a title.
"The cars are pretty good," Aquilante said. "We did a little bit during the offseason to make them better than last year, so we're pretty satisfied. It's always a good sign when you're up top. This is just testing; this isn't race day.
"Obviously, the goal is to win the championship," Aquilante said. "Winning a couple races was nice last year, especially with an abbreviated season, so I'd say we're looking pretty good."
The No. 111 ICY/Phoenix Racing Subaru Legacy was also fast, landing third in the second session with drivers Chuck Hemmingson and Kristian Skavnes, who took the Subaru Legacy to its first two KONI Challenge Series wins in 2007.
Shank, Cheever, Krohn Cars Show Mix of Success With New Bodywork
The on-track debut of the new bodywork for the Daytona Prototypes saw a mix of success Friday, as Riley, Coyote and Lola cars practiced for the first time at the "World Center of Racing."
Michael Shank Racing led the four new Rileys, as the No. 6 of Ian James, John Pew, AJ Allmendinger and Burt Frisselle led the way fifth overall. The No. 16 Cheever Racing Pontiac Coyote was 13th on the time charts overall with Antonio Garcia, Matteo Bobbi, Fabio Babini and Tom Kimber-Smith behind the wheel.
Krohn Racing gave Lola a 19th place overall with the No. 76 and drivers Nic Jonsson, Ricardo Zonta and Darren Turner one spot ahead of the team's sister No. 75, driven by Tracy Krohn, Eric van de Poele and Oliver Gavin. However, Zonta crashed during the second session, and the car's sustained damage has it irreparable for the remainder of the weekend.
Allmendinger, Burt Frisselle Join Michael Shank Racing's No. 6 Ford Riley
Michael Shank Racing will turn to some fast and familiar faces as the team has inked Red Bull Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup pilot AJ Allmendinger and Daytona Prototype expert Burt Frisselle to join full-season drivers John Pew and Ian James in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley for the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"It's great we were able to get AJ and Burt back with us for the 24," said team owner Mike Shank. "There are a million factors that go into a good finish in this race and obviously chemistry with the drivers is a big one. We've seen what AJ does in these cars, and I'm happy to be racing with Burt rather than against him, so we're looking forward to this race big time."
Allmendinger made a fast start in his first Rolex appearance, leading 27 laps on the way to a strong second-place finish in 2006. The California native rejoined the squad in 2007 and once again stormed to the front for 27 laps before a motor issue hampered the effort.
"I love this race; the chance to go up against almost everyone in the sport and race for 24 hours, it's just fantastic," Allmendinger said. "Mike (Shank) is a racer to the core and his team is really focused on this event. We came so close to a win in 2006 and I really want to get back on that podium to start this year off on the right foot and with a new watch!"
Frisselle, who scored a podium with Michael Shank Racing in his first Rolex Series debut in 2004, has been a frequent pick for the team, having made at least one Rolex start with the squad every season since.
"Mike has a really strong team and it is always good to run with these guys and to get to do so in the 24 is even better," Frisselle said. "It's great to already know the guys on the team and to have a head start with your co-drivers is a big bonus as well."
The 2008 classic will mark the first Rolex 24 in a Daytona Prototype for Pew, who is relishing the chance to get his Trueman Award campaign off to a fast start.
"This team attracts a lot of talent in and out of the car and it's great that AJ and Burt are going to be a part of this effort at the 24," Pew said. "We were really encouraged about how things went with the Pirellis and the new Ford power in testing so I'd say there's some cautious optimism going on here!"
The team is well-placed for a competitive effort on both sides of the pit war wagon, having already announced the sister Michael Shank Racing No. 60 Ford-Riley entry of Mark Patterson, Oswaldo Negri, Justin Wilson, and Graham Rahal.
Spirit of Daytona Team, Drivers Ready For 46th Rolex 24 At Daytona
Daytona Beach-based Sprit of Daytona Racing was first in line to enter Daytona International Speedway for this weekend's test days, as the organization had been eager to put the Porsche-powered Fabcar atop back on track.
The No. 09 Spirit of Daytona entry boasts a Fabcar chassis fitted with a new Lozano Brothers-prepared, Porsche-based 5.0-liter V-8 engine, and made a strong race debut in the season-ending event at Miller Motorsports Park in September.
Arguably, some of the most eager members of the team are the drivers, who will look to continue the development strides Spirit of Daytona Racing made in advance of the combination's Rolex 24 At Daytona debut in two weeks. Rolex Series regulars Guy Cosmo and Marc Camirand being joined by emerging NASCAR star and Rolex veteran Michael McDowell for the 46th Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"We're really happy Michael was able to join us for the 24 and of course we are really familiar with what Guy and Marc can offer to this program so we're just anxious to get going again here in the test," said Spirit of Daytona co-owner Troy Flis. "Obviously we are still early in the learning curve with this car but we were encouraged by the improvements we made after Miller and then again when we got the new Pirellis on it."
The Porsche-powered Fabcar will indeed be in good hands with Cosmo, Camirand and McDowell putting both their speed and technical talents in play for the team.
"I'm excited to be racing in the 24 and getting to do some road racing again because this is a big, prestigious race that everyone wants to win," McDowell said. "It's like coming back home for me to be racing in the Rolex Series and I'm really looking forward to it. It's great to be part of the development effort for this car and hopefully my feedback will help I'm glad to get the chance to run with Guy (Cosmo) and Marc (Camirand)."
The Camirand-Cosmo combination brings a big head start with the package, having already logged hundreds of laps in testing and in the Miller race outing as the team prepares for the 24 and beyond.
"The Pirelli test in November was the first time we ran this car at Daytona, so now we have some data to use as our baseline and hopefully we can keep improving," said Cosmo, who like McDowell won Star Mazda Championship on his way up to the Rolex Series. "The car kept getting faster every time we tried something new, so hopefully we can kept that progress moving forward."
AIM Announces Braun, Ranger as Second Half of Rolex 24 Team
AIM Autosport has set the bar even higher for their sophomore season of Rolex Series competition, signing the youngest fulltime driver pairing for the full Rolex Series season and tabbing two experienced, but still very young, drivers for the Rolex 24. And with a move to Ford power for the 2008 season, the team is anxious to get a strong start to the 2008 Rolex season.
Mark Wilkins and Brian Frisselle, who teamed for four top-tens from nine starts together in 2007, will co-drive the No. 61 Exchange Traded Gold Ford-powered Riley for the full 2008 Rolex Series season. Joining the two young chargers for the Rolex 24 will be Colin Braun and Andrew Ranger.
"We're really excited about this season and look forward to getting things off to a good start in the 24," said Ian Willis, AIM Autosport team principal. "Our move to Ford power is one we are really happy about because they offered us a package that wasn't just motors."
Braun raced in his first Rolex 24 at age 16 in 2005, and went on to set a record at Daytona when he won the Brumos 250 at Daytona. Braun helped co-driver Jorg Bergmeister claim the 2006 Daytona Prototype title, and will make his fourth Rolex 24 start. Braun was recently named to the Roush Fenway stable, and will compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2008.
"I knew that I wanted to be in this race again so when Ford asked if I could run for Ian, I jumped at the chance," said Braun. "I saw how this team worked last season and I think Ian (Willis) has put a great group together."
Ranger, 21, is no stranger to AIM. The recently crowned 2007 NASCAR Canadian Tire Champion will enjoy his AIM Autosport reunion, having raced to the 2003 Fran-Am championship with the team in his first year racing cars.
"I've been following this category for several years and I think it is a really exciting series," said Ranger. "I'm glad to be getting the chance to run with AIM again and to be working with Ian (Willis) because we have worked well together before. I have never driven this track or even been in a Daytona Prototype before, but I know we'll be able to pick this up quickly."