DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 9, 2005) -- The three-day Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Test Days concluded today with 48 cars logging a total of 1,871 laps (6,660.76 miles) around the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road ...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 9, 2005) -- The three-day Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Test Days concluded today with 48 cars logging a total of 1,871 laps (6,660.76 miles) around the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course.
Running the quickest time of the day was Scott Pruett in the No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley. Pruett posted a best lap of 1:47.601 (109.569 mph) in the final session of the day. Running the quickest time in GT was the No. 71 Farnbacher Racing USA Porsche GT3 Cup entry of Wolf Henzler, Dominik Farnbacher, Shawn Price and Pierre Ehret at 1:56.967 (109.569 mph).
Driving the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley, Max Angelelli logged the quickest time of the test overall at 1:46.729 (120.080 mph) during Friday's evening session. Also on Friday, the No. 36 TPC Racing Porsche GT3 Cup turned the fastest time of the weekend in the GT class at 1:56.604 (109.910 mph). Over the three days of testing, the Rolex Sports Car Series entries turned 8,475 laps (30,171 miles).
"EMMO" RETURNS TO RACE CAR FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 1996
There were smiles all around the No. 54 Kodak EasyShare Bell Motorsports Pontiac Doran pits late this morning, but nobody had a bigger smile than racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi, who turned his first laps in a race car since a frightening Champ Car crash in 1996 at Michigan International Speedway.
The two-time Formula One world champion and two-time Indy 500 winner ran a handful of laps in the No. 54 machine just prior to the noon lunch break, and quickly got a feel for Rolex Sports Car Series competition. The Brazilian--who also won the 1989 CART championship--was thrilled with the opportunity and was immediately impressed with the Daytona Prototype.
"I think that the cars are a lot of fun to drive," said Fittipaldi. "I like the concept, I like the rules. It's a fun car to drive. For me it was very difficult, but I wanted to do this. I wanted to go back in an official practice like today with a lot of cars to see how it would feel on a race day. It felt great! There were a lot of people passing me, and I was very careful of people overtaking me. But then I started passing some people and started having fun again. I need more miles, just hours of driving time."
"Emmo" tested the same car that his nephew, Christian Fittipaldi, has been entered to drive for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The younger Fittipaldi was among the interested onlookers as Emerson took to the race track, and did what he could to prepare his uncle for the experience.
"I think it makes him about 30 years younger," the younger Fittipaldi said. "I think it was great. It was great for him and a good opportunity. You can help him up to a certain point and then after that, he's going to see it by himself. On top of that, he has a couple of race miles underneath his seat and it's not like he needs a lot of help. He needs a little bit of help, there's no doubt about it, but not a lot of help. He knows exactly what to do out there. He just needs mileage and that's it."
It was Emerson's first time driving the Daytona International Speedway road course. However, he fondly recalled a previous visit to the "World Center of Racing" for an IROC race in the 1970s, which had an entry list that rivals this year's collection of racing superstars entered for the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"It was a great time with Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, A.J. (Foyt), Bobby Allison," Emerson said. "The Formula One guys were myself, Ronnie Peterson and I think Jody Scheckter. It was a lot of fun, but it was on the oval."
While Christian has an established relationship with Bell Motorsports, he did not play a role in getting the opportunity for Emerson. The elder Fittipaldi did not need Christian's assistance, as he has his own long relationship with team owner Jim Bell dating to the 1980s when Emerson raced for Bell's team in IMSA competition. However, Christian was able to watch Emerson's run with a critical eye thanks to his considerable experience and was pleasantly surprised with the performance.
"The other night he was looking at the times and he said, 'ah, I think I'm going to do like a (lap at one minute) 57 (seconds), or 58,'" Christian said. "He ended up being a little bit quicker than that. I think he did a 56 or a 55, so that was pretty impressive for the amount of laps he had. Obviously, it's one thing to do a 55, it's something different to do a 50 or in the 40s, but as I said, the amount of laps he had and not having driven a real race car for a bunch of years, it was very, very impressive."
Now that Emerson got some Daytona Prototype seat time, he will ponder his next course of action.
"I have to think a little bit, but I'm very enthusiastic," he said. "I enjoyed every second I ran today. I don't know (about the future) yet. I have to speak with Jim Bell."
For his part, Christian is hoping to partner with Emerson and his father, Wilson--who is an accomplished racer in his own right--for the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"Let's progress from here," said Christian. "We'll continue talking and maybe we can come up with something interesting together with Jim for next year. It would be awesome to put together a lineup like myself, my uncle and my dad all together, which believe it or not, we never managed to do. I only raced with my dad in long distance races, but never the three of us."
JIMMIE JOHNSON MAKES FIRST 2005 APPEARANCE AT ROLEX SERIES TEST
Jimmie Johnson, the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series runner-up, returned to Daytona International Speedway today for his first test session in the No. 4 Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford that he will share with co-drivers Butch Leitzinger and Elliott Forbes-Robinson.
Johnson kicked off his 2004 racing season with the same two drivers in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, finishing eighth in the Daytona Prototype class and 28th overall. He and his legendary sports car racing teammates are obviously looking for bigger and better things in this year's rendition, but the team faces an even tougher challenge this year with so many more stars from the Nextel Cup Series and other forms of racing in the field.
"More than anything, there are so many more competitors here and a lot of familiar faces," Johnson said. "What Tony (Stewart) was able to do last year, and what I did, we went back and bragged to all our friends, so they've decided to come and play this year. I had a great time last year and think the world of Crawford Racing and everyone involved.
"I had a blast with Butch and Elliott. I'm just glad to be back and want to have more fun. I am a lot more comfortable in the car than I was last year. I expect to have a lot of fun and hope to win. I have two of the best teammates in the business, so as long as I don't mess it up, we'll be in good shape."
Johnson was the last of the Nextel Cup Series stars to arrive for the Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Test Days. Champions Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Bobby and Terry Labonte put their Daytona Prototypes through testing paces throughout the weekend, as did many other Nextel Cup Series stars.
Stewart, the 2002 Nextel Cup champion, will drive in a team car to Johnson for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, but was unable to participate in test days due to other commitments. Clearly, the Nextel Cup Series was well-represented throughout the three-day test session and will be once again on the February 3-6 race weekend.
"There are a couple of reasons why," Johnson explained. "You can enter into the sport and be competitive. Before you couldn't. There were three or four teams that dominated and it wasn't affordable to be involved. This sport has allowed team owners to bring multiple cars and allowed Cup drivers and drivers from a lot of different disciplines to be a part of it. With that in mond, from a driver's standpoint, that's what piqued my interest.
"You can come down and be part of a great program and be competitive as far as the equipment. You don't always have the experience, that's why the 24-hour race is so appealing, because it's more of an endurance race instead of a three-hour sprint. When you set a pace like this, it allows us to get some seat time and have a great experience with it. I think you'll see more people doing it. I know a few Cup drivers who hate that they missed the opportunity this year and plan on coming down next year."
All of the Nextel Cup Series stars have the support of NASCAR president Mike Helton, who was among the interested observers making the rounds during today's final day of testing.
"It makes me pretty proud, quite frankly, because these guys are racers," Helton said. "It goes to show that if you're a racer, you're a racer. That transcends across the world of motorsports, but I also think it speaks to the Rolex 24, that draws that type of professional athletes to the race. It's pretty exciting to be able to follow them through the practice and through the entire 24-hour race process. We're pretty excited about that.
"Beyond NASCAR, walking up and down through here and seeing the guys that are practicing for the 24 hours, it's got a big feel to it. It's got a special event feel to it again. In this business, that's a big thing."
INDY 500 CHAMPION RICE PREPARES FOR ROLEX 24 WITH KROHN RACING/TRG
Buddy Rice, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner, arrived at Daytona International Speedway today, and managed to turn a few laps in the No. 67 Krohn Racing/TRG Pontiac Riley. Rice will share the car with Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Boris Said for the Rolex 24 At Daytona next month.
"It's hard when you show up and only have four laps to do a quick run around the joint real fast," Rice said. "I think the team's strong and obviously the cars have been quick, so we've just got a little bit of fine-tuning to do and we'll be all right."
Rice previously competed in the Rolex 24 At Daytona three or four years ago, so he's not unfamiliar with the circuit. However, this year's Rolex 24 will be a different experience for him, as he is driving a Daytona Prototype for the first time. Clearly, his Indy 500 victory last year makes him one of the all-stars in a star-studded field.
"This is one of the few venues that you can get people from so many different motorsports and put them all together," he said. "I think that makes it exciting. It's fun for all of us. We know so many different people in different forms of racing. For us to all be able to run together is cool.
"It's always neat to have different people from different motorsports come over. Everybody's contracts are so different. This is one of the first times I've ever been able to come over here and do something like this, because the team I'm driving for promotes that. I think the more guys you get over here, the better it gets."
DYSON'S RETURN TO ROLEX SERIES
After not competing in the previous two Rolex 24 At Daytona races with his Dyson Racing team, the father-son tandem of Rob and Chris Dyson will team together with Harrison Brix and James Gue on the Essex Racing Ford Crawford Daytona Prototype in this year's twice-around-the-clock event.
Rob Dyson, who has won the overall Rolex 24 title as a driver in 1997 and twice as an owner in 1997 and 1999, is thrilled to be in the newly renovated garages at "The World Center of Racing" competing in the Rolex 24 again.
"Daytona 24 hours is a racing icon," Dyson said. "It's one of the major races in the motor racing calendar. I felt real bad last year when I came here and was walking around seeing my friends and a lot of fellow competitors. I don't want this race to go without me in it."
While Rob Dyson has been able to earn a Rolex watch, his 26-year-old son has yet to achieve that honor.
"For North America, this has been one of the premier endurance races for years," said Chris Dyson, who made his lone Rolex 24 start in 2002. "Winning here, I think (my father) counts as one of his highest experiences in his life. For me personally, I've had some success here but not yet in the 24 hours. Certainly, I've always had a good result here and it's a buzz to perform well here because it's an important track on the schedule."
"Hopefully, if everybody behaves themselves, we can get a good result," Rob Dyson said. "If everything falls our way and we really stay out of trouble and we can keep the pace, who knows we might pull one across but that's a tall order."
GRAND-AM CUP ST CHAMPS TEST WELL AND LOOK TO REPEAT IN 2005
The 2004 Grand-Am Cup Sport Touring championship team -- the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 -- hopes to the start the 2005 season at Daytona International Speedway next month with the same momentum they ended with at California Speedway last year. If this weekend's testing is any indication, the team might just get their wish.
"As the defending champion, you'd kind of be lying to yourself if you didn't expect to do the same thing," team owner and driver co-champion Sylvain Tremblay said. "Now everyone is gunning for us, and we're no longer the underdog. Our car really surprised everybody last season. We had some bad luck in the beginning of the year and flew under the radar until about mid season. Then we hit our stride and started winning some races and had consistent performances.
"If we can start the season where we ended, I think we will be real strong. Not underestimating anybody - the Lexuses will be back, and the BMWs will be very, very strong. They learned from some of the mistakes of last year, just like we did. If anything it will be much harder to repeat than it was to win the first one because we can't surprise anybody and fly under the radar."
Taking no time off during the off-season, the No. 70 consistently performed well in every practice they participated in, and only the No. 50 Southpaw Racing Mazda was quicker in class -- a car SpeedSource built.
"The off-season was very short for us," Tremblay said. "We didn't stop working, as the results show over the weekend, the cars are faster. We built a new car for Southpaw Motorsports and they were quickest in the test days; that's our baby. It's going to be another good year for Mazda. The guys in the shop didn't slack off at all, and they worked really hard to make the cars better and we're looking forward to another really great season with Mazda and MazdaSpeed running the RX-8 again."
Tremblay and SpeedSource plan to campaign four Mazda RX-8s consistently throughout the season, with five being brought to Daytona for the season-opener. Driver line-ups will be announced the week prior to the race.
TRG, TRG EAST BRING FLEET OF PORSCHE GT3 CUPS TO TEST
Team owner and driver Kevin Buckler and his TRG team will get a little bigger for the 2005 season. Last year Buckler campaigned two Porsches, but this year he plans to triple that number and field six.
"Everything is great," Buckler said. "Coming down here with this many cars, this isn't the first time. We do a lot of club racing throughout the year with multiple cars and multiple schedules. Being about to glue it together with all the people who handle the hospitality, and the people who handle tires, the fuel, the radios and the runners, it's been good. The test down here is to shake down everything for the race. We have a lot of stuff, but everything is working fine.
"All the cars are different and they all have their issues. It all comes down to a great group of guys. A lot of us have been working together for six or seven years. It will be a really big undertaking for the race. It's nice to come down here and see what our strengths and weaknesses are. I'm real proud of the guys."
Last season's SGS champions Andy Lally and Marc Bunting will pilot the No. 65 Porsche GT3 Cup with Buckler, Carlos de Quesada and Hugh Plumb. Dave Master, Marc Sluszny, Derek Clark and Pat Flanagan have been sharing the No. 63 machines, while Jay and Joe Policastro, Miguel Amaral and Pedro Couceiro are piloting the No. 64 Porsche.
The No. 16 Team16 Porsche is shared by Brad Coleman, Colin Braun, Adrian Carrio and Ross Bentley, and the No. 62 Porsche Club Japan Porsche is piloted by Akira Fujita, Akira Hirakawa, Takashi Inoue, Kiichi Takahashi and Hiroshi Wada. The No. 61 TRG East Porsche -- TRG's sister team - is driven by David Lacey, Robert Nearn, David Shep, Greg Wilkins and Mark Wilkins.
ORBIT RACING DAYTONA PROTOTYPE TO MAKE DEBUT AT ROLEX 24
The No. 39 Orbit Racing Pontiac Riley will make its race debut at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in just a couple of weeks, but the team used this weekend's testing to prepare for the grueling event and work out any of the bugs.
"We haven't had the car as long as we would have liked coming here," car owner and driver Jim Matthews said. "We've had several test sessions, but we've had a lot of nagging little problems and we've lost a lot of track time. As many days as we've been at the track, we've had relatively few laps. We're still kind of playing with the setup. We kind of keep shooting through it. We sneak up on it and then we go too far to the other side, so we're kind of bracketing down. Of course, the conditions change from morning to midday to evening, so we're just a little behind right now. When the car's on the track, it's pretty quick. I credit that mainly to Guy Smith and Marc Goossens, who are driving around our problems. We're trying to make the car comfortable for good long runs for the race."
In addition to Matthews, Marc Goossens, Guy Smith and Scott Sharp shared the car.
"It's just a bunch of guys that I've had before here and there over the years," Matthews said. "Guy started driving sports cars with us in 2000. I think it was his first sports car ride. He went to Le Mans with us and got Rookie of Le Mans, and then he got snagged up by Audi and Bentley and kind of went through that whole program. Now he's back with us.
"Marc Goossens drove with us for several races between 2002 and 2004, and has always done just a stellar job for us. He's a way naturally-talented guy. Scott Sharp drove with Guy and myself and Robby Gordon here in 2002 when we got second place. It's just a bunch of good, solid veterans that don't make mistakes, go quick, and are very kind to the car. They're guys that I knew and feel really comfortable with. It's just kind of a nice group and a nice vibration."