at Daytona International Speedway – Day 1 Notebook
Three-time Rolex 24 winner Wallace happy, Valiante pleased with Pirellis, SpeedSource tests 10 drivers
Forty cars were on hand for the first of two days of Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 testing Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway, as teams and drivers logged nearly eight-and-a-half hours of quality track time at the 3.56-mile track.
The test, the first time teams used the 2009-specification Pirelli P Zero tires, saw 20 cars in each category participate, including the No. 4 Childress-Howard Motorsports Porsche Crawford, Nos. 6 and 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Rileys and Nos. 69 and No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8s. Several teams were involved in minor skirmishes and incidents, but no car was severely damaged and no driver seriously injured.
Wednesday's testing session will commence at 9 a.m. and run until 5 p.m. with an hour lunch break. No official times will be available during either day of testing.
Wallace Happy With Childress-Howard Effort
Childress-Howard Motorsports tested at Daytona International Speedway for the first time on Tuesday, with Andy Wallace and Rob Finlay sharing the wheel of the No. 4 Pontiac Crawford in preparation for the Jan. 24-25 Rolex 24 At Daytona, the opening round of the 2009 Rolex Series schedule.
"I think it's come quite far," said Wallace of the effort, which had its lone outing in the Crown Royal 200 at Watkins Glen International in August. Wallace finished 19th, co-driving with Andy Lally.
"The car is very well balanced," Wallace added. "I'm very happy with the engine we've got in. This is a new one from Watkins Glen. We've had a little bit of problem getting the car started, which is a shame, but other than that, it feels really good. We've had a few people working very hard in Denver (North Carolina) since Watkins Glen, trying to improve every part of the car. I think we have. We're looking forward to doing the whole season, but it's a bit of a sting in the toe to have the Rolex 24 as the first race of the season. If it was halfway through the season, you'd know the car a lot better by then. With a new car, you've got to find out exactly what it likes."
Wallace is sharing time with Rob Finlay in the updated Crawford. Finlay is happy with the updated Crawford.
"They are two completely different cars," Finlay said. "This one is really good, but it's completely different. We're going through our first day trying to get everything working together, but overall, I'm really pleased."
Wallace won the Rolex 24 with TWR Jaguar in 1990 and with Dyson Racing in 1997 and 1999. He's also come close several times - including 2001, when his Dyson entry broke with three and a half hours remaining while leading by 27 laps. In 2004, the Crawford team of Wallace, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke while leading with only 17 minutes remaining.
Now, Wallace is looking forward to drive for Richard Childress for the first time at Daytona.
"It's a big thrill to be driving Mr. Childress' car," Wallace said. "He wants to get serious about sports car racing, and I've been the lucky recipient to get the car ready and ultimately try to win races. I think we'll be right up there where we need to be. I'm really, really happy to be back here. I miss not doing to the whole season, and I'm looking forward to this race."
Valiante Quickly Up to Speed with Shank
Michael Valiante didn't need much time to get up to speed in his new ride, quickly posting competitive laps in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley he co-drives with John Pew.
"I had a really great year last season," said Valiante, who won one race and three poles for SunTrust Racing in 2008. "Several teams approached me towards the end of the season. I wasn't sure what SunTrust Racing was going to be doing, so I took the opportunity to join Michael Shank Racing. So far, it's been great. We were quickest for the first half of the day, and I really enjoy the new team. We're going to try to keep the momentum going from last year (the No. 6 won the season finale at Miller Motorsport Park after the No. 60 won at New Jersey). I enjoy the new environment and the people with the team, and I'm looking forward to the start of the year."
Valiante was also pleased with the new Pirelli tires.
"They're fantastic," Valiante said. "Ever since we started running them, I've always enjoyed running them. They hold up and they're consistent. I think it will be a great tire for 2009."
Shank said that AJ Allmendinger - who qualified second in the No. 6 for the 2008 Rolex 24 - will be back with the team for the Daytona opener in January. He's close to filling out the roster for the enduro - leaning toward veteran sports car drivers as opposed to open-wheel stars.
Last year, Michael Shank Racing ran the Rolex 24 At Daytona with a new package - an updated Riley chassis while switching to Ford engines. While there was a driver change on the No. 6, the No. 60 entry co-driven by Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson will remain the same, drivers and car alike.
"We have the same recipe," Negri said. "The recipe of the cake was working pretty good, so we kept everything the same. That's good, because we can develop from what we had last year. Everything with the test is going great, as always. The team does a fantastic job. We have a real good car and it's very competitive. We're experimenting with the new Pirelli tires, which are really good. They're almost the same as the old ones. They give us a lot of confidence that we can do the same in 2009."
After finishing second overall in the 2006 Rolex 24, Negri won the pole for last year's race and joined Patterson, Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal for a sixth-place finish.
Jeff Ward to Test With Spirit of Daytona
Another motorcycle legend is testing to race in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Seven-time AMA motocross champion Jeff Ward is testing with the Spirit of Daytona team this week, joined by Scott Russell and Guy Cosmo. The Scottish-born Ward was inducted into the motorcycle hall of fame in 1999. This would be his second start in the Rolex 24. Ward, who now lives in Newport Beach, Calif., drove the Ford Keiler KII in the 1997 event, finishing 52nd in a World Sports Car co-driven by Owen Trinkler and Roberto Quinanilla.
The No. 09 Porsche Coyote is sporting new updated Coyote bodywork for the team, still carrying the black and gold colors raced by Cheever Racing this past season. The team is expecting delivery of a new Coyote in the very near future.
Ward retired from motocross after winning seven championships and 57 races. He went to the Indy Racing League, winning the 2002 race at Texas Motor Speedway, edging Al Unser Jr. in what was the closest finish in IRL history. Ward finished sixth in the standings in 1998, winning the pole at Phoenix International Raceway. He was the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year that season, finishing third. He also finished second in the 1999 Indy 500 and was fourth in open-wheel racing's most prestigious event in 2000.
His last open-wheel race was the 2005 Indianapolis 500. Ward then returned to two-wheeled competition in the new AMA Supermoto division, winning the championship in 2004 and 2006. He also was a two-time Supermoto winner in the X-Games, winning earlier this year at age 47.
SpeedSource Tests 10 Drivers Tuesday
SpeedSource and the team's No. 70 Mazda RX-8 has dominated in the Rolex Series at Daytona International Speedway as of late, winning the last three GT races including the 2008 Rolex 24.
The team brought both of its cars and 10 drivers to Tuesday's test, including seven drivers listed to contest the No. 70. Rolex 24 winners Sylvain Tremblay and Nick Ham participated in the test, and will be joined in the Rolex 24 by David Haskell. Vying for the fourth seat are four drivers - all Mazdaspeed Motorsport Development Ladder Drivers - including three who have never competed in the 24-hour class before.
Ben Devlin, Joel Miller and Jason Saini would like to put the Rolex 24 on their resume, while Jonathan Bomarito participated in the race in 2005 in a Daytona Prototype. Bomarito, Devlin and Miller are all open-wheel veterans - Miller has never competed in a closed-top car before this test - while Saini is a sports car veteran in Mazda Miatas and MX-5 Cup cars.
"That's a marquee seat right now, that drive and that car," Ham said. "We have to live with these people for a month or two. We have to know that they're going to do what we want them to do. It's a big decision. So far, they've all done an excellent job, and no problems."
As for the test, Ham was happy with the car's performance so far.
"It's gone excellent so far," said Ham, who finished tied for third in GT points with Tremblay. "We were a little ways off with handling this morning, but we worked hard in the first session. The car is fast, handling very well and is drivable, and that gives us a lot of confidence. We cycled through a lot of drivers for the fourth seat this afternoon for the fourth seat, so everything's been going very well so far."
Meanwhile, the team's No. 69 Mazda RX-8 was tested by Jeff Segal, Nick Longhi and Emil Assentato. Segal spent a lot of time in the car, and he hopes to be in the car fulltime in 2009.
"We're still working on that for right now," said Segal, who won with Longhi and Assentato at Watkins Glen International in the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen. "Testing is going well. We're working on it. There's an announcement that should be forthcoming following this test. I'm also working on something for the KONI Challenge Series, ideally with Automatic Racing. I've spent a lot of time with them, and we've come a long way."
Lux, Other Farnbacher Loles Drivers Excited to Be Back at Daytona
Eric Lux was excited to be back at Daytona International Speedway, he said Tuesday morning before getting in the car.
Lux will drive the Nos. 86 and 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3s during the two-day test. Lux won once in 2008, driving with Leh Keen, at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
"Any opportunity where we're allowed to test, we like to take advantage of it, especially when there are new cars, new bodywork and new tires involved. For a race as big as the 24 hours, we'll definitely take advantage of any preparation we can. Farnbacher Loles always brings great cars, but with so many new things, this will be a very useful test. I'm looking forward to the 24."
He wasn't the only one from the Farnbacher Loles camp excited to be at the track. JLowe Racing, with drivers Jim Lowe and Jim Pace, drove the No. 64 Porsche GT3 throughout the day with Tim Sugden and Johannes van Overbeek. Lowe's team is having Farnbacher Loles Racing prep the car.
"We started working on this race for '09 about 15 minutes after the checkered flag dropped for the last one," Lowe said. "First, we drove a lot, with the focus on longer stints, double stints, endurance at speed. The next component was deciding what we were going to do and who we were going to do it with. Then execute early. That's why we have our whole driving team and everybody we need to be involved with for the '09 effort already together. It's the only approach I know to apply to something..."
James Back in Old Colors for Test
Ian James has spent several years with the Blackforest Motorsports stable, and this week, he's back with Tom Nastasi and the No. 15 Ford Mustang GT.
A regular on the Rolex Series circuit for multiple seasons, James moved into the Daytona Prototypes fulltime in 2007 after showing speed in the GT class. James returned to run and assist the Blackforest team in preparing the Ford Mustang during the November Test Days. He said he's entering an 11th season with the team.
"They're kind of like family," James said, "and they needed a hand, so I came down to test the car. The car's running pretty good. I think we were only off the fastest time this morning by about a tenth of a second. The car has great potential; it just needs a bit of massaging."
James competed in the Rolex Series Daytona Prototypes with Michael Shank Racing, and won his first overall race in the season finale Sept. 20 at Miller Motorsports Park in the No. 6 Ford Riley he shared with Raphael Matos and John Pew.
The Epsom, England, native now living in Phoenix, Ariz., is still making his plans to run fulltime in Rolex Series competition in 2009, but will at least be running a Daytona Prototype at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Bump Sends Forest into Spin, First Testing Incident
Mike Forest's first laps at Daytona International Speedway in the No. 32 PR1 Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R were among those he'd rather forget.
Just 13 minutes into the opening session Tuesday, Forest hit a bump in the chicane and spun, though the Edmonton, Alberta, native kept the car from hitting the wall. The car suffered slight right front damage, though the crew quickly made repairs when the car returned to the garage area.
"Not the way to start the day," said Forest, who has since moved from Edmonton to Colorado Springs, Colo.
Forest is entered to participate in the test with Thomas Merrill, Al Salvo and Jeff Westphal, all California drivers.
The team got back on track later in the day, with a few other slight setbacks. Merrill spun in Turn 1 and backed the car lightly into the wall, and the car later shed debris around the track, causing a full course caution.
Zanella Among Quartet in Matt Connolly Motorsports Machine
Mexican driver Santos Zanella was one of three drivers in the No. 21 Matt Connolly Motorsports Pontiac GTO.R during Tuesday's testing.
During February's 24 hours of Mexico in his hometown of Puebla, Zanella won the race in his class and finished second overall. He started racing in February 2007 and will complete his second season of competitive driving later this year in a 500-kilometer race. Zanella, who operates a car dealership in Puebla, was happy to test the car, though mentioned it was much different than any racecar he had driven in the past.
"It's very different than what I am used to," Zanella said. "It's traction is in the rear instead of the front, and you have to be very careful with the throttle because it is very soft. Hopefully, when I get back out, I can better my time."
Zanella drove with Pepe Montano in the Turismos de Resistencia, the Mexican Touring Car championship. Montano suggested Connolly's operation to Zanella, who is seeking now to run the top 24-hour race in the United States, the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Also running for the stable this week are Jeff Altenburg, a former SPEED World Challenge champion, veteran team driver Ryan Phinny and Romeo Kapudija, who last competed for Hyper Sport.
Notes from the Paddock
Jeff Braun, former engineer with Krohn Racing, is on site helping out AIM Autosport with its new No. 51 entry ... Among the drivers on site pursuing opportunities include Terry Borcheller, Marc Goossens, Shane Lewis, Anthony Lazzaro and Nelson Philippe ... Penske Racing took an early lunch break to change an engine ... Also seen in the paddock - Michel Jourdain Jr. and Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Sr.