at Daytona International Speedway – Day 2 Notebook
Penske brings two cars to test; Alegra lineup includes da Matta, Dalziel; Banner Racing will defend title with one GT car
Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 competitors finished off the two-day November Test Days on Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway, learning much about the 2009-specification Pirelli P Zero tires and coming away with sufficient track time.
The two-day test saw Penske Racing bring two cars, highlighted by veterans in its sports car, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and IndyCar Series programs, as well as the return of former Champ Car titlist Cristiano da Matta and 2008 Rolex Series GT team and driving champions, Banner Racing and drivers Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards. In contrast to running under sunny skies on Tuesday, much of Wednesday's testing took place under clouds and sometimes even in the rain.
The day-long test saw its share of incidents, including a spin by Brian Frisselle at more than 170 mph, but no cars sustained severe damage and no driver left the track with any serious injuries. No official times will be available for either day of testing.
Busch, Briscoe, Bernhard Test for Penske
Penske Racing brought a pair of brand-new Porsche-powered Riley Daytona Prototypes to the Grand-Am November Test Days at Daytona International Speedway, driven by NASCAR champion Kurt Busch, three-time 2008 IndyCar Series winner Ryan Briscoe, and Timo Bernhard.
Penske Racing finished third overall in the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona, driven by Busch, Briscoe and Helio Castroneves in a joint effort with Wayne Taylor Racing. For January, Penske Racing is going with the teams that have been a dominant force other series.
Romain Dumas tested a single Porsche Riley at Daytona during October Test Days. For November, Bernhard was joined by drivers from the respective Penske Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup and IndyCar Series teams.
"The first step in the Rolex 24 is to surround yourself with a good team, and the Penske team is very qualified," Busch said. "All the crew guys, all the team officials that make calls, it's exciting for me to be part of something this strong. I know I'm the weakest link and I've got the most homework to do."
This will be Busch's third attempt at the Rolex 24. Busch debuted in the event in 2005, finishing 27th in a Ford Multimatic co-driving with Scott Maxwell and Matt Kenseth.
"It's a treat to get in the sports cars," Busch said. "I'm learning more and more about the chassis manufacturers and the engines. It's a change of pace, obviously, but at the same time, it's an opportunity to gel with the Penske team. This year I have the opportunity to do it with Timo and Romain, and we're going to be competing with Helio (Castroneves) and Briscoe, where I was with those guys last year. It's a unique balance and chemistry change."
Briscoe said the preparation for the 2009 event is a major change from the 2008 Rolex 24 - Penske Racing's first time in the enduro since 1973.
"We've got more time to prepare this time around," Briscoe said. "Last year it was a late decision, and everything was put together very quickly. We had all the help and information from Wayne Taylor Racing, and they helped us get the car prepared. It was great to partner with Wayne Taylor Racing. This year, Penske Racing is getting serious about it and running it themselves."
Alegra Test Includes da Matta, Dalziel
Alegra Motorsports is testing the No. 22 Gatorade/TodayMD Porsche Riley for Cristiano da Matta, Ryan Dalziel, Chapman du Cote, Jean-Francois Dumoulin and Carlos de Quesada. The latter two were part of the winning GT effort in the 2007 Rolex 24, with the team running two events this past season in its new Daytona Prototype.
"Coming from GT, this team is actually very focused on the important things and they really want to do it," said da Matta, the 2002 Champ Car titlist. "It looks good, and it feels good to me. Obviously, it's not an easy situation to get something right now for next year, but I'm ready for the full season. If I get a chance, I'm going to take it."
De Quesada said he is close to announcing his plans for the 2009 Rolex 24.
"So far, it's going well," de Quesada said. "We're testing to see where we are at and trying to determine what our lineup will be for the Rolex 24. I feel by the race we'll be in good shape. Our plans are still a work in progress. We're secured for the Rolex 24 and for the remaining endurance events of the season. We're just trying to lock in the remaining events for the year."
Krohn Has New Car and Engine, Same Driver Lineup
One Rolex Series team has already announced its driver to the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Krohn Racing will return with the same three-driver lineups as the 2008 Rolex 24 - although they will be in a new car-engine combination.
Regulars Nic Jonsson and Ricardo Zonta will team with Darren Turner in the No. 76 Ford Lola, while Oliver Gavin rejoins Tracy Krohn and Eric van de Poele. All of the drivers were at the two-day session with the exception of Zonta, who tested here in October when the team ran approximately 1,800 miles.
"Doing the Rolex 24 for the first time this year was a good experience, and my first experience in Grand-Am racing," said Turner, who won the past two GT1 titles in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Aston Martin in addition to racing British touring cars. "I absolutely loved it, and I was going to do everything I could to come back here for 2009. Thankfully, Krohn gave me the opportunity to come back. Now, with the Ford engine, and seeing what was achieved by the Ford guys here last year - it's a fantastic engine, very strong - it's nice to be back in the car. We're running through our programs to make sure we're in good shape for the race.
While the 2008 Rolex 24 was Turner's first experience in the Rolex Series, Gavin was one of the pioneers of the series. Gavin raced a SRP prototype in the inaugural 2000 season.
"This series has changed quite a lot, and the cars have changed significantly," said Gavin, a factory Corvette driver. "The competition has gotten strong and stronger. There are some fantastic teams in it now, with Krohn Racing, Penske, Ganassi, SunTrust - the strength and depth is really there. You've got to work extremely hard to win a race now."
Despite Cutback, Banner Racing Still Ready to Defend Title
Despite the economic struggles in the U.S., which is severely affecting car manufacturers, Banner Racing will still field the No. 07 Pontiac GXP.R for Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards during the 2009 Rolex Series GT season to defend its championship, team owner Leighton Reese said.
Reese will also act only as a team owner, giving driving a rest.
"Those guys are going to defend the championship," Reese said. "We think we've got a good package. We are only running one car at Banner Racing next year. I wouldn't say that I've retired; I'm just not driving now. We're just going to optimize and maximize on one car, and hopefully we can put our rivals down one more time. We're obviously expecting a fierce fight from the Mazda guys, the Porsche guys and the other Pontiacs."
Reese said Daytona is not the best track for the Pontiacs because "we just don't have the speed the other cars do." Still, he believes the Rolex 24 could be a springboard to the team's second straight title.
"We're not as slow as we thought we'd be," Reese said. "We're not running record times, but against the guys we're usually running against, we're doing okay. Daytona is always a struggle for the Pontiacs. So far, the new tires have worked out well for us, and right now, we're just trying to do some reliability testing. The only way we're going to win this race is to go the distance; we're not going to win it on speed."
Davis, Stevenson Motorsports Getting Comfortable
Rolex Series GT runner-up Andrew Davis said this week's test has given his Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R team a good opportunity to get accustomed and comfortable with several things, including the new Pirelli P Zero tires.
Davis returns for his second season with the team, co-driving with Scotsman Robin Liddell. The pair finished nine points behind Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards in the 2008 GT point standings.
"Basically, we're trying to one, get comfortable on the new Pirelli tire, and also run through a lot of things that we want to improve on for next year, so we can make a good run at the championship," Davis said. "Right now, we're making good progress, and everybody's working really hard to make the changes. That's what testing is about. It's nice to be down here."
Running in different conditions - under sunny skies Tuesday and in the rain Wednesday - was favorable by Davis, who said in his eight previous Rolex 24 starts, the weather has never stayed the same throughout the entire 24 hours.
Cameron, Racers Edge Mazda Showing Consistent, Reliable
Open-wheel veteran and 20-year-old racer Dane Cameron returned to Daytona International Speedway this week to drive the No. 30 Racers Edge Motorsports Mazda RX-8 with Doug Peterson, Dion von Moltke and Jordan Taylor.
Cameron, a veteran in the Star Mazda and Atlantic ranks, had never participated in any form of on-track competition at Daytona before last month's October Test Days, and is only running a GT car for the second time ever.
"It's a pretty impressive place," Cameron said of Daytona. "You don't really get a respect for how steep the banking is here until you get your first run on it. It's a pretty cool place."
Cameron, whose only Rolex Series start came in 2007 at Miller Motorsports Park in a Daytona Prototype owned by Chip Ganassi Racing, said all of his co-drivers have been close in times so far, therefore showing consistency in a car team owner Jon Mirachi will field for the second straight year.
Peterson is the only driver signed to run fulltime for Racers Edge in 2009. Cameron said he was close to signing a deal to run fulltime with Peterson, while von Moltke is expected to compete in the endurance races for the team.
Stanton Excited About 2009 TRG Lineups, Pirelli Tires
Former Rolex Series GT champion Craig Stanton was excited about several things at Wednesday's November Test Days, including the No. 65 TRG Porsche GT3 and the 2009 Pirelli P Zero tires. Stanton has been driving the car with John Potter at Daytona this week.
"The TRG team is banging on all cylinders," Stanton said. "We're just prepping for the (Rolex) 24. That's our focus. We've been here before...and all week it's been great. We came here with a good car."
Stanton, who was among the quickest in a GT car during the morning session, said the team has been running a 2008 car but doing things to that car they would to the 2009. Among those are trying suspension pieces and running the new tires.
"Kevin (Buckler) has put together a good program," Stanton added. "It's just great here in Daytona in the middle of the week. We've got a lot of great people here for the (Rolex) 24. Our goal is to get one of those watches. I could go and buy one, but I'd rather win one for sure. This would be a good chance to put our best foot forward."
Foster, Hyper Sport Drivers Learn A Lot at Test
Recently crowned Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Grand Sport (GS) champion Joe Foster brought two drivers to the November Test Days with the hopes of learning a lot about the No. 40 Hyper Sport Mazda RX-8. According to Foster, the team - which also included Charles Espenlaub and James Gue - accomplished that goal.
"We learned a lot," Foster said. "Everybody learned a lot. We learned about the tire. It was good to get James in the car. We're not sure if he is going to have the opportunity to run with us or not. We're trying really hard to put together as professional a team as we can. We're still waiting, as a lot of teams are, for sponsor commitments, which will help define a lot of what we do for 2009."
Foster was disappointed co-driver Patrick Dempsey could not join the team at the test. Dempsey's shooting schedule changed late Tuesday and he was unable to make the test. However, he expects Dempsey to be at the track during January Test Days Jan. 2-4.
Gue finished second to Foster in the GS standings. He said he and Foster are good friends and that he also hopes the two can put together a deal.
"I have to thank Joe for getting me in the car for the last couple days," Gue said. "This was the first time I've driven the Mazda. All the guys here do an excellent job. The car is excellent. I was just here to basically see what the car is all about with the hopes that, if all the stars line up, maybe have a ride. Everything went well. I got comfortable and did some competitive times at the end, so I was very pleased with today."
Holtom Says Georgian Bay Corvette Continues to Get Faster
Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Street Tuner (ST) champion Jamie Holtom said the Georgian Bay Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette continues to progress as he and co-driver Eric Curran seek to run their first 24-hour race together in the car.
Holtom and Curran participated in last month's test at Daytona International Speedway, and both were back at the track this week to improve and progress the Corvette. A Corvette has not won the Rolex 24 since Flis Motorsports took the AGT class victory in 2002.
"Drivers are never happy," Holtom said, "but slowly but surely we're making the Corvette faster and faster. It would be pretty naïve for us to think we could come into this series, the Rolex Series, and be that fast right away. We're working on it. And we're making the right decisions, changing the car for the better. Every time I get in the car, I go faster and faster."
Autometrics Car "Running Really Good," According to Friedman
The No. 14 Autometrics Motorsports Porsche GT3, with drivers Jack Baldwin, Claudio Burtin, Cory Friedman and Mac McGehee, hasn't been on the track much during the two-test November Test Days, but it's for a good reason.
"(The car's) actually running really good," Friedman said. "We're thrilled with the balance of the car, and the car is handling great. The new tires and car are working together very well. To be honest, we're not really running the car much because we don't need to do much to it. We're just trying to save time on the car because things are tuned in pretty well."
Autometrics has run well at Daytona and won the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen in the past, and with a strong driver lineup for the Rolex 24, Friedman believes the team will do well in the 2009 edition of the race.
The team ran a handful of races in 2008 and is poised to run a similar schedule in 2009, with the Rolex 24 being the focal point. The Rolex 24 may also see a second Autometrics car on the grid.
Wright Motorsports to Compete Regularly in 2009
BJ Zacharias had been trying to get Phillip Martien to compete in the Rolex Series throughout the 2008 season. Martien, who has finally made the jump to the Rolex Series, expects to run seven to eight races in 2009 with Zacharias in the No. 33 Wright Motorsports Porsche GT3.
"The Rolex Series is a great series," Martien said. "I've met a lot of great people within the series, and looking forward to running. The fact that NASCAR bought Grand-Am gives us even greater opportunity to obtain sponsors for the season."
Martien started racing three years ago in PCA events and eventually ran in five SPEED World Challenge Series in 2008. The team will be joined by Larry Schumacher for the Rolex 24, and are hopes of a Porsche factory driver to join them for the season opener as well.
Yellow Dragon Team Satisfied with Competitive Lap Times
The newest team to the Rolex Series GT paddock this weekend, Yellow Dragon Motorsports brought its No. 36 Mazda RX-8 to Daytona in hopes of making a strong debut. Sylvain Tremblay of SpeedSource, a veteran racer of the RX-8, tested the car Tuesday, and Chris Festa was scheduled to test the car Wednesday before the car suffered a failed oil pump, which could not be repaired at the track.
"At the end of the day, we've had a great testing session," team owner Jack Smith said. "It's been a good demonstration of the car's ability to run a reasonable, competitive lap time, and we're very satisfied with the way things have come out."
Notes From the Paddock
Wednesday morning's test was held under heavy cloud cover, with several scattered showers and even brief periods of sunlight. The most serious Daytona Prototype incident came when Brian Frisselle lost a tire in the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley and spun on the banking. The incident damaged some bodywork, although Frisselle kept the spinning car off the wall.
John Farano spun in the No. 51 AIM Autosport Ford Riley, while Antonio Perez hit a curb and damaged the splitter on the No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley. Inaugural Daytona Prototype champion Terry Borcheller - still seeking a regular ride - helped test the No. 59 entry with JC France, Joao Barbosa, Darren Law and Perez. Five-time Rolex 24 winner Hurley Haywood was not at the test. David Donohue is here but is not driving, still recovering from shoulder surgery.
While Beyer Racing has done all of its racing and testing to date with a Crawford, it will be running a Pontiac Riley in the Rolex 24 on loan from Wayne Taylor Racing. The car finished fifth in the Rolex 24 and third in the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen last year.
Among the drivers seeking an opportunity to race in the Rolex 24 is three-time overall winner Butch Leitzinger. January was only the third time he missed the race since 1988. Among the drivers not testing was Kyle Petty - in between NASCAR races in Phoenix and Miami - but he has a full-day's test scheduled for the near future in West Palm Beach, Fla.
JEFF WARD (No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Porsche Riley) - "It's got a lot of torque in the motor. I'm still trying to look at the track while I'm accelerating. The rev limiter comes on quick when you're not focusing on it - I'm still concentrating on where the track's going. It will take a while to get comfortable, for sure. This feels a lot different from anything I've driven."
BRIAN FRISSELLE (No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara) - "I just lost a tire at the entrance to turn four on the banking and had a bit of a moment. I had about a two-second warning, then it completed delaminated and exploded. Luckily, we went spinning down the straightaway and not into the wall. When the tire came apart, it did some rear-end bodywork damage. I didn't hit anything, though."
MAX ANGELELLI (No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara) - "Yesterday we did not touch the car all day long, we just put miles on it. Today, finally, we started working on the car, and you could see the results. Just give us time to work on the car and we'll be on top."
ROGER SCHRAMM (No. 12 and No. 20 RVO Pontiac Riley) - "We've been struggling with a lot of little issues we hadn't expected, but I think we're making some progress. Our plan is not to run two cars in the Rolex 24. We expect to run one car, and we would most likely do most of - if not all of - the series next year. I missed this year because of a skiing injury. I'm still recovering from it, but we're making progress. I feel good in the car."
RICKY TAYLOR (No. 13 Beyer Racing Pontiac Riley) ' "Yesterday we got in a lot of laps. I did pretty much the entire morning and afternoon session. Then we put Jared (Beyer) in to get some laps during the night. The whole team is doing an impressive job with the new car. I haven't driven this car in a year (he finished fifth in the car in the 2008 Rolex 24 under the No. 10 SunTrust colors), and I had forgotten what it felt like, but as soon as I went out for the first lap it all came back to me. It's definitely a nice car to drive. The whole Wayne Taylor Racing team did a lot with the preparation, so that when we finally got the car in the Beyer shop, it was pretty much race ready. We just had to do the normal at the track engineering. We were third quickest in one of the sessions yesterday, so it's looking good."
CHRIS FESTA (No. 16 Forsythe Racing Pontiac Coyote) - "The DP is a fun car to drive. It moves around a lot, but it's not so uncomfortable to drive where you feel like you're hanging on for dear life. It's a good balance of sliding around and grip that really makes it enjoyable to drive. Over 24 hours, the cars are real durable so you can really drive them hard and race them hard the entire race, which makes it a lot of fun."
MEMO GIDLEY (No. 77 Doran Racing Ford Dallara) - "It's nice to get the 77 car out there. It's been a while since we last ran. It's good to go through the motions again. We haven't run a heck of a lot, but the car feels pretty good right now. Everything's still up in the year for our partners and the length of the season for us. Kevin (Doran)'s putting it together right now."