in "Roar Before the Rolex 24" Opening Session
Valiante fastest driver in three practice sessions Saturday; Sunday's testing starts at 9 a.m.
Michael Valiante ran the fastest lap of the day in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley, leading the opening round of the "Roar Before the Rolex 24" at Daytona International Speedway.
Valiante ran a lap of 1:41.760 (125.943 mph) to lead the first day of the three-day session in preparation for the 47th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona Jan. 24-25, the opening round of the 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16.
The "Road Before the Rolex 24" continues Sunday with practice for the Rolex Series and Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. The test concludes Monday, with practice from 9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Spectator admission is $10 both days, and includes access to the Sprint FANZONE and Grand-Am garage areas.
"The car is working real well, and the team has been phenomenal," said Valiante, who will be running his first race with Michael Shank Racing, co-driving with AJ Allmendinger, John Pew and Ian James. "The team is working well together in the short amount of time I've been here, and they've made it real easy for me to come in and drive the car. We've been working well since the first test here in October."
Meanwhile, Scott Pruett led the opening session with a lap of 1:42.163 (125.459 mph) in the No. 01 TELMEX Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley. While Pruett is seeking his fourth career and third consecutive overall victory in the Rolex 24, Ganassi Racing is going for a fourth consecutive triumph, dating back to a 2006 triumph by the team's No. 02 entry.
"It's always nice to pick up after a winning season," said Pruett, who won second Daytona Prototype championship last season. He will be joined by defending co-champion Memo Rojas and Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 01 entry.
"Last year was huge for Ganassi Racing, winning our third in a row. Now, we're going for four, and that says a lot about the team and the commitment Ganassi has made. We haven't been in these cars since the end of last season, and we missed the testing here in October and November. To come here right out of the box and be fastest in our opening practice is a great way to start the year."
Montoya will be seeking his second consecutive victory in the event.
"I'm pretty excited, because the car is pretty quick," said Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner. "It's probably a little easier to drive around here, so we'll have to wait and see what happens."
Dario Franchitti was part of the 2008 winning Ganassi lineup. For 2009, he shifts to the No. 02 entry, co-driving with Target Chip Ganassi IndyCar Series teammate Scott Dixon and 2007 Indy Lights champion Alex Lloyd. Dixon is the defending Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion, while Franchitti accomplished both fetes in 2007.
"Chip's going for four in a row, so it should be pretty exciting," Franchitti said. "That's an amazing statistic, and it speaks volumes for the job that this team does. The team has done a great job preparing the car, as usual, and it's always exciting to come back to Daytona. It's good to be in the car with Scott. We've raced against each other for a long time, so it's nice to be in the same car now, because it gives us a chance to work with each other. My engineer, Chris Simmons, is engineering the No. 02 car, so that will also help get us ready for the IndyCar season.
"If you look at the entry list, there are many, many strong teams," Franchitti added. "But these guys are up to the challenge."
David Donohue led the evening session, waiting until the closing minutes to run a lap of 1:42.217 (125.380 mph) in the No. 58 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley co-driven by Darren Law, Buddy Rice and Antonio Garcia.
"The Brumos guys did a great job, because we had issues with the engine in the afternoon session," said Donohue, who missed October and November testing while recuperating from shoulder surgery. "It started making funny sounds, so the guys went ahead and changed it between sessions. We went out towards the end of the session, and what can I say, the car is good. We've done a lot of testing here, so we're pretty pleased."
Also on Saturday, Childress-Howard Motorsports announced its driver lineup for the 2009 Rolex 24. IndyCar Series regular Danica Patrick and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Casey Mears will join three-time Rolex 24 winner Andy Wallace and Rob Finlay in the No. 2 Pontiac Crawford.
"We think we've got a real good package, running with Richard Howard and Max Crawford," said Richard Childress, a six-time championship-winning car owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. "We've got a great driver lineup. Danica will do a real good job here. She's a great road racer, and we're excited to have her in the car. Casey's real excited. He won this race three years ago with Chip Ganassi, and he called me and said, ‘If you've got a seat, put me in.'"
A total of 49 cars - 20 Daytona Prototypes and 29 GT - participated in the opening day's testing, with 52 teams filing entries for the event.