2009 Season Kicks Off Season Friday at Daytona International Speedway
Sixty-nine cars are entered for Fresh From Florida 200
Grand-Am KONI Sports Car Challenge competitors will begin their quest for the 2009 Grand Sport (GS) and Street Tuner (ST) championships beginning this week at Daytona International Speedway, with the first of 11 races - the Fresh From Florida 200 - set for 1:45 p.m. Friday. The race will be three hours long.
Defending race winners Craig Stanton (GS) and Glenn Bocchino (ST) will be on hand to defend their race victory after taking the checkered flag first in the 2008 race. However, the landscape has changed for last year's champions, leaving the door open for others who have championship aspirations.
Stanton, who finished fourth in last year's point standings, is entered in the No. 83 BGB Motorsports Revo Technik/Performance Drink Porsche 997, tentatively with John Tecce. Stanton was running fourth late in last year's race when problems sidelined the top-three running cars, and he and Tim Traver took the victory.
Another defending race winner, Glenn Bocchino, has moved from the ST circuit to GS, and will drive the No. 32 i-MOTO Racing/Kinetic Motorsports Cybernation/Cobalt Friction BMW M3 with Todd Lamb. The team also has entries for Lee Davis and Russell Smith (No. 78 BMW M3), Nic Jönsson and Gunnar Jeannette (No. 79 BMW M3) and Lance Willsey and Chip Herr (No. 80 BMW M3).
Meanwhile, the GS field will not have the No. 55 Hyper Sport Ford Mustang GT to compete against. The defending team champion, with driver titlists Joe Foster and Scott Maxwell, was withdrawn earlier in the week due to lack of sponsorship. Instead, Foster will suit up in the No. 55 Hyper Sport Mazda RX-8, a car which he borrowed from Roar Racing, in ST action. Foster will drive with Rick Skelton.
Still, a large contingent of teams fielding Ford Mustangs appear to take Foster's place in either the winner circle or to join in on the championship hunt. Among those is JBS Motorsports, which has again expanded to a two-car effort with drivers Bret Seafuse and James Gue looking to avenge a six-point deficit in last year's standings in the No. 37 Trumansburg Shursave Ford Mustang GT. Nick Igdalsky and Chase Mattioli will drive the No. 47 Pocono Raceway Ford Mustang GT.
Rehagen Racing and Horsepower Ranch dominated the three-day test session at Daytona earlier in the month, with Rehagen Racing drivers setting fast times each day. Among those competing Friday will be Robert Bengoa and Bryan Ortiz in the No. 57 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT, and Dean Martin and Ken Wilden in the No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT. Ortiz set the fast time for two of those test days, while Wilden was fastest on the first day.
Horsepower has drivers Matt and Hugh Plumb competing with Mike Canney and Jack Roush Jr. in the Nos. 60 and 61 Ford Mustang GTs, respectively. Hugh Plumb led during last year's race and also split a victory with Canney and Matt Plumb in last year's season finale, the six-hour race at Virginia International Raceway.
Two other teams that won races in 2008 and had strong tests were TRG and Automatic Racing. TRG has two Porsche 997s for drivers Duncan Ende and Spencer Pumpelly (No. 39 TheDigiTrust Group/Adam's Polishes Porsche 997) and Andy Lally and John Potter (No. 41 Magnus Racing Porsche 997). For Automatic, which led the first 28 laps last year at Daytona, 2007 GS co-champions Jep Thornton and Jeff Segal will drive the No. 91 Imported Car Store/Land Air BMW M3. Barry Waddell and Mark Hillestad (No. 99 Imported Car Store/Engine Studios BMW M3) and Charles Espenlaub and Charlie Putman (No. 09 Imported Car Store/Rogue Engineering BMW M3) complete the team's lineup.
Turner Motorsport's two-car effort ended 2008 strong, and will again be in contention for a victory at Daytona with drivers Bill Auberlen and Matthew Bell sharing the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 and Chris Gleason and Joey Hand occupying the No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW M3.
Blackforest Motorsports will also debut its Dodge Challenger, with two-time race winner Tom Nastasi and Ian James entered in the No. 5 entry.
Other teams entered include CMA Motorsports, Cardiosport Racing, Motorsport Technology Group, Fall-Line Motorsports, Hyper Sport/Jim Click Racing, CA Sport, Maxwell Paper Racing and Ranger Sports Racing.
On the ST side, defending driving champion Jamie Holtom will also not be competing with his 2008 championship-winning team, Georgian Bay Motorsports, and was not entered as of Wednesday afternoon. Instead, the team has drivers Lawson Aschenbach and Pat Iannucci, a multi-time karting champion making his first start in KONI, in the No. 01 Chevrolet Cobalt. The team also has the No. 00 Chevrolet Cobalt with Ashley McCalmont and Kirk Spencer behind the wheel.
Holtom's absence will give several drivers the chance to capitalize, including class runner-up and 2007 series champion Adam Burrows and teammate Trevor Hopwood. Burrows and Hopwood won twice in their initial season with Compass360 Racing last year, a season after winning the title together with Turner Motorsport. Burrows and Hopwood were signed during the offseason by Randy Smalley's RSR Motorsports team, and this season, they'll share a Mini Cooper S. Smalley will also field cars for himself, Joe Touissant, Owen Trinkler and rookie Jade Buford.
Bob Beede also returns to action after taking fourth in points last year. He will drive the No. 29 Bill Fenton Motorsports Honda Civic Si with Rich Cullen. David Thilenius and Bret Spaude will drive the team's No. 27 Honda Civic Si. Bill Fenton Motorsports has two Daytona victories, in 2002 (ST II) and again in 2004 (ST).
Several fast teams from the test session will also try to take Daytona's checkered flag, including Kristian Skavnes and Andrew Aquilante in the No. 111 Subaru Road Racing Team Subaru Legacy. Skavnes, who led the point standings last season before finishing fourth, and Aquilante alternated the top speeds with Freedom Autosport's Tom Long, who is entered this weekend to drive with Derek Whitis in the No. 145 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5. The team also gained Boris Said, who will drive the No. 146 Mazda RX-8 with Rhett O'Doski, while Mark White and Andrew Carbonell will drive the team's No. 147 Mazda RX-8.
Compass360 Racing, which won the race in 2007 and finished third a year ago, has three cars entered: the Nos. 74, 75 and 76 Honda Civic Sis, with two-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Randy Pobst sharing the No. 74 with Christian Miller. Bo Roach, Peter Schartzott, Matt Pritiko and Travis Walker make up the remainder of the entry list.
Former race winners Team Sahlen and HART have entered one car each, with Joe Sahlen and Will Nonnamaker driving the No. 43 Team Sahlen Mazda RX-8 and John Schmitt and Chad Gilsinger piloting the No. 92 HART Honda Civic Si.
Other efforts include Maxwell Paper Racing, Flat Out Motorsports, Meyer Motorsports (which led one of session of testing earlier this month), V-Pack Motorsport, Team Cobalt California, Turner Motorsport, Istook's Motorsports, Next Generation Motorsports, Runwhatyabrung Racing, GS Motorsports, LRT Racing and APR Motorsport, which includes 2006 Rolex 24 race winner Ian Baas and defending TDI Jetta Cup champion Ian Baas.
Practice for the race begins at 11:45 a.m. Thursday, with qualifying for the ST class at 5 p.m. and the GS class at 5:30 p.m. Catch live timing and scoring, as well as updates throughout Thursday and Friday, on grand-am.com.