Lead to Fourth Consecutive Rolex 24 At Daytona Victory?
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will field two Lexus Riley Daytona Prototypes
The months of preparation are over, and now a wide-open battle is expected when the green flag waves at 3:30 p.m. Saturday for the 47th running of America's premier sports car race, the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“It's going to be close,” said Chip Ganassi, who is seeking his fourth consecutive Rolex 24 victory with a star-studded two-car entry. “You try to do everything right as much as possible, but at the end of the day, you've got to have a little bit of luck on your side. We've got our fingers crossed.”
The Rolex 24 is the opening event of the 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16. The opening portion will be televised live on FOX from 3-4:30 p.m. ET. Coverage on SPEED continues from 4:30-10 p.m. Saturday and resumes from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday.
TELMEX Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates won the past three runnings of the event. Scott Pruett and Juan Pablo Montoya were on the winning lineup the past two years, and will join 2008 winner Memo Rojas on the team's No. 01 Lexus Riley.
Defending Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon – part of Ganassi's winning lineup in 2006 – joins 2007 Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti and Alex Lloyd on the team's No. 02 Lexus Riley.
Pruett, the 2008 Daytona Prototype co-champion with Rojas, said the team has been working specifically for this race since three weeks after the 2008 season ended in September.
“For the Rolex 24, 80-percent is preparation to get to Victory Lane,” said Pruett, who won the event overall in 1994 in addition to his 2007 and 2008 triumphs. “But, there's always that wild card, such as you're just driving around and someone takes you out from behind. That's the potential of this race. It always has been, and always will be.”
Dixon recalled the Ganassi victory in 2006, when the car he shared with Casey Mears and Dan Wheldon took two trips to the garage, where the team made major repairs while losing minimal time.
“This race here is definitely more of a team sport,” said Dixon. “When we won this race here in 2006, it was won in the pits. We had all kinds of mechanical problems and we had to go back to the garage, but this team practices doing brakes changes, gearbox changes so often that we didn't lose much time. They had it all nailed down. If that happened in an IndyCar race and they tried to change a brake or something, we would be out of it. This race is a true team effort, and it's definitely preparation. This team prepares really well.”
David Donohue won the pole for the event with a lap of 1:40.540 (127.472 mph) in the No. 58 Brumos Porsche Riley, edging the Penske Racing Porsche Riley of Timo Bernhard by a scant one-thousandth of a second, 1:40.541 (127.470 mph) in the No. 16 Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Porsche Riley.
The top 10 cars were separated by one second – approximately 10 feet. The Daytona Prototypes share the course with the GT class, where Sylvain Tremblay won the pole Thursday in a last-lap effort in the No. 70 SpeedSource Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8. Tremblay, the 2008 Rolex 24 GT winner, ran a lap of 1:49.455 (117.100 mph) to edge the No. 67 TRG Porsche 997 of Andy Lally, 1:49.540 (116.998 mph).
Saturday featured final qualifying, led by Michael Valiante in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley with a lap of 1:42.856 (124.601 mph). Diego Alessi led the GT portion of the session with a lap of 1:52.501 (113.919 mph) in the No. 21 Battery Tender/MCM Pontiac GTO.R.
Two of the Daytona Prototype teams had their times from Thursday's qualifying disallowed due to technical irregularities.Valiante's Pontiac Riley was found to be too wide, while the fifth-qualifying No. 22 Alegra Motorsports BMW Riley of Ryan Dalziel was found to be too low due to a splitter failure. While Valiante requalified and will start 17th, the Alegra team did not participate in second round qualifying and will be gridded 19th.
The lone incident of Rolex Series practice involved Bill Lester, who spun and tagged the wall in the No. 45 Victory Junction – Orbit Racing BMW Riley he will co-drive with Kyle Petty, Darren Manning and Leo Hendry Jr.
“Basically, just too much gas too soon,” Lester admitted, but said the car would be repaired. “We'll be racing tomorrow.”
A field of 49 cars, including 19 Daytona Prototypes, is expected to take the green flag on Saturday.