Valiante tops frigid Rolex 24 test Saturday
Cold temperatures and precipitation, including light snow, freezing rain, sleet and patches of ice, merely dampened the morning practice sessions for the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.
But drivers, teams and crews kept their cool, and once their sessions started, posted admirable times under the cloudy skies of central Florida.
Michael Valiante (Right) recorded the fastest lap of the day in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley, 1:41.237 (126.594 mph), to lead the Daytona Prototypes. Leh Keen was fastest in GT practice in the No. 41 Dempsey Racing/Team Seattle Mazda RX-8, 1:49.214, set late in the night practice session.
Competitors in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge found conditions more to their liking, with Scott Maxwell unofficially bettering the existing track record.
The Roar Before The Rolex 24 wraps up Sunday. The Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge will practice from 9 -10 a.m. and 1:30 - 2:15 p.m. The Rolex Series will practice from 10:15 a.m. - noon and 2:30-3:30 p.m. The session is open to the public.
Rarely is it as cold as it was Saturday morning in Daytona Beach, where temperatures stayed in the low 30s, and an ice buildup around the race track forced cancelation of the first Rolex Series session. A handful of competitors in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge braved the untested track during their first session before waiting it out for the afternoon.
Valiante, who was fastest during several practice sessions during the 2009 Daytona Prototype season, set his time late in the afternoon. Times in Daytona Prototypes dropped off during the 90-minute night practice session, while GT times picked up.
"Michael Shank Racing has done a fantastic job, and it's great to be teamed up with Mark Patterson, Brian Frisselle and AJ Allmendinger here," Valiante said. "I think we will be challenging for the top spot at every race we go to this year. I think we will have a shot at the pole here. Unfortunately, it's been quite cold here. The temperature here today is the same as it is back home in Vancouver (B.C., Canada), and I was expecting Florida to be a lot warmer."
David Donohue was second fastest in Daytona Prototypes in the No. 59 Brumos Porsche Riley, 1:42.088 (125.539 mph). He was followed by Christophe Bouchut in the No. 55 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley, 1:42.106 (125.517 mph); Jon Fogarty in the No. 99 GAINSCO Chevrolet Riley, 1:42.207 (125.393 mph); and Pedro Lamy in the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara, 1:42.352 (125.215 mph).
Robin Liddell was second quickest in GT with a lap of 1:50.565 (115.914 mph) in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro, followed by Jorg Bergmeister, 1:50.604 (115.873 mph) in the No. 67 TRG/Flying Lizard Porsche GT3, Sylvain Tremblay in SpeedSource's No. 70 Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8, 1:50.698 (115.774 mph), Paul Edwards in the No. 07 Godstone Ranch Motorsport Corvette, 1:50.889 (115.575 mph) and Andy Lally in the No. 66 TRG Shore Tel Porsche GT3, 1:50.978 (115.482 mph).
"We're pretty happy with the car so far," said Liddell, who co-drove a Stevenson Pontiac GXP.R with (Andrew) Davis the past two seasons. "We had a pretty good test here in December, and obviously I was able to put down a pretty good lap. So it looks like we're in good shape. Andrew and I work very well together, and having Jan (Magnussen) in the car is a great addition to the team."
Scott Dixon led the early afternoon session with a lap of 1:43.325 (124.036 mph). AJ Allmendinger was fastest in night practice with a lap of 1:41.448. Bergmeister was fastest in the early GT session, 1:50.214 (116.283 mph).
"It was really cold out there," Allmendinger said. "These are conditions you normally don't race in. I've been at Daytona before when it was cold, but this was like ice out there. When the tires were cold it was nuts trying to hang on."
Competitors in both the Rolex Series and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge took advantage of the sessions to practice GRAND-AM's new restart procedure. On the final lap of caution periods, competitors in the faster class (either Daytona Prototype or Grand Sport) will fall into a continuous line, followed by the GT or Street Tuner competitors.
Like their Rolex Series counterparts, Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge competitors experienced the wrath of cold temperatures and precipitation throughout their two sessions. During the first session, only five cars took track time due to the temperatures and drizzle, while 47 Grand Sport (GS) and Street Tuner (ST) machines participated in the second hour-long session.
A day after BMW M3s swept the top five, the Ford Mustang GTs struck gold, grabbing the top four spots. Maxwell managed the quickest time in the afternoon, posting a time of 1:59.215 (107.503 mph) in the No. 16 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT.
Overall, three different Mustang teams were in the top four. Todd Snyder turned the second fastest time in the No. 11 CMA Motorsports Ford Mustang GT, 1:59.710 (107.059 mph), the only other car under the two-minute mark. The defending championship-winning car, the No. 59 Belesta Ford Mustang GT from Rehagen Racing, was third, with Ken Wilden behind the wheel. Multimatic also claimed fourth with Gunnar Jeannette in the No. 71 Ford Mustang GT, while Joey Hand ended the Mustang's hot streak with Turner Motorsport's No. 97 BMW M3.
In ST, Compass360 Racing went from 2-3-4 on Friday to 1-2-3 on Saturday with its trio of Honda Civic Sis. Leading the way was 2009 Fresh From Florida 200 co-winner Lawson Aschenbach, who drove the No. 77 Skunk2/HPD Honda Civic Si, with a time of 2:10.078 (98.526 mph). Ryan Eversley was second in the No. 75 Skunk2/J.C. Concrete Honda Civic Si at 2:10.334 (98.332 mph), while Jesse Combs clocked in with a time of 2:10.655 (98.090 mph) in the No. 74 Skunk2/Hondata Honda Civic Si.
BimmerWorld and Irish Mike's Racing were also fast. BimmerWorld team owner James Clay was fourth quickest in the No. 80 BMW 328i, while Todd Buras claimed fifth in the No. 51 Volkswagen Jetta.
Session 6 Results
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