Daytona Beach, Fla.-- Max Angelelli knows a thing or two about getting around Daytona International Speedway. It showed Saturday as his lap time of 1:43.483 (123.846 mph) aboard the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley was the fastest lap turned during the three-day Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve Daytona Test Days, which ended exactly three weeks before the start of the 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Angelelli, the 2005 Daytona Prototype co-champion, turned the lap in Saturday's morning session, as teams made final preparations for the Rolex 24, which takes the green flag January 27 at 1:30 p.m. ET (LIVE on FOX, 1 p.m.). Angelelli, who won the Rolex 24 and Daytona Prototype championship in 2005 with Wayne Taylor, will again share the No. 10 Pontiac with Taylor in this year's race, and will be joined by four-time NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon and Danish racer Jan Magnussen.
2005 Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Max Angelelli proved fastest during Daytona Test Days.
"It was a very successful weekend for the SunTrust team and we leave here this weekend with a combination that makes us really excited for the race," said Angelelli. "We got all of our drivers plenty of time in the car, and we had a very nice confirmation from Jeff that what we saw from him at Homestead was another very talented driver for our team. We still have a lot of work to do after everything we learned this weekend. But, overall, everyone on the SunTrust team can feel good about the results we showed here this weekend."
Dirk Werner logged the fastest GT class lap--at 1:52.016 (114.412 mph) during the final session--in the No. 85 Farnbacher-Loles Porsche GT3. A total of 64 Rolex Series cars logged at least one lap during the three-day test.
Saturday also marked the final day of testing for the Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Grand Sport and Street Tuner class machines, as they prepare for their season opener at Daytona, January 26 at 2:15 p.m. ET. Scott Maxwell turned the fastest lap of the three-day test KONI Challenge test Saturday in the No. 55 Hyper Sport Mustang GT, a 2:01.546 (105.442 mph).
DEMPSEY MAKES HOUSE CALL AT DAYTONA TEST DAYS
Actor Patrick Dempsey, who stars as Dr. Derek Shepherd on the ABC hit television series Grey's Anatomy, made a house call at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday during the final day of Daytona Test Days. Dempsey flew overnight to "The World Center of Racing" to test his No. 54 Supercuts Hyper Sport Ford Mustang that he will co-drive with Romeo Kapudija in the Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series race on Friday, Jan. 26, part of the Rolex 24 At Daytona weekend.
"I'm having a ball," Dempsey said. "I love it. I can't believe I'm here. I can't believe I got on a plane last night. I had to work late. It's nice to be here for the second time. I feel a little bit more relaxed."
Romeo Kapudija and Patrick Dempsey will share the No. 54 Supercuts Mustang GT in the KONI Challenge opener.
In his second trip to DIS, Dempsey feels like he is making progress on the twist and turns of the 3.56-mile road course.
"I'm really pleased with this morning and where I was last year and where I am this year," Dempsey said. "I hope that continues on."
Dempsey says racing on the historic grounds of Daytona International Speedway has been special.
"It's amazing," Dempsey said. "The first time that I went out on the banking, I couldn't believe I was there. Taking the history and all the races that have happened here through the 24-hour race to all the Cup races, it's phenomenal to be at this track. It's quite special and challenging. When you get out of the car, there's so much joy in completing that and getting faster. I love it. I really do."
Dempsey also participated in an announcement that Supercuts will now provide sponsorship for the Hyper Sport entries - the No. 54 and No. 55 Ford Mustangs - in the KONI Challenge Series. As part of that announcement, Fitz Motorsports introduced NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series regular David Stremme as its driver for the No. 22 Supercuts Dodge in the NASCAR Busch Series in 2007, and Ruben Pardo as the driver for Fitz Motorsports' Supercuts-sponsored entry in the NASCAR Busch East Series.
BRUMOS RACING READY TO CHALLENGE FOR ROLEX 24 VICTORY
In 2006, the No. 58 Red Bull/Brumos Racing Porsche Fabcar was within five minutes of earning a podium finish when the car was bumped off-course in the chicane at the end of the Daytona Superstretch, relegating the team to a fourth-place overall result.
The two-car Brumos Racing operation will return for this year's race loaded for bear, with regular drivers Darren Law and David Donohue sharing the No. 58 Red Bull Porsche Riley with Indy Racing League IndyCar Series stars Buddy Rice and Scott Sharp, and No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley full-timers Hurley Haywood--the most successful endurance racing driver in history--and American racer J.C. France being joined by Brazilian Formula 1 and Champ Car veteran Roberto Moreno and Portuguese sports car standout Joao Barbosa.
The No. 58 Red Bull Porsche Riley is one of two Brumos Racing entries for the Rolex 24.
The team is one of the most storied in Rolex 24 At Daytona history, what with seven victories in the prestigious endurance race. Team owner Bob Snodgrass is looking to add an eighth Rolex 24 At Daytona victory to his team's already-impressive résumé, but knows well that the deep and talented field will make that an extremely difficult task.
"The first year that we won this race overall was 1973," Snodgrass said. "We had Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood in a Carrera RS, which actually had to run as a prototype that year. It was not homologated as a GT car. When the sun came up in the morning, we had a 21-lap lead on the field. Those days are long gone. Now, if the sun comes up and you had a half-a-lap lead on second place, you'd feel pretty good. The competition level has grown so much because the disparity in the performance of the cars has been minimized if not negated. I mean, these cars all run within a split-second of each other. It's the drivers and the track wisdom, and the track sense that these guys have that's going to determine the winner."
In addition to assembling a stellar driver lineup for both cars, Snodgrass has also enlisted the help of some extremely accomplished men is motorsports, leaving no stone unturned in his quest for another chance at Rolex 24 glory.
"Gary Nelson, formerly of NASCAR, is working with us as a technical consultant," Snodgrass explained. "I have retained for the 24-hour weekend, Norbert Singer, the past chief engineer of Porsche, who just released a book called 24:16, describing his 16 victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the Porsche factory. I also have retained to come here as a consultant, Manfred Jancke, who was director of motorsports for Porsche for many years during the 917 era, and has scores of victories under his resume. I think between, Jancke, Singer and Nelson, we have the triumvirate of a brain trust. We're coming here with our guns fully loaded. We're not skipping a beat anywhere, and I really think we're going to have a good result."
KROHN RACING PREPARES FOR ROLEX 24 DURING TEST DAYS; SAID RACES BOBSLEDS
While Boris Said is expected to race in the Rolex 24, the veteran missed the Daytona test session, opting for a different form of competition. Said was in Lake Placid, N.Y. to defend his victory in Geoff Bodine's Bobsled Challenge. Said will drive the No. 75 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley in the Rolex 24, joining Nic Jönsson and Tracy Krohn. The team car, No. 76, features Colin Braun, Max Papis and J.J. Lehto.
"Let's do something really crazy," owner/driver Krohn said. "I'm sorry Boris is not here, but that sounds like fun to me. If I was him, I would be doing it too."
Said set the fastest two runs in Friday's qualifying, held in unseasonably warm 50-degree temperatures in upstate New York. His father, Bob Said Jr., raced in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics in addition to racing sports cars. Krohn was pleased with his team's preparation for the Rolex 24.
"I'm very pleased with where we are right now," Krohn said. "We're working on setups. Our cars are fairly quick and everybody feels pretty good about it. We're looking forward to seeing what conditions are for race time."
The test gave Braun the opportunity to work with his new teammate, Papis, and Lehto, a Formula One and Champ Car veteran making his Rolex 24 debut.
"Max, myself and J.J. got to work together, along with new engineer, Dave Brown," Braun said. "Everybody's working really well together. I think the Krohn Racing cars are going to be strong. The new Pontiac engine is really strong, as well. We've been working on different setups and trying to make the car as good as we can."
For Lehto, the test gave him the opportunity to learn a new track as well as a new type of car.
"The track is very nice, but the car is quite a lot slower from what I'm used to," said Lehto, a two-time overall winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. "The grid is very strong, and there are a lot of good cars and big names. It's going to be a close race - I think it will be the closest 24-hour race I have ever done because all the cars are so equal. There can be 12-15 cars within one second, and that makes the race very interesting and very close."
GAINSCO SHUFFLES TEAM, SWITCHES FOCUS HEADING INTO 2007 SEASON
Few teams showed the consistent speed to match the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty in 2006. But with consistent practice runs near the top of the chart, qualifying times near the front of the grid and zero wins to show for it a season ago, team owner Bob Stallings shook things up this off-season.
Now, the No. 99 Pontiac is being guided from the pix box by new crew chief Linc Smith, and both Gurney and Fogarty want to focus on the way they finish races, not the way they start them.
Look for the No. 99 GAINSCO Pontiac Riley to make some noise in the 2007 championship.
"There were two or three cases where we definitely should have won a race (last year)," said Stallings. "Actually, these guys did fine. Something broke, we didn't anticipate it, took too long to fix it. We had a little bit of trouble getting the fuel hose out of the car once. We definitely should have won Watkins Glen. I think you'll see a much more professional effort this year."
Fogarty came onboard--at the request of Gurney--midway through the 2006 season. The former Toyota Atlantic teammates quickly gelled on and off the racetrack, but the team seemed to always run into problems at inopportune times. Gurney hopes things change this time around.
"First off, Bob here gave us a boot to the head a few times because, you know, we probably did focus on being fast too much," said Gurney. "That really isn't necessarily what wins races. We already know we can be at the front. We just need to manage races more, really just stay out of trouble. We just didn't stay out of trouble when we had the lead. It just seemed like luck wasn't on our side either."
"When Bob brought me on, I felt like he had the opportunity to choose from a pool of talented drivers," added Fogarty. "I certainly wanted to prove my speed. I think at times that was my focus more than anything. You know, I had time to think it through, realized really again the bigger picture. I focused on being consistent, not making mistakes."
If there's one team in the paddock that can come into the 2007 season winless and leave with the title, it's the GAINSCO team. The first step of that process comes in three weeks at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Stallings knows the importance of winning the race. But he also knows the value of the points earned.
"I don't want to sound overly optimistic, but our ambition is to win a championship this year," said Stallings. "We'd like very much to win this race. My objective personally is to figure out a way to come in here in the top five. It's a long race. It's a very, very long race. A lot can happen. But it's the same amount of points as a sprint race. We don't want to crash. We want the points at the end of the day."
FARNBACHER-LOLES CARRIES SPEED THROUGHOUT TEST WEEKEND
Farnbacher-Loles Motorsports brought a fleet of Porsche GT3s to the Daytona Test Days hoping to gather enough information and give its drivers enough seat time to make a run at Rolex 24 At Daytona glory in three weeks. And if the test sessions were any indication as to their chances in the 45th running of North America's premier endurance racing, the answer would be good.
In the final session of the weekend, German Dirk Werner logged the fastest lap over the three days, a 1:52.016 (114.412 mph) in the No. 85 Porsche GT3. Werner shared the car at Daytona with Leh Keen, Pierre Ehret and Jörg Hardt.
"For me personally, I just want to contribute to my team," said Werner. "As a team, our goal all along was to be the fastest of the Porsches. There's a lot of good teams here and many different manufacturers, so it's hard to predict how the race is going to go. But our team is strong and I'm looking forward to it."
In total, the Farnbacher-Loles team brought four Porsches to Daytona, all of which proving fast on the 3.56-mile layout. The team and Werner are looking to improve on their third place GT class finish in last year's Rolex 24.
"We definitely had the speed last year," said Werner. "That wasn't the problem. This year, we're all bringing a little more focus and a little more drive. I would say we have a pretty good chance."
The GT class is shaping up to have quite the battle at the end of January, as entries from Porsche, Pontiac, Mazda, Ford, Chevrolet and BMW all made strides during the Daytona Test Days to contend for Rolex 24 GT supremacy.
KONI CHALLENGE SERIES SET TO DROP GREEN FLAG ON MOTORSPORTS CALENDAR
While most of the hullabaloo surrounding Daytona this weekend involved cars and drivers from the Rolex Series, their KONI Challenge counterparts also descended upon the "World Center of Racing" with a laundry list of storylines heading into the 2007 season.
The newly-named series officially kicks off the 2007 motorsports calendar on January 26, a three-hour sprint race on the high banks of Daytona. If last year's Grand Sport championship fight was a precursor to on-track action this season, fans can expect wheel-to-wheel action right down to the wire.
First, the schedule has expanded to 12 races this season, two more than last year and the most in series history. The lengthened slate will give drivers and teams a chance to recover from a dreaded "DNF."
Second, the races themselves have been lengthened. In addition from the Daytona opener and the twin six-hour enduros at Virginia International Raceway to cap the season, the 10 races that make up the meat of the schedule have been stretched to 400 km affairs, as opposed to last year's two-hour, 30-minute timed events.
Third, most of the events on the schedule will feature split-class races, offering fans and competitors more racing pavement and less-cluttered pit lanes. In 2006, fields averaged nearly 70 entries, making for an increase in on-track incidents and over-flowing pit stalls. To accommodate every KONI team, both the Grand Sport and Street Tuner classes will, more often than not, have their own shows.
The changes made to the series should only improve the tight racing on the track. In 10 races last season, only one car--the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3--won more than race, and it won twice. The top seven drivers were separated by just 36 points in the final standings.
Look for more of the same this year.
ROAR BEFORE THE ROLEX 24 GIVES FANS UNIQUE LOOK INSIDE TEST DAYS
Test sessions and track days often relegate fans to grandstands or are closed to the public in general. Not so for the Daytona Test Days, as the inaugural Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona gave sports car fans the chance to walk the paddock, look in the garages and talk to their favorite drivers in a series of fan forums.
Daytona International Speedway transformed its NEXTEL FanZone into a carnival setting for the three-day test, equipped with souvenir shops, concession stands and two entertainment stages. One of the stages played host to 30-minute question and answer sessions, where fans could interact with their favorite drivers--including Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Max Angelelli, Andy Wallace and Jörg Bergmeister.
The Roar Before the Rolex 24 let fans interview Bobby Labonte, Michael McDowell, Rob Finlay and Michael Valiante.
The admission ticket to the 'Roar' cost just $5, and gave fans the chance to get up close to the very cars that will take the green flag for the 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona in just three short weeks. From crew members fueling the cars to teams practicing driver changes, fans didn't miss a thing.