Rolex 24 Chock Full of Atlantic Talent The start of the North American racing season gets underway this weekend with the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Rolex 24 At Daytona, and the twice-around-the-clock event will feature an all-star cast of graduates from the Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.
The entry list features no fewer than 26 former Atlantic competitors, and 12 of the 20 cars entered in the Daytona Prototype class has at least one former Atlantic driver on its team. Eight of 31 GT class entries will be carrying Atlantic talent.
“The Rolex 24 At Daytona has become one of the year’s most important racing events, and we are obviously thrilled to see so many of our series graduates competing in this race this year,” said Atlantic Championship president Vicki O’Connor. “We will be rooting all of them on in the hopes that at least one of them comes away from the grueling weekend with a Rolex on their wrist.”
A Rolex watch is the prize for winning drivers in both classes, and 2007 Atlantic champion Raphael Matos, earned one last year with a GT-class victory in the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8. While Matos will not be back to defend his title this year, his spot in the No. 70 machine has been taken by 2008 Atlantic Championship runner-up Jonathan Bomarito, who will share the ride with the three other drivers who won last year’s GT race, Sylvain Tremblay, David Haskell and Nick Ham.
Bomarito is one of three Atlantic graduates who will be driving GT-class Mazdas. In the No. 30 Racer’s Edge Motorsports Mazda RX-8 will be another 2008 Atlantic competitor, Dane Cameron, as well as Bryan Sellers, who made his Atlantic debut in 2003 and contested the full 2004 Atlantic Championship campaign. Cameron and Sellers will be co-driving with Doug Peterson and Dion von Moltke.
Bomarito’s former team and teammate will also be competing in the Rolex 24, as PR1 Motorsports has entered the No. 32 Pontiac GXP.R for a quintet of drivers including Mike Forest. Bomarito and Forest were teammates with PR1 Motorsports in 2006 and 2007. The remainder of the PR1 lineup includes Patrick Barrett, Thomas Merrill, Al Salvo and Jeff Westphal.
PR1 Motorsports is one of the teams entered in the Rolex 24 to have previously competed in the Atlantic Championship, fielding full-time entries in 2006 and 2007. Michael Shank Racing also competed in Atlantic for several years and features three Atlantic graduates in its two cars. The driver lineup for the team’s No. 6 Ford Riley includes 2003 Atlantic champion A.J. Allmendinger and Canadian driver Michael Valiante, who finished second in the 2002 Atlantic Championship and third in 2003. Allmendinger and Valiante will co-drive with Ian James and John Pew. American Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished sixth in the 2002 Atlantic Championship standings, will co-drive the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley with Oswaldo Negri Jr., Colin Braun and Mark Patterson.
One of the Atlantic Championship’s most recognizable graduates also returns to the Rolex 24 for the first time since the 2006 rendition, as Danica Patrick will be co-driving the No. 2 Childress-Howard Motorsports Pontiac Crawford with Andy Wallace, Casey Mears and Rob Finlay. Patrick competed full-time in the Atlantic Championship in 2003 and 2004 before moving into the IndyCar Series.
The Rolex 24 field features four drivers on the 10-member 35th Anniversary Atlantic Championship All-Star Team. Joining Allmendinger in this year’s field are two-time Atlantic champions Jon Fogarty and David Empringham, as well as Jimmy Vasser, who won eight Atlantic races in a career that spanned from 1987 through 1991. Alex Gurney, who competed in the 1999, 2000 and 2002 Atlantic seasons, will join Fogarty and Vasser in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley. Three-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson completes the lineup in the No. 99 machine.
Empringham, meanwhile, is slated to share the No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford Riley with Alex Figge, who competed in Atlantic from 2002 through 2004, as well as John Farano, Burt Frisselle and Mark Wilkins. The team is co-owned by Canadian Andrew Bordin, who drove in Atlantic from 1998 through 2000, finishing second in the 1998 championship and third in both 1999 and 2000.
Scotsman Ryan Dalziel, who finished second in both the 2003 and 2004 Atlantic seasons, will co-drive the No. 22 Alegra Motorsports BMW Riley with Carlos de Quesada, Chapman Ducote, Jean-Francois Dumoulin and Tomas Enge. Dumoulin also sports Atlantic Championship experience competing in the series in 1998 and 1999.
Buddy Rice, the 2000 Atlantic champion and 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner, is also entered in the 2009 Rolex 24 At Daytona in the No. 58 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley with co-drivers David Donohue, Darren Law and Antonio Garcia. Rice’s one-time Atlantic teammate, Memo Gidley, is also in the field, sharing the No. 77 Doran Racing Ford Dallara with Matteo Bobbi, Fabrizio Gollin and Brad Jaeger.
Others with previous Atlantic experience in the Daytona Prototype field include Guy Cosmo (No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Racing Porsche Coyote), David Martinez (No. 13 Beyer Racing Pontiac Riley), Romain Dumas (No. 16 Penske Racing Porsche Riley) and Joao Barbosa (No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley). Joining the aforementioned GT drivers with Atlantic experience are Tom Nastasi (No. 15 Blackforest Motorsports Ford Mustang), Romeo Kapudija (No. 31 Battery Tender/MCM Racing Porsche GT3), Ross Bentley (No. 44 Bullet Racing Porsche GT3), Andy Lally (No. 67 TRG Porsche GT3) and Giacomo Ricci (No. 89 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3.
The Rolex 24 At Daytona starts at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, January 24, with the checkered flag slated to fall 24 hours later.