Dempsey Racing Ready for Rolex 24 The recently-expanded Mazda RX-8 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT program from Dempsey Racing got its 2010 campaign off to an outstanding start with an impressive performance throughout the three-day “Roar Before the Rolex 24” test session at a cold and blustery Daytona International Speedway this past weekend.
Defending Rolex Series GT Champion Leh Keen posted the quickest GT lap of the weekend with a time of 1:49.214 (117.348 mph) in the No. 41 Team Seattle/Global Diving & Salvage Mazda RX-8 GT. This weekend marked Keen’s first time in the Mazda RX-8 GT, which was recently built and delivered to the team by SpeedSource, Inc. Keen is sharing the car with co-drivers Don Kitch Jr. and Dave Lacey for the Rolex 24 At Daytona in three weeks, as well as his full-time 2010 co-driver James Gué.
“I would say the test went a little bit better than expected,” Keen said. “Any time you have new people, a new team and a new car, you see a lot of things go wrong. Luckily, we have a car that’s been tested for the last couple of years in GRAND-AM. Even though it was newly built, the SpeedSource guys did a really good job on it. We have a lot of guys on the crew that have been around racing for a long time, so everything went really good. The car was pretty fast right out of the box. We’re still learning a lot of things, but we’re all optimistic about the race now. We feel like we got what we came for here for the test days.”
Both Dempsey Racing cars were inside the top five among the Mazda entries at the test, with Joe Foster posting the fourth-best time for a Mazda RX-8 and the 11th-best lap of the GT class in the team’s No. 40 machine. That Mazda’s Rolex 24 driver lineup also includes team principal Patrick Dempsey, Charles Espenlaub and Scott Maxwell.
“It’s a really exciting test for us,” Foster said. “This is the first time we’ve ever run two Rolex GT Mazdas together. We had a lot of logistical plans and logistical ideas to test and see how it worked with more people, more cars and more parts. All that for the most part has gone well. We have a few growing pains, but it’s good to have growing pains instead of shrinking pains. The cars ran good. Obviously, we’ve gotten both cars at a very competitive pace.
“Patrick has done a great job. The big difference for us as a driver set in the 40 car is Patrick is well into the 52s (one-minute, 52-second range) on a regular basis now, which is a great race pace. He’s made huge strides and we’re pretty happy about that. Obviously, bringing new partners into the fold in terms of John and Jeri Graham of Global Diving & Salvage, is fantastic for us as a team and we welcome their support of the Seattle Children’s Hospital. The big picture is good.”
Dempsey Racing took a step forward during the 2009 Rolex Series season with consistent top-10 performances and a pair of top-five efforts for No. 40 teammates Foster and Dempsey at Barber and Montreal. Dempsey looks for the team to continue its progress in 2010.
“Hopefully we can build on what we ended up getting done last year,” Dempsey said. “If we can be as consistent as we were, that’s good. At the same time, it’s a new year, so you’ve got to let go and just be present to where we are right now and build on what the car is like right now and where we’re at. We’ll see what happens.
“It was good to get back in the car at the test. I was certainly a little nervous because I’ve been out since Miami (in October), so you never know how you’re going to feel in the car. Every time I come back I’m starting to improve my lap times. I’m getting quicker and making personal bests, so that’s good.
“I’m really thrilled with how the team has come along in the offseason and the development of the car. (Race and design engineer) Kirt (Wightman)’s done great job, and all the guys in the shop. The expansion, having the 41 car now and Leh and James, it’s a great addition to the team and we’re glad to create a strong two-car effort for Mazda. The chemistry is starting to gel with the whole team.”
The 48th Rolex 24 At Daytona is set for the weekend of January 30 – 31, with 16 hours of live television coverage on SPEED beginning at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, January 30 and resuming at 7 a.m. ET on Sunday, January 31.
- While the cockpit of a Mazda RX-8 GT is familiar territory for the No. 40 driver lineup, the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test provided the first significant Mazda seat time for all of the drivers in the No. 41 machine. All of the drivers acquitted themselves well at the test and all were impressed by the RX-8. “Things are going great,” Lacey said. “I’ve got to hand it to the SpeedSource guys, who really delivered us just a fantastic race car. They produce a phenomenal product. Coming from a Porsche, it’s quite a big difference, as you can imagine, getting into what I’ll term a real race car. I mean it’s a tube-frame chassis it’s 300 pounds lighter, it’s quite a different beast to drive. I find it ergonomically quite a lot easier to drive than the Porsche.”
- The 2010 Rolex 24 At Daytona will be the 13th for Team Seattle, which is spearheaded by Kitch. Over the years, the program has raised upwards of $3.5 million for the Seattle Children’s Hospital. Team Seattle raced in every Rolex 24 from 1997 through 2008, but took off the 2009 event to focus on the 24 Hours of Le Mans. “We’re elated to be back and with a new commitment,” Kitch said. “Team Seattle has made a new, $5 million commitment to our Seattle Children’s Hospital for the development and research of a new surgical suite called a ‘Hybrid Room,’ which is a very specialized surgical suite. We have a new, $5 million endowment, so it looks like we’re going to be coming to Daytona for a while. The union between Dempsey Racing and Team Seattle is very, very special. In 30 years of motor racing, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt the chemistry like I do within this group right now, and that’s very special.”
- Two key figures in the fundraising efforts of Team Seattle’s efforts for the Seattle Children’s Hospital, as well as Maine’s Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing are John and Jeri Graham, owners of Global Diving & Salvage in Seattle. “We’ve always supported the children’s hospital on a smaller scale, and now we’re gradually advancing that,” said John Graham. “We think we have something to contribute that will be beneficial to the hospital. I think we’ve got an extremely good group of folks here that we weren’t responsible for putting together, but the chemistry is good and we’ve got good drivers. We think that our investment is probably going to get a three- or four-time return on money for the hospital. We’re not in it for us. We’re in it for the hospital and for Patrick’s cause. That’s why we’re here.” “We’re having a lot of fun,” added Jeri Graham. “I think we have one of the best programs and we’ve got the best people and the best drivers. We’re very fortunate.”
- The weekend at Daytona International Speedway saw record cold temperatures, with the mercury struggling to find its way above 40 degrees at any point throughout the three days of testing. Saturday was particularly frigid, with temps near or below freezing. However, the test still had significant value for the team. “Once you get everything up to temperature, everything still really applies as far as setup,” Gué said. “You just need to take into account engine temperature, brake temperatures, things like that. It’s actually even better, because once it gets really hot, it gets greasy on the track, so the track conditions are actually quite good once you get everything up to temperature.”
- During the final session of the weekend, Dempsey Racing gave two top drivers in the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Driver Development Ladder their first closed-cockpit seat time at Daytona International Speedway in the No. 40 Mazda RX-8. Both 2009 Cooper Tires Presents The Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda champion John Edwards and Simona De Silvestro, who finished third in the close 2009 Atlantic title fight, acquainted themselves with the high banks of Daytona. “I raced here six years ago in a Skip Barber car,” said the 18-year old Edwards. “I actually had my first win on the little infield course in a Skip Barber race, but it’s my first time in a Grand-Am car and I had a blast. I’ve been waiting. I’ve been here all three days just itching to get in the car and I finally got the opportunity thanks to Mazda. I had a blast in those last 20 minutes and hopefully I’ll get a ride for the 24.” “I had a great opportunity from Mazda and Dempsey Racing to test this car,” said De Silvestro, the winningest woman in the 36-year history of the Atlantic Championship. “It’s the first time that I’m in a closed-cockpit car. It’s all new. It’s my first time here on the banking of Daytona. It’s a little bit scary on the first lap but you get used to it pretty quickly. It’s a lot of fun, actually. I wish I could do the 24 hours. It would be a great opportunity for me. Thanks to everybody for having me here.”