Rolex 24: SunTrust team tops Day 3

Max Angelelli was fastest in the SunTrust Corvette

Two final on-track sessions at Daytona International Speedway closed out the third and final day of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 – the last test event leading into the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 28-29, 2012. For the 14 Daytona Prototypes and 43 GT cars, working out the bugs during this three-day testing weekend came down somewhere between pushing the car as hard as possible to see what it can handle, or hold back a little to peak for the main event at the end of the month.

Two of the drivers to make their mark during the test event share at least one thing in common, both are nationals of Brazil: Felipe Nasr, the young driver who is in only his fourth season of racing, won a seat for the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona by virtue of winning the Sunoco Daytona Challenge; and Christian Fittipaldi, son of former Grand Prix driver and team owner Wilson Fittipaldi, who won the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2004 with Terry Borcheller, Forest Barber and Andy Pilgrim.

The 19-year-old Nasr (Brasilia, Brazil), captured the 2012 Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge by having the top average point score (out of 100 racers) in that season-long competition. While acknowledging that his aspiration is to find his way into Formula 1, the current Formula 3 champion commented “after my experience here at the Rolex 24 At Daytona I am sure I will do more sports car racing when the time is right for that."

“Driving a Daytona Prototype car is totally different from what I am used to," said Nasr. “Firstly, in an open wheel car you can see the front wheels so you more or less know where you are going and you feel more confident seeing the tires on the road. In a closed wheel car there is not much to see because of the fenders, it’s a lot different. Also because these cars are heavier than a formula car you have to be very fluid. There is three times the power from the engine of a DP car compared to an F3 car so you have to adopt a different driving style and be a lot smoother."

“I am enjoying my Rolex 24 At Daytona experience a lot," continued Nasr. “The car is fantastic! I could never imagine the car would be so nice to drive. This track is such a historic place, the car is so amazing and everything here is just wonderful. Brazilians love this race [the Rolex 24 At Daytona], they know it is one of the most important races in the world. In fact, it is aired live on television in Brazil. There are other Brazilians in the race this year and Brazilians love to watch these guys race here and I think the popularity of the Rolex 24 At Daytona and endurance racing in general is only going to get bigger and bigger. When Brazilians do well in a race like this it opens the door for others to come as well. For me this is a fantastic experience, one I have never experienced before and I am amazed by everything here.

With a third-place finish in DP, the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona marked the return of Christian Fittipaldi (Sao Paulo, Brazil) to the podium after winning in 2004.

“There is so much history with this race," said Fittipaldi. “With the significant role that Rolex plays in the sport of motor racing around the world the Rolex 24 At Daytona has become as important to fans in Brazil as Le Mans and people there will be following this race with great interest. The two races that Brazilians check on religiously each year are Le Mans and the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The other endurance races are interesting, but Le Mans and the Rolex 24 At Daytona are the ones that everyone follows because of the intrigue of 24 hours of racing. This race is especially difficult because from the drop of the green flag to the checkered flag it is dicing all the way."

“We have an all-new car which is great," continued Fittipaldi. “But for the Roar Before the 24 we started out with a little bit of a set back since we have all new components to deal with and with so many changes it is not the easiest task on the face of the earth. However, our team as a group is a lot stronger than last year, the engine is stronger and although we are still working on the car we fully expect that when we come back for the race at the end of the month the car too will be very competitive."

With five cars in the GT field, TRG team owner Kevin Buckler has a unique perspective on the test event.

“Friday was one of the best first days we have ever had," said Buckler. “These first days can be a little rough but the guys have been working really hard back at the shop. All the drivers cycled through the cars and were usually at the top of the time charts with one of the Porsches." We have a whole group of international drivers as well as some buddies of mine in the #65 car and they all did a good job."

Buckler explained that he starts the preparation process early in November: “I put my heart and soul into the preparation for this event, and I know how hard it is to make a good showing here. There’s quite a lineup of cars this year for the Rolex 24 At Daytona and possibly 15 of the cars are capable of winning the race which is the first time we’ve seen that in a while. We all want to do our best and as the General and team leader I want to be in there with the guys. So I’m in there with my lists and checking everything that’s going on because there are so many details to keep on top of such as pit stops, how we’re doing our brake pad changes at night and dealing with all the what ifs. There are a lot of teams who come here for the first time that don’t realize how much preparation is required to compete but they learn fast for the next year."

“To win the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona would be huge for us," said Buckler who has won the race twice in the last four years. “After all, there can be only one of those. Some of our drivers have been with me since TRG started. My crew chief has been with me since 1996 and the team has all stuck together for a long time so it would be really, really special if we could win this race."

And Buckler is excited to have the new competition in the GT class from Ferrari and Audi. “As a team owner it’s great to have the diversity and see the marque branding on the cars. It adds a lot to the image of the race but as far as I am concerned, I’ve got them all covered."

The historic 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona gets underway on Saturday, January 28 at 3:30 p.m. when Grand Marshal A.J. Foyt issues the command “Drivers, start your engines." A number of special events are planned to celebrate the 50th Anniversary, including the Rolex 50 Years of Champions display which will feature over 30 of the championship winners at a charity gala to benefit the Halifax Health Foundation on the evening of Thursday, 26 January at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach; a procession of the championship cars to Daytona International Speedway on at 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning, January 27, after which the cars will be on display throughout the weekend.

The Times

Daytona Prototype (DP):
Ricky Taylor/Max Angelelli/ Ryan Briscoe – No. 10 SunTrust Corvette DP – 1:41.142 (126.712 mph)
Alex Gurney/Jon Fogarty/Memo Gidley – No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Corvette DP – 1:41.541 (126.215 mph)
Joao Barbosa/Terry Borcheller/JC France/Max Papis – No. 9 Action Express Corvette DP – 1:41.657 (126.215 mph)

Grand Touring (GT):
Guy Cosmo/Scott Sharp/Johannes van Overbeek/Ed Brown – No. 03 Tequila Patron Ferrari 458 Italia Grand Am – 1:49.337 (117.215 mph)
Butch Leitzinger/Marco Holzer/Cooper MacNeil/Emmanuel Collard – No. 23 WeatherTech Porsche GT3 – 1:49.423 (117.123 mph)
Nick Tandy/Bill Lester/Tom Long/Rhett O'Doski. Mark Thomas/Thomas Gruber – No. 18 Muehlner Motorsports Porsche GT3 – 1:49.465 (117.078 mph)

Grand Sport (GS):
Billy Johnson/Jack Roush Jr. – No. 61 Roush Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302R – 1:57.984 (109.553 mph)
Charles Espenlaub/Charles Putman – No. 48 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3 – 1:57.267 (109.289 mph)
Bill Auberlen/Paul Dalla Lana – No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 – 1:57.376 (109.188 mph)

Street Tuner (ST):
Jesse Combs/Jeff Mosing – No. 56 RACE EPIC/Murillo Racing BMW 328i – 2:06.959 (100.946 mph)
Daniel Rogers/Seth Thomas – No. 82 BimmerWorld Racing BMW 328i – 2:07.578 (100.456 mph)
Robert Stout/Kevin Gleason/Sarah Cattaneo – No. 60 Lucas Oil/Mikita Power Tools BMW 328i – 2:08.078 (100.064 mph)

Joining the 14 Daytona Prototypes in the Rolex Series were 46 cars from the GT class. The Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge had a total of 57 cars, 35 in Grand Sport and 22 in Street Tuner. Additional cars are anticipated for the Rolex 24 weekend.

Spirit of Daytona had the second gear break in its new No. 90 Corvette DP early in Sunday morning's session. The team replaced the gears and put the car back on track, only to discover that there was a crack in the casing that led to an oil leak, putting the car out for the remainder of the session.

Action Express Racing faces a triple learning curve for the 2012 Rolex 24. In addition to the new Corvette DP bodywork, the 2010 Rolex 24-winning team also has a new engine (Earnhardt Childress Racing Chevrolet) and a new chassis (Coyote). Team director of team operations Elton Sawyer said the biggest challenge at the Roar has been working with brake temperatures.

APR Motorsport brought four different cars to the Roar – in three different classes. The team is debuting in the Rolex Series with the No. 51 Audi R8 GRAND-AM. The team also runs the No. 41 Audi S4 in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Grand Sport class, and has two cars in Street Tuner, the proven No. 171 Volkswagen GTI and the new No. 181 VW Jetta GLI. The Alabama-based team is looking to bring seven cars to the Rolex 24 weekend, including six for the GRAND-AM 200 Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge opener.

Bill Lester has been added to the lineup of the No. 18 Muehlner Motorsports Porsche GT3 for the Roar and the Rolex 24. Lester, a former regular in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, made GRAND-AM history in 2011 by becoming the first African-American competitor to win a Rolex Series race. Co-driving with Ricky Taylor, he won at Virginia International Raceway in the No. 88 Autohaus Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro and finished second in the GT championship, losing by only two points.

Sarah Cattaneo tested in her new ride with Mitchum Motorsports. She drove in both of the team's No. 60 and 62 Lucas Oil/Makita Power Tools BMW 328i. Cattaneo won at New Jersey Motorsports Park in 2011 and finished fourth in the Street Tuner championship.

Aaron Steele had his first test in the U.S., sharing the No. 6 Mitchum Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro with Tim Bell. The British driver won the first Sunoco GRAND-AM 200 Challenge, outpointing drivers in six European series to earn a ride in the 2012 Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series opener, a contest that mirrors the Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge for the Rolex Series.

The Quotes:
"Speed is not really important in this test. We wanted to have everything ready to make sure it was prepared for the race. We did go out for one fast run. We trimmed the car down, took away downforce, put on new tires and then I was able to run an absolutely clean lap. It was like a qualifying lap – we put everything we had on the table. I'm not sure if anyone is going to go faster (in Rolex 24 qualifying), certainly not me. If it's cooler, that time can be beaten, but if it's hotter – no." – Max Angelelli, No. 10 SunTrust Corvette DP, on setting the fastest lap of the weekend

"Last night was my first time ever driving at night. Man-o-man, what a time! It was like a bunch of animals out there. Guys were everywhere – even driving through the grass. I was thinking, ‘Hey guys, this is only a (expletive) test.'" – Brian Johnson, No. 50 50+ Racing/Predator/Alegra

"The Rolex 24 is a lot of fun. I hope to do it until I quit racing. I like to see all the drivers from the other kinds of racing, and to get to hang out with all of Chip's drivers. The biggest difference this year will be traffic. There are a lot of GT cars here, and that's going to be the biggest challenge in this year's race, but I can deal with that." – Jamie McMurray, No. 02 Target/TELMEX BMW/Riley

"This car performs very well in the brake zones and entry to the corners. Our biggest issue is putting the power down. We have no traction control and stability management like they do in Europe, so that's what we're working on. We've made a lot of progress, but the Rolex 24 is right around the corner. We've had some really good support from the Audi factory. I'm sure we'll get it figured out. This car is a proven winner and its reliability is without question." – Ian Baas, No. 51 APR Motorsport Audi R8 GRAND-AM.

"I predict we will have one of the closest finishes in Rolex 24 history. I've been looking at the time chart, and there is no one with a clear advantage over everyone. We're going to see 24 hours of everyone pushing to the limit. The key will be not making any mistakes, and dealing with traffic will be more important this year than in the past. I've been coming to the Rolex 24 since 1996, and I think yesterday's crowd was the biggest I've ever seen here for testing – the race track was filled with fans." – Max Papis, No. 9 Action Express Racing Corvette DP

"Obviously, the SpeedSource team knows how to get things done for the Rolex 24. I'm very lucky to be on a team at this level. It would be real nice to walk away from here with a Rolex." – Marino Franchitti, No. 70 Mazdaspeed Mazda RX-8

"When you bring out a brand-new car, you worry about parts falling off or mechanical issues. But we're happy to say nothing like that has happened here. The new car is in real good shape. We made a few changes this morning and it made a drastic difference with the way the car handles. We're still learning, but we're very happy with the test. It's a good car, we're very happy with the Roush-Yates engine and it's steadily getting better and better." – Jeffrey Earnhardt, No. 15 Rick Ware Racing/Poynt Ford Mustang GT.

Coming Up:
The 2012 Rolex Series season opens with the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Jan. 28-29. Opening practice and qualifying will be held on Thursday, Jan. 26. The Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge season-opening GRAND-AM 200 highlights the Friday schedule.

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