Guest drivers the norm at Rolex 24

The Roar Before the Rolex 24 has traditionally given 'guest' drivers from the NASCAR, IndyCar and international sports car ranks the opportunity to test their new rides in preparation for the big race.

For the 2014 Roar, it’s also giving the regular teams and drivers a head start for competition in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

AJ Allmendinger is one of those guest drivers, although he’s become a familiar face at the Rolex 24. He finished second overall in the 2006 event and has been back every year since for Michael Shank Racing, sharing in the team’s historic triumph in the 50th running of the event in 2012.

“It’s good to keep the same core group of guys together, and that’s something that Mike Shank has done so well over the years," said Allmendinger, who will return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series fulltime this year with JTG Daugherty Racing. “The chemistry is already strong among the entire team. For me, the Roar is just a chance to feel out a new race car. With the car being so new, it might take some time for me to get up to speed, but Ozz (Negri) has plenty of laps in the car, and he’s very willing to share information. We’ve been driving together for so long that when he gives me input on what the car is doing, I know exactly what he means."

While Allmendinger will be surrounded by familiar faces at the Roar, it will be a brand-new experience for OAK Racing. The team comes to the TUDOR Championship after finishing 1-2 in the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship. Olivier Pla of France, who finished second in the 2013 WEC standings, will be testing the No. 42 Nissan-powered Moran Prototype with Russian Roman Russinov.

“This is quite impressive, coming to an oval for the first time" said Russinov, who finished third in the 2013 WEC series for G Drive Racing, winning four of the final five races. “The camber of the track is quite amazing."

Russinov became the first Russian driver to win an international race in Europe, winning the 2000 International Renault Finals in French Formula Renault. His resume also includes winning today races in ADAC GT3 and testing a Formula One car for MF1 Racing.

“OAK called and asked if I could join them for the test," Russinov said. “Hopefully, they will do the same for the race. This test will be important for everyone to see the difference between the P2 cars and the Daytona Prototypes. Hopefully, we will not be too far down on power."

Corvette Racing will have both of its new CR7.Rs for the Roar, although they will in a checkered flag paint scheme since the official colors will be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show. It will be the first public test for the new cars. Ryan Briscoe will join team regulars Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3, with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner joined by Robin Liddell in the No. 4 for the GTLM class.

“The Roar is important to know where everyone stands," said Garcia, who won the Rolex 24 in 2009. “In the end, these are all different cars and they behave differently. We need to know where we are strong and where we are lacking against the competition. The Roar will be the first step for us to learn where we are and where we stand after a short off-season."

Many of the teams will be announcing their driver lineups during the course of the Roar weekend. Defending race-winning Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will announce its lineup for the No. 01 and 02 Ford/Rileys on Friday at 1 p.m.

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