Rolex Grand Am testing Homestead testing update

The GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 is holding its final scheduled activity of 2010, a two-day open test at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Wednesday and Thursday.

Testing is scheduled in groups from 9:10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Wednesday and 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Thursday.

And the Fastest Is … Michael Valiante (Updated Thursday at 6 p.m.)

Back in June, Michael Shank Racing's no. 6 Ford/Riley was all but written off in a fire at pit entrance late in the running of the Sahlen's Six Hours of Watkins Glen. Thursday, Michael Valiante drove the renumbered No. 23 entry to an unofficial lap of 1:13.2, edging out teammate Ozz Negri and Level 5 Motorsports' Luis Diaz and Christophe Bouchut for bragging rights.

"It went really well," Valiante said. "Oswaldo and I were quickest at almost every session, and I was a little bit quicker overall. It's great. We're teammates, and get to work together at the test and then at Daytona. We have a real strong lineup, and obviously the cars are real strong as well. It's good to go into the Christmas break with a solid test like this."

Keyser Continues to Live Daytona Dream (Updated Thursday at 5:10 p.m.)

Ross Keyser had the opportunity to test Zak Brown's Crown Royal Crawford at Silverstone, and then Kevin Doran's Ford/Dallara at Virginia International Raceway. Now, the winner of the Sunoco Daytona Rolex 24 Challenge completed a two-day test at demanding Homestead-Miami Speedway in the next step towards racing in America's premier endurance race.

"I'm pretty comfortable in the car right now," said Keyser, who will co-drive the No. 77 McDonald's Ford/Dallara in the Rolex 24. "The biggest thing was getting comfortable at a new circuit and getting to drive on the banking. We don't have anything nearly as steep as this back home in the UK. When we get to Daytona it will even be steeper, but they tell me the banking at Daytona is easier than Homestead. Once we get the driver lineup finalized for the race we'll make another seat insert, because we've been running through a few drivers and it was a bit uneasy in the seating position. Other than that, it feels go."

Keyser got his first look at Daytona International Speedway upon arriving in the U.S. on Monday.

"The guys at Daytona were kind enough to show me around," Keyser said. "It was fantastic, and it blew my mind. What a great place it is, and you can't imagine how big it is, or how steep the banking is. I'm really looking forward to coming back and racing there. I'm really starting to feel at home in the GRAND-AM paddock, coming here and seeing all the guys again."

Mitchum Motorsports Happy With 'Friendly' Camaro (Updated Thursday at 5 p.m.)

Mitchum Motorsports was happy at the conclusion of three days of testing, running a Camaro in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and a Porsche GT3 in the Rolex Series.

"It was a very good test, we learned a lot and came a long way," said team principal Chris Mitchum. "At the end of the day we're the best we've been. We'll take P2."

Mitchum was also happy with the way Joey Atterbury, Randy Pobst, Jade Buford and Dion von Moltke worked together sharing the car.

"It was nice seeing how the drivers fit together," Mitchum said. "All of them were able to work with the same setup. We're always happy to have Randy Pobst with the team. We're hoping to be able to get him for the Rolex 24."

"The car was much better at the end of the test," Pobst said. "We made so much progress from out first laps yesterday. It's gone from 'scary' to 'friendly,' and I can say it's very friendly right now."

Bouchut Leads Two Sessions in Two Different Cars (Updated Thursday at 4 p.m.)

Christophe Bouchut unofficially led the opening testing in the No. 55 Level 5 Motorsports BMW/Riley, and then led the opening afternoon session in the team's No. 95 entry.

"Both cars are really quick," said the Frenchman. "We're trying different setups. We're not trying to be the fastest out here, but with the banking this is a perfect track to simulate for Daytona."

Bouchut is happy with the paddle shifters which will be an option in 2011 for teams using a Pro-Am driver. The team's No. 55 is equipped with the new setup.

"I think it's a good thing, and it's good for both pro and gentleman drivers," Bouchut said. "It brings more for the gentleman side, but even for us pros it's a good thing. I really believe it's even faster."

Bouchut has a Daytona Rolex, joining the winning team in the 1995 event.

"It would be really nice to win it again after so many years," Bouchut said. "It's really like a dream, (and) this is the team that can win it."

Liddell Happy With Progress (Updated Thursday at 3:45 p.m.)

Robin Liddell, in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, has been pleased with the progress of the car from the opening green flag Wednesday to this point.

"From a test point of view it's gone quite well," Liddell said. "We've got to try a lot of things, and we're quite happy with the progress we've made. We are a bit disappointed with the relative lack of pace in the car compared to our competitors. We're 1-2 seconds a lap slower than the Porsches, and we're concerned that's going to multiply even more at Daytona with the long straights and fast banking. I hope we get an opportunity to compete, because we had such a great run there last year."

Liddell finished 2010 strong, winning the season finale with former co-driver Andrew Davis.

"Obviously, Andrew and I are close friends and we keep in close touch," Liddell said. "It's going to be different not arriving at the track together on race weekends."

Jan Magnussen is co-driving at the test and is expected to race with the team when his schedule allows.

"Getting to race with Jan will be a huge opportunity," Liddell said.

Davy Jones: 'We Made Huge Improvements' (Updated Thursday at 3:35 p.m.)

Former Rolex 24 overall winner Davy Jones is very happy with the performance of the No. 16 Godstone Ranch/Dyson Racing Ford/Lola.

"We've made huge improvements between yesterday and today," Jones said. "We're still making baby steps and learning what the car wants, what it needs and doesn't need to be fast and competitive. Right now, the drivability of the car is where we can race it. Before, it was very nervous. We were on a knife's edge at Miller."

Jones is happy with the atmosphere of the open test.

"You only get a limited amount of time under the pressure of a race weekend," said the 1996 Indianapolis 500 runner-up. "Testing here, you can do trial and error. The other teams come here having a baseline, while we're coming in and going with what we feel is necessary. We'll have a good baseline when we come back to race. This is a good benchmark for us. I feel great, and I'm excited to be able to test and learn."

SpeedSource to Race Former No. 68 Mazda RX-8 in Rolex 24 (Updated Thursday at 3:30 p.m.)

SpeedSource won the GT class in the black No. 70 Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8. That car has been sold to Team Sahlen and is being tested by Wayne Nonnamaker and Memo Gidley at Homestead.

In its place, SpeedSource has the orange car that carried No. 68 and was driven to victory at Lime Rock in 2010. That car is being converted to the No. 70 for 2011 competition.

"That car had the least amount of miles on it, so we are going to go all through it and paint it up for the January test at Daytona," said 2010 MESCO Building Solutions Rookie of the Year Jonathan Bomarito. "This test has been good for us. We learned a bunch yesterday and made big gains. We struggled a little today, and we're still off the back a bit, so we still have a bit to learn."

The team is expected to announce its 2011 lineup next Thursday at the Performance Racing Industry show in Orlando.

Bennett Racing Happy With Ferrari (Updated Thursday at 3 p.m.)

Bennett Racing is testing the No. 56 South River Marina Ferrari 430 Challenge, with drivers Skip Bennett IV and Mike Skeen happy with the car's progress,

"We've made big, big improvements over the last two days," said Bennett.

The team finished 15th at VIR in April in the lone appearance of the yellow Ferrari in the Rolex Series.

"We've got so much new stuff on the car, it took awhile yesterday to get it up to speed," added Skeen. "It's faster today, and feels pretty comfortable."

Haywood Returning for Rolex 24 in New Brumos Porsche 911 (Updated Thursday at 2:30 p.m.)

Hurley Haywood had second thoughts about retiring from driving. The five-time Rolex 24 winner (six counting winning in the GT class in 1972) tested the new Brumos Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Rolex Cup on Thursday, and is looking to make another start in the Daytona classic.

"It wouldn't look right for a Brumos car without Haywood on the roof," he said after taking his second turn in the new car on Thursday. "It's a fun car. I have to get used to a car that doesn't have the grip of a DP, but once I get used to that, it will be a lot of fun. I was a little overcautious out there, but I definitely know where to make the time up. There is a lot we can do to make the car better than it is right now."

Andrew Davis and Leh Keen are the new lead drivers for the No. 59, and Haywood is happy with the new Brumos additions.

"Their feedback was right on the money, and we're very happy with them," Haywood said.

"Now, I can't wait to see the car painted up in Brumos colors," added Haywood, who last campaigned a 911 for the team in the Bridgestone Supercar Challenge in the early 1990s.

"Hurley got up to speed right away and he had a big smile when he got out," Davis said. "I'm sure it was a little more work than he was used to driving a DP."

Davis has driven GM products in GT competition for Stevenson Motorsports the last few seasons, but has remained active driving Porsches in other events.

"I still spend a lot of time in Porsches," he said. "They say the next Porsche is the best Porsche, and that's true for this car. We're just trying to make it a little better. It's awesome being part of Brumos; it's as amazing as I thought it would be."

Autohaus Gears Up For Competitive Season (Updated Thursday at 2:15 p.m.)

"GT is going to be extremely competitive next year, but we're happy with our Camaro and getting better every day," Autohaus Motorsports owner Bob Kirland said talking about the upcoming Rolex Series season. "We're back to the drawing board with the new tires, but we're making adjustments."

Kirland is happy with the progress of Jordan Taylor, who will be driving for the team.

"Jordan is phenomenal," Kirland said. "I keep forgetting that he's only 19."

Taylor is happy with the test,

"It's been good so far and we've learned a lot," Taylor said. "I feel we'll be good for Daytona."

Flying Lizard Prepares For First Daytona Prototype Race (Updated Thursday at 12:55 p.m.)

Seth Neiman ran a few laps in the 2009 Rolex 24 At Daytona-winning Daytona Prototype in the recent test at Virginia International Raceway, working with Darren Law and Action Express Racing.

For Homestead, Neiman brought his Flying Lizard Motorsports team to prep the car – now carrying No. 45 – for the upcoming Rolex 24. This is the team's first experience with a Daytona Prototype.

"We're adapting and figuring it out," Neiman said. "There are a lot of subtle changes from what we're used to, but we're working with it and having a good time."

Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long are also driving the Riley, powered by a Flat-6 Porsche engine.

"We should be good for the Rolex 24,"said Bergmeister, overall winner of the 2003 Rolex 24 among three GT class victories. "We'll have a good lineup, and hopefully a good finish."

Bergmeister is doing double duty at the test. With Muhlner Motorsport taking delivery of a new Porsche 911 GT3 Rolex Cup on Tuesday, Bergmeister did a short shakedown on Thursday morning, running six laps without any problems in the new car.

"Jorg gave us some good input, and we used it to make some changes," said team managing director Bernhard Muhlner. "We hope he can run a few more laps later this afternoon. So far, so good."

Spirit of Daytona Looking At Big Picture (Updated Thursday at 12:45 p.m.)

Antonio Garcia, the winner of the 2009 Rolex 24 At Daytona, is working through many changes with Spirit of Daytona Racing, which switched to Chevrolet power for 2011 in the No. 90 Coyote.

"We're still learning the car and the new tires,' Garcia said. "We're not just working for this track, but we're thinking about the big picture. We're trying a few bits and things that can help us for the Rolex 24, and for the other races next season. The overall picture is more important for us."

Lowe Has First Drive in Daytona Prototype (Updated Thursday at 11:30 a.m.)

When a potential sponsorship fell through for the JLowe Racing Porsche GT3 for the Rolex 24, Dr. Jim Lowe began exploring other possibilities for the event.

That led to securing a ride with Starworks Motorsport, driving a Ford/Riley Daytona Prototype in the Daytona classic.

"It was pretty awesome," Lowe said after getting his first laps in the No. 8 Corsa Car Care Ford/Riley. "I'm still learning the car and the track, but it's been a great experience so far.

"I'm looking to do the Rolex 24 with Starworks, and possible some more races after that," he continued. "This will be a new experience for me, in addition to driving the new car. I have to worry every year about every detail running at team at Daytona. Now, I can just show up and drive."

Lowe said he's watched plenty of in-car video and studied data getting ready – in addition to talking with other drivers.

"There's nothing better than talking to the experienced guys," he said.

Ironically, Lowe's No. 64 Porsche may be at the Rolex 24, with three-quarters of a package to compete in the race coming together. However, that will not affect his plans to make his DP debut in the event.

Negri Posts Fastest Unofficial Speed (Updated Thursday at 10:30 a.m.)

While no official times are being kept at the test, Ozz Negri posted the fastest unofficial Daytona Prototype lap in Wednesday's combined sessions.

"The car rolled off the trailer pretty good," Negri said. "We spent most of yesterday getting the paddle shifters working well, then began fine-tuning the chassis. The car is also very good this morning."

However, Negri discounted the use of paddle shifters for the fast lap in the No. 60 Crown Royal XR Ford/Riley, pointing out that Michael Valiante was also quick in the Michael Shank Racing No. 23 Ford/Riley, which is running the traditional gearshift.

"People are underestimating the group of guys we have here," Negri said.

Valiante was unofficial fastest in Thursday's early session.

"I've only run a handful of laps," Valiante said. "I'm here to help Zak (Brown) and Mark (Patterson), who are exploring options to run the car in the Rolex 24."

Brown, who owns the U.K.-based United Autosports team that races in the British GT Championship and FIA GT3 European Championship, is happy to work with Michael Shank Racing.

"It's a great team, with a good group of guys," Brown said. "It reminds me of my European guys. I've raced against Mike (Shank) in Formula Atlantics. His team has a warm environment, like one big happy family with no tension."

Patterson, a two-time of the Jim Trueman Award as top Pro-Am driver in the Daytona Prototypes, looks forward to driving a DP with paddle shifters for the first time.

"That lowers the inefficiency ratio of us Pro-Am drivers," said Patterson, who finished third here with Negri in 2008 in addition to winning two races with the team. "I race with paddle shifters in Europe, and they are very forgiving."

Lally, von Moltke Lead GT for TRG (Updated Wednesday at 5:50 p.m.)

TRG was 1-2 on the final combined GT testing chart for the day, with Andy Lally in the No. 67 Rolex Cup car followed by Dion von Moltke, having his first test with the team in the No. 63.

"What a great day for TRG," said team owner Kevin Buckler. "We have four cars and eight drivers, and had a stellar day. It's great to be back running with GRAND-AM. Dion had some fast laps and did a great job in his first time testing with us. Young guys always know they will be in good equipment when they run with us so they can show their stuff."

Lally was making his first run in the new Porsche, which was unveiled this week. It was one of four 911 GT3 Rolex Cup cars at the session, with others fielded by Magnus, Brumos and Muhner Motorsport.

"I thought the transition from last year's car to the new Porsche was pretty easy," Lally said. "It's a similar car. We've been concentrating on the new tire and a new shock setup we've been playing with. It also gave Steve Bertheau his first laps at Homestead, and we've been working with him to get him familiar with the new track and the newe tire."

Von Moltke was happy to run with TRG for the first time.

"This is the 2009 Porsche with upgrades," said von Moltke, who is exploring opportunities for next season. "TRG is a great team and they've proven themselves. It's nice to drive for Kevin Buckler here. I had several other opportunities today, but I focused on the Porsche to make it fast."

Gidley Quick With Team Sahlen (Updated Wednesday at 5:45 p.m.)

Memo Gidley, set to run with Team Sahlen fulltime in 2011 in the No. 42 Mazda RX-8 with Wayne Nonnamaker, was unofficially second quickest in GT in the final session on Wednesday.

"It's pretty promising," Gidley said. "It's always nice to get to the top of the charts. Everyone is working real hard, and it's nice for them to see the results. We're happy with it. There are many transitions with the team – a lot of new people and equipment. Testing time is very limited, and it's our best chance to work together to get the team to gel."

GAINSCO Testing With Eye on Rolex 24 (Updated Wednesday at 4:20 p.m.)

GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing is approaching this week's test with an eye on preparing for the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

"Homestead-Miami Speedway is a very difficult place for tires," driver Jon Fogarty said. "We didn't come here with the expectation we were going to learn a ton on setups. We're here to work on fundamental stuff that will help us in the Rolex 24 – cooling systems, braking, things like that.

"We're looking forward to racing with Jimmie Johnson in the Rolex 24," Fogarty added. "We're always happy to have him on board. We're looking to prepare a trouble-free car so we can give him his best chance to win a Rolex."

Donohue, Law Going Through Transition (Updated Wednesday at 4 p.m.)

Seeing a different Brumos No. 59 in the paddock came as a bit of a shock for David Donohue on Tuesday afternoon.

Donohue has raced the No. 59 Brumos Porsche at the debut of the Daytona Prototypes in the 2003 Rolex 24 At Daytona, and was with the team through the end of the current season. He was joined by Darren Law at the No. 59 in 2004. Together, they won the Rolex 24 for Brumos in 2009, driving the No. 58 Porsche/Riley.

Next season, they will co-drive the No. 5 Porsche/RIley for Action Express Racing, while Brumos continues to race the No. 59 with a new 911 GT3 Rolex Cup in the GT division.

"It was a big honor to be part of Brumos," Donohue said. "That was a legendary flag to carry, and I will miss that."

Now, they are transitioning to a new Porsche engine, going to the Cayenne-based V-8 that powered Action Express to victory in the 2010 Rolex 24.

"David and I have been racing the Porsche Flat 6 since 2004 – David since 2003 – and going to the V-8 is a huge change," Law said. "It's quite a bit different to drive. It requires a different driving style. We now have five gears instead of six. It has a different torque band, and there is a lot of different with the RPMs and how you drive through traffic. We've made the adjustment very quickly, it's just very different to drive."

Law is happy with the changes on Action Express, especially bring aboard Elton Sawyer as director of race operations.

"Elton is a huge plus for the team," Law said of the former NASCAR Nationwide Series regular. "He brings experience from both the driving and management sides. It's a huge change since he's come on board. I know he's going to be very good for the team."

Law has been busy nearly every weekend since the Salt Lake City finale in September, testing, coaching and giving talks with Donohue.

"It's been non-stop for both David and I," Law said.

Stanton: 'Just Like a Race Weekend' (Updated Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.)

Magnus Motorsports has a brand-new Porsche 911 GT3 Rolex Cup, and drivers John Potter and Craig Stanton are making the transition. Stanton is happy to take out the car in an open session.

"It's great to drive a brand-new Porsche," Stanton said. "There's nothing like it. I'm happy to be running with all the competitors here, just like a race weekend. It's nice to do private testing, but having everyone here is very important to us. It's an apples to apples comparison."

Magnus is entering its second series of Rolex Series competition, and was the top Porsche team in 2010.

"It's a little bit different," Potter said. "The new car has a little bit more downforce. It's gtreat to sort it out, We in it again for the full season. it's great working with the Porsche people and we're looking forward to continuing our relationship this season.

Dempsey Happy With New Mazda (Updated Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.)

Patrick Dempsey made his first on-track appearance at a Rolex Series event since the April race at Virginia International Raceway, taking a few laps in the new Dempsey Racing No. 40 Mazda RX-8.

"The new car feels great," Dempsey said. "It's not as violent as the old car. It's quieter with the different exhaust setup, and a lot stronger. I'm happy with it."

Dempsey was also happy to be back in the GRAND-AM paddock.

"It's great to be back and see everybody," he said. "I feel no pressure. I can get in the car and enjoy myself."

For 2011, Dempsey hopes to run as many races as his schedule allows, including the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

"We had a good run at Daytona last year," said Dempsey, who had a personal career best sixth-place finish in last year's classic. "Our team is gelling. We won a race last year, but we've got a lot of work ahead for this season."

Tucker At Home With Paddle Shifters (Updated Wednesday at 2:15 p.m.)

While he has been away from the Rolex Series Daytona Prototype since March, Scott Tucker quickly got back to speed in the No. 55 Level 5 Motorsports/Daytona Dream BMW/Riley.

"We came out pretty quick," said Tucker, who captured his second consecutive SCCA National Championship in addition to the ALMS LMPC title in 2010. He is concentrating on the team's No. 55 today, while Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz are sharing the No. 95. Tomorrow, they will switch cars.

"The No. 55 has the new paddle shifter," said Tucker, who is testing the new option teams using a Pro-Am driver can use in 2011. "I like it. It feels much better, and it will be quicker for me. While I never raced the DP with paddle shift before, almost all of the other cars and karts I have raced have had paddle shift. So it's natural for me."

Marsh Racing May Skip Rolex 24 (Updated Wednesday at 12:45 p.m.)

Eric Curran is testing the No. 31 Marsh Racing Corvette throughout the opening session, and will be joined by Boris Said for tomorrow's activity. Sonny Whelen will not be able to attend the test.

Team owner Teddy Marsh said that the team is still building the new Corvette it will race in 2011, and is expecting to enter Rolex Series competition for Round 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He plans to run Curran and Said in all of the remaining races.

Muhlner Motorsport Brings Brand-New Porsche to Homestead (Updated Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.)

Muhlner Motorsport had no plans to test this week at Homestead – they had yet to receive their new Porsche 911 GT3 Rolex Cup from PMNA.

Their plans changed in a hurry, though.

"We just found out that our new car was ready," said Bernhard Muhlner, managing director of Muhlner Motorsport. "We picked it up yesterday in Atlanta, and here we are today in Homestead."

Jorg Bergmeister – a occasional driver with the team – will shake the car (which will carry No. 18) later today.

"We plan to run in the Rolex 24, and hopefully more races," Muhlner said.

While this will be their first attempt at the Rolex 24, the team is no stranger to long-distance competition.

"We have run in 33 24-hour races world-wide," Muhlner said. "Hopefully, Daytona will be our 35th. We will run the 24 hour race at Dubai in January."

The team won the 24 hour race at Spa in 2010. Tim Bergmeister – older brother of the 2006 Daytona Prototype champion – has raced with the team since 2006, primarily in FIA GT3 and the German ADAC GT Masters series, winning the championship in 2008.

Dyson Racing Set For Proper Testing (Updated Wednesday at 10 a.m.)

Dyson Racing debuted the No. 16 Ford/Lola for the 2010 season finale as its first step to prepare for the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona.

"We took a brand-new car that the team had for only five days, and went to Salt Lake City with the intention of getting ready for Daytona," said co-driver John McCutchen. We wanted to go to Miller to get the car through tech, meet with the GRAND-AM officials, and give the team the chance to run a race under the Rolex Series rules and learn any areas that differ from the ALMS rules they were used to running. Plus, it was a good opportunity for Davy (Jones) and I to get seat time in an unfamiliar environment."

"The DP teams has been fine-tuning their cars for seven or eight years," Jones said. "We've had a relatively short window. We went to Salt Lake throwing darts at the setup. Our goal for this test is to come away wiht a comfortable mindset and have a good direction of what we need to do to make the car competitive."

Jones and McCutchen will be joined by Dyson Racing principal Rob Dyson at the test, and may be joined by team VP and sporting director Chris Dyson behind the wheel.

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