Champ Car Well Represented in Rolex 24

It’s the first major motorsports event of 2008 and a number of drivers with ties to the Champ Car World Series will be among those hoping to win this weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona at Daytona International Speedway.

Included on this entry list are Champ Car drivers Justin Wilson, Graham Rahal, Ryan Dalziel (who co-drove the second-place car here last year), Robert Doornbos and Jan Heylen; PKV Racing’s co-owner and 1996 Champ Car titlist Jimmy Vasser; and Long Beach promoter Jim Michaelian.

Wilson, Rahal, Dalziel and Vasser will be competing in the Daytona Prototype Class while Doornbos, Heylen and Michaelian will run in the GT Class. With the exception of Doornbos and Heylen, all the aforementioned drivers have competed in this race before.

Wilson finished second in the 2006 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, the first time he competed in the race. Two years later, the man who has finished runner-up in the Champ Car World Series the past two seasons wants to see what it feels like to move up one more spot. The British driver likes his chances in the Michael Shank Racing Ford/Riley he will be sharing with Rahal, Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson.

“This is a big race and it’s a great way to get 2008 started with a lot of time behind the wheel," said Wilson. “I’m happy to be back with Mike Shank and to be sharing the car with Mark and Oz. They are great guys and, of course, extremely good with this car.

“Graham is another good addition with his speed and the way he brings a really logical approach. Of course, anything can happen, but I’m optimistic about our chances. It’d be great to see what the view from the top step of the podium is like!"

For Wilson’s 19-year-old counterpart in Champ Car, this year’s Daytona race will be his third, and second straight competing in the Daytona Prototype class.

“It's exciting for me to be a part of this effort," said Rahal. “I think this is going to be a great combination and we should be really competitive."

The race will also be a reunion of sorts for Rahal and Negri, the Brazilian driver who served as his coach when the Ohio teen moved up from go-karts to Formula BMW USA in 2004.

“I always had a good relationship with Oz but of course, it will be a whole different deal driving with him this time around," Rahal said.

This race also has a special meaning for Rahal, whose father, Bobby Rahal, co-drove the winning car in 1981 and later captured three Champ Car titles.

“The race itself is a historical event–one that you really want to win," Rahal continued. “Every time I walk into a jeweler, it's the first thing I think of when I see that watch–how great it would be to win a Rolex. Knowing all the people who have won it in the past, there would be a great sense of pride having that watch on your wrist."

Vasser, who co-drove the winner in the GTP Light class in 1992, is back for a third straight year with Gainsco Racing. Their Pontiac/Riley should draw a lot of attention this weekend thanks to the prowess of the team and its driver lineup. The Gainsco team won the 2007 Grand-Am title with Atlantic graduates Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, who hope to continue to add to that success this weekend with Vasser and reigning NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Doornbos and Heylen will be driving Porsche GT3s entered by Synergy Racing while Michaelian will be sharing a Porsche GT3 with his son, Bob, entered by the Gotham Competition team.

The 10 a.m. session is scheduled to last 90 minutes with the 1:30 p.m. session set to last one hour. Afterward, separate 15-minute qualifying sessions will be held for GT and Daytona Prototype (DP) classes that will determine the starting grids for each class. Friday’s schedule calls for a pair of 45-minute practice sessions and a 20-minute final qualifying session. The race is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and finish 24 hours later.

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