|Last year Daytona copied LeMans and added a Ferris Wheel|
A wide-open race is expected for Saturday's 47th Rolex 24 At Daytona, when Grand-Am Road Racing's top competitors join stars of NASCAR, the IndyCar Series and international sports car racing battling for top overall honors in America's premier sports car event.
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has a star-studded two-car roster in quest of an unprecedented fourth consecutive triumph in the event, but a long list of contenders has lined up for the opening round of the 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 campaign.
All of the 20 Daytona Prototypes entered are capable of challenging for top overall honors in the event, which also features 31 entries in the GT class. The Rolex 24 takes the green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday. The opening portion of the race will be televised live on FOX (3-4:30 p.m.), with SPEED resuming coverage from 4:30 – 10 p.m. ET and covering Sunday's activities from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. ET.
Defending Daytona Prototype co-champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas return in the No. 01 TELMEX/Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley, with Pruett and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya seeking their third consecutive victory in the event. Dario Franchitti was also part of the 2008 winning car, but shifts to the team's No. 02 Target/TELMEX Lexus Riley with 2006 Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon and Alex Lloyd. That car pairs the two most recent Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series champions – Dixon (2008) and Franchitti (2007) — with the 2007 Firestone Indy Lights champion.
A number of powerful entries with compelling story lines look to end the Ganassi domination of the event.
Jimmie Johnson, riding a three-year championship streak in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, joins 2007 Daytona Prototype champs Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty plus 1996 Champ Car titlist Jimmy Vasser in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley. The team is seeking its first victory in the Rolex 24, while Johnson is looking to step up after finishing twice in the event.
Penske Racing celebrates the 40th anniversary of its victory in the 1969 Rolex 24, won by Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons, with its first full assault in the event since 1973. Two-time Rolex 24 winner Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas – Penske's regular drivers in 2009 Daytona Prototype competition – share the No. 16 Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Porsche Riley with Penske IndyCar Series driver Ryan Briscoe. Last year, Briscoe was part of a joint venture between Penske Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing which took third in the Rolex 24.
Brumos Racing, which dominated the Rolex 24 in the 1970s, has a solid two-car lineup with Darren Law, David Donohue, Terry Borcheller and 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice in the No. 58 Porsche Riley, joined by five-time Rolex 24 winner Hurley Haywood, Joao Barbosa, JC France and Antonio Garcia in the team's No. 59 car.
Childress-Howard Motorsports makes its Rolex 24 debut with three-time winner Andy Wallace joined by NASCAR's Casey Mears, IndyCar's Danica Patrick and Rob Finlay in the No. 2 Pontiac Crawford.
Michael Shank Racing captured both front-row starting positions for the 2008 Rolex 24, and ended last year's campaign by winning the final two races. Pole winner Ozz Negri returns in the No. 60 Ford Riley, joined by Mark Patterson, Ryan Hunter-Reay and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Colin Braun. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular AJ Allmendinger partners with John Pew, Michael Valiante and Ian James in the team's No. 6 entry.
SunTrust Racing, the 2005 Rolex 24 winner, rolls out a new combination with the No. 10 Ford-powered Dallara driven by two-time event winner Wayne Taylor, Max Angelelli, Brian Frisselle and Pedro Lamy.
A trio of motorcycle champions shares the No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Racing AMA Pro Racing Porsche Coyote. Scott Russell, a five-time Daytona 200 By Honda winner, co-drives with motocross legend Jeff Ward and Jason Pridmore, joined by Rolex Series veteran Guy Cosmo.
Orbit Racing begins a full season in the Daytona Prototypes with NASCAR veterans Kyle Petty and Bill Lester joined by IndyCar Series driver Darren Manning and Leo Hindery Jr. in the No. 45 BMW Riley.
Krohn Racing returns both driver lineups from the team that placed two cars in the top 10 of the 2008 Rolex 24, although the team is now running Ford-powered Lolas. Ricardo Zonta, Nic Jonsson and Darren Turner pilot the No. 76, with team owner Tracy Krohn joined by Eric van de Poele in the No. 75.
A pair of BMW-powered Rileys were among the fastest cars in pre-season testing. Christophe Bouchut, the 1995 Rolex 24 winner, joins 2008 GT winner Raphael Matos, team owner Scott Tucker and Ed Zabinski in the No. 55 Supercar Life LevelFive Motorsports machine. Alegra Motorsports, the 2007 Rolex 24 GT winner, moves up to Daytona Prototype with Carlos de Quesada, Jean-Francois Dumoulin, Ryan Dalziel, Tomas Enge and Chapman Ducote in the No. 22.
Among other entries, Doran Racing debuts McDonald's sponsorship on the No. 77 Ford Dallara for Matteo Bobbi, Memo Gidley, Brad Jaeger and Fabrizio Gollin. Mark Wilkins, a two-time Rolex Series winner in 2008, teams with Burt Frisselle, David Empringham, Alex Figge and John Farano in the No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford Riley. Jordan and Ricky Taylor, sons of the two-time Rolex 24 winner, share the No. 13 Beyer Racing Pontiac Riley with Jared Beyer.
Porsche Onslaught Looks to Detail Mazda in GT Class
While the SpeedSource Mazda team looks to score its fourth consecutive GT class victory in this weekend's Rolex 24, it must withstand a 17-car challenge presented by Porsche teams for the GT season opener.
Also challenging in the GT class are Pontiac, including the 2008 class champion, plus entries from Ferrari, Corvette and Ford.
Sylvain Tremblay, Nick Ham, David Haskell and Jonathan Bomarito share the No. 70 SpeedSource Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8 that captured class GT honors in the 2008 Rolex 24 in addition to winning the last two runnings of the Brumos Porsche 250 at Daytona in July. Adding depth is the team's No. 69 FXDD entry – winners of the 2008 Sahlen's Six Hours of Watkins Glen – driven by Emil Assentato, Jeff Segal, Nick Longhi and Matt Plumb.
Dempsey Racing will field the No. 40 Mazda for Patrick Dempsey, Joe Foster, Charles Espenlaub and Jep Thornton, while Dane Cameron, Doug Peterson, Bryan Sellers and Dion von Moltke share the No. 30 Racers Edge Motorsports entry.
Highlighting the Porsche assault are five-car entries by both TRG and Farnbacher Loles Racing.
TRG, GT winners of the 2002 Rolex 24 and overall winners of the event in 2003, has the No. 67 Porsche of two-time Rolex 24 winner Jorg Bergmeister, Andy Lally, Justin Marks, Patrick Long and RJ Valentine; the No. 66 of 2005 overall winner Emmanuel Collard, Spencer Pumpelly, Tim George Jr., Ted Ballou and Richard Leitz; and the No. 65 of Craig Stanton, John Potter, Bryce Miller and Marco Holzer. The team will also field the No. 63 and 68 entries, in addition to supporting the No. 31 Battery Tender/Matt Connolly Motorsports entry.
Farnbacher Loles Racing took GT class honors in 2005, with winners Wolf Henzler and Dominik Farnbacher returning for this year's event. Henzler is joined by 2007 GT champ Dirk Werner, Leo Keen and Richard Westbrook, while Farnbacher shares the team's No. 86 with Eric Lux, Matthew Marsh and Kevin Roush. Former NFL tight end Steve Johnson leads the No. 88 entry, with the team also entering the No. 85 and No. 89 machines. Farnbacher Loles will also support the No. 64 JLowe Motorsports GT3 of 1996 overall winner Jim Pace, joined by Jim Lowe, Tim Sugden and Johannes van Overbook.
Wright Motorsports fields the No. 33 for Sascha Maassen, BJ Zacharias, Phillip Martien and Patrick Pilet, while Gotham Competition has the No. 26 for brothers Jerome and Joe Jacalone, joined by Gerardo Bonilla, Randy Pobst and Shane Lewis.
Other Porsche teams include the No. 14 Autometrics Motorsports entry, led by Jack Baldwin; Ross Bentley in the No. 44 Bullet Racing entry; and Victory Junction-Orbit Racing's No. 34 for Lawson Aschenbach and Lance Willsey.
Leading the Pontiac charge is the No. 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R driven to last year's title by Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards. They will be joined by Formula One veteran Jan Magnussen this weekend.
Other top Pontiacs include the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R of three-time 2008 winners Andrew Davis and 2004 class winner Robin Liddell, joined by Jeff Bucknum; the No. 32 PR1 Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R; and the No. 21 Battery Tender/Matt Connolly Motorsports Pontiac GTO.R.
Three Corvettes are entered, a pair of Team Sahlen cars for Joe, Wayne and Will Nonnamaker plus Joe Sahlen, plus the No. 97 Stevenson Motorsports entry.
Master-Coast 2 Costa Racing entered a pair of Ferrari 430 Challenge cars for a lineup including 2002 Rolex 24 winner Max Papis.
Completing the GT entry is the Blackforest Motorsports Ford Mustang, with veteran NASCAR road racer Boris Said joined by Tom Nastasi and Australian Paul Morris.
Practice for the Rolex 24 begins at 10 a.m. Thursday, with qualifying set for 3:45 p.m. and night practice at 6:30 p.m. Final qualifying begins Friday at 11 a.m., followed by the Fresh From Florida 200 KONI Sports Car Challenge race.