“Roar Before The Rolex 24” Takes Place At Daytona

The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series took to the Daytona International Speedway this weekend to complete preparations for the 50th anniversary edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the famed race that takes the green flag on January 28, 2012. Dubbed as the “Roar before the Rolex 24,” 14 Daytona Prototypes and 46 GT cars along with their respective drivers lapped the 3.56-mile road course during the three days of tests.

Warm weather greeted the participants and helped beckon a sizable crowd of spectators.

Headline makers were the new and rapid Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototypes along with a handful of new Ferrari 458s entered in the GT class.

When the practice concluded, Max Angelelli had scored the fastest lap with a smooth run of 126.712 miles per hour, doing it on Sunday morning while driving the immaculately prepared SunTrust Racing Corvette DP. Co-drivers Ricky Taylor and IndyCar Series star Ryan Briscoe also took their turns behind the wheel.

Said Angelelli of his fast lap, “You’ve got to understand that we were pushing the limit and, in the first session today (Sunday), we did a qualifying run under perfection conditions – low fuel, new tires, a clear lap and no mistakes. It was the perfect lap.”

The championship driver went on to say the team is looking for a similar performance on race weekend and he was quick to compliment the effort put forth by General Motors. “The hardest race for a car is its first race, and this one just happens to be a 24-hour race; it’s a major risk and commitment that everyone is taking,” he said.

The Corvette DPs took the top five places at the test with two Action Express cars trailing the SunTrust team.

Driving the Action Express cars were Joao Barbosa, Terry Borcheller, J. C. France and Max Papis in the No. 9 car and David Donohue, Christian Fittipaldi and Darren Law in the No. 5 entry.

The GAINSCO Corvette of Jon Fogarty, Alex Gurney and Memo Gidley nailed down the fourth fastest time in their brand new “Red Dragon.”

“We ran the whole time without any show stoppers,” Gurney said. “We got through a whole lot of laps, so we have a lot of information to draw on. The car is pretty quick, so we feel pretty good about it.”

Added Fogarty, “This team has done a tremendous job. They worked through the holidays and we threw a lot of issues at them, and they did a good job. We still have a few lingering ones, and the more we run, the more stuff seems to come up.”

The new Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley of Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Graham Rahal and Joey Hand dropped out of the action on Saturday after Pruett tangled with a GT car. Without spare parts available to repair the car, the team decided to call it quits until race weekend.

A sister BMW Riley driven by IndyCar stars Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti along with NASCAR aces Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray continued running, and they were in the top-seven in practice speed on a consistent basis.

Ferrari led the way in GT action with Toni Vilander setting the fastest speed of 117.321 mph, achieving the high-speed mark on Saturday. The Finnish driver was behind the wheel of the Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia Grand Am. His co-drivers are Andrea Bertolini and Olivier Beretta.

On Sunday, Guy Cosmo led the way in another Ferrari, the Tequila Patron Ferrari 458, at 117.216 mph.

A second Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia Grand Am also made its presence known in the expert hands of Gianmaria Bruni, F1 ace Giancarlo Fisichella and IndyCar’s Raphael Matos.

Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip leads another Ferrari 458 team and his AF Waltrip teammates are Rui Aguas, Robert Hoffman and Travis Pastrana.

Anthony Lazzaro, Emil Assentato, Jeff Segal and Nick Longhi will drive the fifth Ferrari 458, the AIM Autosport/Team FXDD.

The Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP had a gear break on Sunday morning and after repairs were made, the team discovered there was a crack in the casing that led to an oil leak. This condition abruptly ended their practice endeavors.

Action Express Racing is facing a triple challenge, getting accustomed to the new Corvette DP bodywork, the engine and the chassis (Coyote). According to team director Elton Sawyer, their biggest challenge has been dealing with brake temperatures.

While the Grand-Am contingent will be off the track until January 26, the teams will be working overtime preparing for the grueling Rolex24 at Daytona, one of the most acclaimed endurance races in the world.

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