Roar Sets Stage For 50th Rolex 24

Orlando, FL (January 8th, 2012) – The Roar Before the Rolex 24, where do you begin? In the 50 years of this great race this will be one of the greatest driver line ups. One of the biggest notables is Hall of Fame driver Hurley Haywood. This will be the legend’s 40th race. Hurley said, “You only have one chance to be in the 50th running once.” So he felt he had to come out of retirement one last time, but now this will be his third time. Reigning IZOD IndyCar champion, Dario Franchitti will be once again be in the Ganassi entry as LeMans winner, Alan McNish from Audi will also be in a DP for Starworks Motorsports.

The Roar of Daytona came into the track on Friday and saw a fabulous turnout, on and off the track. I have not seen a turnout like this since they put the popular fan zone in. The drivers did a great job with the fans as they had a meet and greet in the fan zone which saw favorites like Patrick Dempsey signing autographs and interacting with fans. The garage and paddock felt like race weekend. As always, Daytona International Speedway and Grand-Am Series does a great job for the fans. Something that you will never get at any other sporting events is having the drivers walking through greeting fans and signing autographs and posing for pictures. It was really good to see a lot friends, seems that the season just ended and here we are at a racetrack again.

It has really been tough for the teams they have been working overtime to get new cars put together and the new Corvette in DP has the people talking. With Grand-Am allowing Ferrari 458 and the Audi R8 in the GT class this is going make Porsche work for this one, when a team like Risi Competizione comes over this is big news. The Risi team has won everything in endurance racing and they want this one, they are here with a two-car effort and with a great driver lineup. Giuseppe Risi said he was happy to be here and looking forward to the race. They delivered the second 458 Ferrari on Thursday as it was just finished. I had chatted with former F-1 driver, Giancarlo Fisichella it was his first time at Daytona and he was amazed by the track. He could not believe the big the track, told me it reminded him of the old Monza banking.

Jim Lutz of GM Racing is pleased with the early results of the Corvette, “I am quite pleased with the team’s testing results in all three classes, the DP, GT and GS. I think all of our teams accomplished everything they wanted to during the weekend. We are in really good shape for the race event. I hope the weather will be as nice as it has been during all of these test days. Everyone was pleasantly surprised with how many spectators we had here at Daytona, just for test days. It is a good sign of interest in the race coming up. I am quite satisfied with all we accomplished these three days.”

Another team that is coming over from the ALMS is Extreme Speed Motorsports with Scott Sharp trying to put another win will under his belt. Personable NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip will also be driving a 458 Ferrari prepared by AF Corse, the factory team and co-driving with him will be X-Games star and NASCAR rookie, Travis Pastrana. Pastrana will bring a different following to the track, it was my first time meeting him and I was really impressed, he’ll bring a quite a few new fans to check out sports car racing, I have never seen driver so laid back, he just is happy to be given the opportunity to race in the Rolex 24. He was talking and taking pictures with the fans just before he jumped into the car to practice.

Another interesting entry is Brian Johnson lead singer from the band AC/DC. He will be driving with Jim Pace, Elliot Forbes Robinson and car owner Carlos de Quesada. “It’s like being in a band, everybody’s dependent on everybody else to, you know, for the big show. And I’m just happy to be part of it all,” said Johnson. “This 24 hours is right up there with one of the biggest gigs that I’ve done. “Most people try to live the dream when they’re alive and I think for me I’ve outlived the dream, I mean this is just beyond dreaming. It’s real. And I’m loving every minute.”

Just like with Dempsey Racing, Daytona has also partnered with 50+ Predator/Alegra to offer a special ticket package to commemorate the team’s participation in the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona and benefit the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer.

SpeedTV will once again cover the race, except for pit reporter Justin Bell, who’ll be back in a car after racing at Petit LeMans. He said he was done but I know after taking to him I said you’ll be at the 24 and sure enough here he is driving with Magnus Racing with double support of leading online companies eBay Motors, Mobile and Quicken Loans Inc. They will be raising money for Children’s Tumor Foundation/Racing4Research. The team has raised over 1.5 Million for this charity since its conception.

Ron Yarab is another founding member of the CTF/Racing4Research program and joins his teammates in praising the hard work and dedication of the Magnus Racing crew.

“Our three-day test for Magnus Racing went really well and we have a great driver line-up this year,” Yararb said. “Our sponsor line-up is great as well, we have Quicken Loans and eBay Motors, plus the Children’s Tumor Foundation, it’s a great combination. I’m a physician and I take care of patients with neurofibromatosis for my day job, so it’s nice to be able to mix both my personal and professional lives together.”

Yarab hopes to continuously improve his lap times by listening closely and watching teammate Bell. “The coolest thing that I saw this weekend was seeing Justin get into a race car again,” Yarab said. “Watching him in literally five laps be up to speed. It was amazing. We’re looking forward to him being a good anchor on the team. He’s very knowledgeable and great asset to the team.” Jill Beck, Director of the Racing4Research program for the Children’s Tumor Foundation, was trackside all weekend in support of the No. 4 Porsche. Passionate for both racing and CTF, Beck was supportive and proud of the team’s performance this weekend.

“Our drivers have really stepped up, not only are they doing the fastest times they’ve ever done here, but we have fantastic equipment with Magnus Racing,” Beck said. “The team has really jelled and come together. They know what they need to do and how get it done so that we’re at the top of the podium. Everybody is working hard to make it happen together.”

All I know, after the this weekend, I can’t wait for the upcoming Rolex 24.

The historic 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona gets underway on Saturday, January 28 at 3:30 p.m. when Grand Marshal A.J. Foyt issues the command “Drivers, start your engines.” A number of special events are planned to celebrate the 50th Anniversary, including the Rolex 50 Years of Champions display which will feature over 30 of the championship winners at a charity gala to benefit the Halifax Health Foundation on the evening of Thursday, 26 January at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach; a procession of the championship cars to Daytona International Speedway on at 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning, January 27, after which the cars will be on display throughout the weekend.

Grand-Am Media, GM Motorsports and Adam Saal contributed to this column

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