On the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 5, the sound of high speed sportscars at the Daytona International Speedway was once again replaced by the sound of impending frost in the area, as the checkered flag fell on the three day testing for the 52nd anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 25-26, known as the Roar Before The Rolex 24.
The 2014 field for the race weekend is a large one, with a field of more than 100 cars between the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the IMSA Continental SportsCar Challenge. Both series spent the weekend turning laps around the 3.56-mile road course at the world center of racing as they prepare for their respective season-opening events.
The fastest lap of the weekend was posted in Prototype (P) on Friday morning by the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette, driven by Christian Fittipaldi, with a speed of 129.940 mph. The No. 8 Starworks Motorsports ORECA FLM09, driven by Sam Bird, topped Prototype Challenge (PC) Saturday morning with a speed of 125.635 mph. The Extreme Speed Motorsports Tequila Patrón-sponsored Honda Performance Development (HPD) ARX-03bs were the quickest (1:39.750/128.481mph) of the LMP2-spec cars in the prototype class during the three-day event.
"While we are certainly shooting to win here, we know that there are other tracks that suit our car a little bit better," stated Tequila Patrón-sponsored Extreme Speed Motorsports driver/owner Scott Sharp. "No matter what we do, we need to finish the Rolex 24, stay out of trouble, have good reliability and we need to get the end.”
In GTLM, the No. 911 Porsche North America 911 RSR, wheeled by Nick Tandy, posted the fastest lap of the class Friday afternoon with a speed of 121.405 mph. In the same session, Spencer Pumpelly drove the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS to a top speed of 118.688 mph in GTD.
“The prototype car is easier to drive and so much better around Daytona than the GT car," Sharp continued. "You are passing cars instead of getting passed every lap. The downforce overshadows some of the challenges on the grip of the tires. It is easier to drive this prototype car than to be hanging on to a GT car.”
Though the roster of drivers includes some of the best in the world, the attention of most of the media, as well as many people who would normally not even have racing on their radar, was focused on the return of Dempsey Racing to the Rolex 24 after not competing in the 2013 event. Dempsey, who stars in the ABC hit drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” will drive the No. 27 Porsche 911 GT America with Joe Foster, Marc Lieb and Andrew Davis. Competing in the other Dempsey Racing entry, the No. 28, are Porsche specialists Klaus Bachler, Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen, Lane Willsey and Franz Konrad.
“It’s great to be back in Daytona, we missed it last year,” said Dempsey, who will co-drive the full TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season with Davis. “We’ve had a lot of great memories here and hopefully we continue to in the future.”
Dempsey Racing has delivered some strong finishes in the Rolex 24 including a third-place podium finish in the GT class in the 2011 Rolex 24.
“I want to win and I think we have a really great opportunity this year with the lineup we have,” Dempsey said. “To win this year with the merger and the quality of drivers and the competition that is in the field … I think if we have our first win, this would be the most satisfying. I think it would be a turning point for the team and myself.”
In all the media attention that was given to Chip Ganassi Racing on Saturday, and the announcement of his powerhouse roster of some of the world's best drivers, Michael Shank Racing's driver lineup slipped under the world's collective radar. This isn't a problem for lead driver AJ Allmendinger, however, who was able to lead the less than totally funded team to victory in 2012.
“We just have a great time,” Allmendinger said. “To be able to win the race two years ago with the group of guys was just something that was so special and for me one of the highlights of my career. It makes you want more.”
Allmendinger's teammates from that fateful win will join him in the cockpit once again in 2014. Ozz Negri, John Pew, AJ Allmendinger and Justin Wilson will drive the No. 60 Ford Riley during the Rolex 24, and Pew and Negri will continue full-season driving duties.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona is the first leg of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup, a championship within a championship for the TUDOR United Sportcar Series. These four high speed endurance events, The Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida at Sebring International Raceway and the 1,000-mile/10-hour Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda at Road Atlanta, challenge not only the reliability of the cars, but the stamina of the drivers and teams that race them.
“I’m happy with our progress so far," Sharp added. "I want to thank the ESM Patrón team for all their hard work. I’m excited about the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup; we want to have a chance to win that. We ought to have a very good car for the other races this season. We’re focused on leaving Daytona with some points, and that would help set the pace of the season.”
Tickets for the 52nd running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona are still available and can be purchased online or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for the latest news all season long. Fans can also follow the latest on DAYTONA Rising, the $400 million frontstretch renovation at the “World Center of Racing” by using #DAYTONARising on Twitter.
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