On Thursday, Jan. 23, the sounds of 800 horsepower engines zooming around the high banks of the world center of racing was music to the ears of the droves of race teams and fans who crowded the speedway during qualifying for the 52nd Annual Rolex 24 At Daytona, the opening race of the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the first round of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup (NAEC).
Thursday’s opening day included one morning and one afternoon practice session totaling 90 minutes of on-track time. On-track action resumed with night practice on Thursday, and will be followed by a single practice session on Friday morning from 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
It is the beginning of a new season, in a new series, for Stuart, Florida-based Extreme Speed Motorsports. The team, which finished in second place in the 2013 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron, is prepared for a challenging and competitive year. At sunset on Thursday, the two-car team took to the track for the 15-minute qualifying session.
“The guys are going to figure out why we had that problem in qualifying," stated David Brabham who qualified the No. 1 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development (HPD) ARX-03b. "We thought everything was fine and then it was fine for about two to three laps. We were building up temperature in the tire, started to go a bit quicker and then I started experiencing problems."
The brief qualifying session was significantly shorter for ESM as it experienced minor problems that prevented both cars from getting to full power.
“At the end of the day, where you qualify for the 24-hour race doesn’t make a difference in where you finish. Where it does make a difference is traffic. My job will be a little harder because we’ll have more traffic to contend with, and what we had anticipated. It is 24 hours and a lot can happen,” added Johannes van Overbeek, who was tasked with wheeling the No. 2 Tequila Patrón HPD.
After their problems, ESM was ranked 14th and 15th in the prototype class.
Of course, most people do not recall who started in the 14th and 15th spots, but everyone remembers who is the first to take the green flag. Alex Gurney, driver of the No. 99 Corvette DP for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, claimed the pole for this weekend's running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"Maybe there's a little more pressure on the team, you know, because we know we only have these few chances," Gurney said. "They're trying really hard. It was a very hard offseason, where everyone worked all the way through. We get bragging rights for a couple of days, I guess. It means a lot to us as a team. We're only doing the North American endurance rounds, maybe Austin as well, so we want to be able to put our best foot forward and luckily everything came together. It feels really good to be up top."
Gurney, with a top lap speed of 130.416 mph, barely edged out the No. 90 Corvette DP of Spirit of Daytona, driven by Richard Westbrook.
The revolutionary DeltaWing, piloted by Katherine Legge, will roll off from the eighth starting position.
"It’s really exciting, what they’ve done with the DeltaWing project is groundbreaking in a way," added Legge. "It’s forward thinking, futuristic, and challenging perceptions; which is what I am trying to do as well."
Although qualifying is not generally as important for a 24-hour event as it is for a shorter race, it still gives drivers and teams an idea of what the car has to offer, and what they need to work on. Check the IMSA website for a full rundown of qualifying speeds and starting positions.
The Rolex 24 – a twice-around-the-clock-classic – takes place on the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 25-26. The 12-turn circuit utilizes portions of the track’s tri-oval and infield road course and is the first round of the TUDOR Championship.
Live coverage of the Rolex 24 At Daytona begins on Saturday, Jan. 25 at 2 p.m., and continues on FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2, with overnight streaming video on www.imsa.com.
Stay tuned to this column for continuing coverage of the run-up to the Rolex 24 at Daytona, as well as in-depth analysis and live reporting from the speedway this weekend. Be sure to subscribe to the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner, and keep track of your favorite racers. If you're a motorsports fan, and know of an event, team, or person you'd like to see profiled, please let me know. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, and read my articles about local getaways, HOAs, elections, and restaurants.