On Saturday, Jan. 25, the prototype ranks at the Daytona International Speedway will see a new type of cars take to the track. In addition to the Daytona Prototypes that have been a mainstay of the event in recent years, the P2 cars of the former American Le Mans Series will also be on track. Among the entrants in the race are last year's runner up in the ALMS points chase; Extreme Speed Motorsports (ESM).
The team, which is equipped with two Tequila Patrón-sponsored Honda Performance Development (HPD) ARX-03b race cars and seven world-class, championship-winning drivers, is ready to conquer the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship this weekend with the series’ longest and most challenging endurance race – the 52nd Annual Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“This is a huge race for our team. Not only is it the legendary twice-around-the-clock challenge, but it is the first leg of the four-race Tequila Patrón NAEC," stated owner/driver Scott Sharp. "It is imperative that both cars get through the race clean and score big points."
This marks ESM’s third straight Rolex 24 At Daytona race. In 2012 and 2013, the team entered one GT racing machine with a best finish of ninth place in class. With the formation of the TUDOR Championship, ESM will practice, qualify and race two machines in the highly-competitive prototype class.
"For the last two seasons at the Rolex, we’ve only had one car with the four drivers, so this is a refreshing change at Daytona," added driver Ed Brown. "We have two teams working together on setup and race strategy. Then you put seven of the most passionate and winning drivers in a room together to discuss driving strategy and techniques – we’ve assembled one of the strongest groups of drivers, engineers and crews."
Led by ESM owner Scott Sharp, the Florida-based team spent much of the off season preparing for the 2014 season which included adding Ryan Dalziel to the team. Sharp and Dalziel serve as the season-long co-drivers and are teamed with David Brabham for the Rolex 24. The No. 1 Tequila Patrón HPD driving trio all have Rolex 24 wins to their credits. Sharp was the 1996 overall winner, Brabham earned a class win in 2003 and Dalziel was the overall winner in 2010.
"Winning at Daytona, no matter what year, is very special. But this year holds something extra," stated Dalziel. "I finished second overall in the 50th Anniversary race. But it would mean so much more to see one of the ESM Patrón cars win the race because it is the Rolex and opening round of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup."
Season-long co-drivers of the No. 2 Tequila Patrón HPD, Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek, are joined by two-time Rolex 24 winner Anthony Lazzaro (1999, 2002) and Simon Pagenaud, the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic champion and Brabham’s co-driver in 2010 when the two won the American Le Mans Series prototype class championship.
“One of the assets we have at the Rolex is having a very reliable HPD race car," commented Pagenaud. "It is nimble and agile, and that will suit the infield. Now with the regulations the way they are, the straight lines won't be our advantage. It should be a very competitive compromise.”
As the opening event for the inaugural TUDOR Championship season, the Rolex 24 At Daytona is also the first round of the four-race Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup (NAEC). The Tequila Patrón-sponsored championship within a championship includes the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March, Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in June and the season finale Petit Le Mans in October. Watch as Brown and Sharp talk about the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance here.
“It is great to be back with ESM for some of the endurance races," Lazarro commented. "Not only is the Rolex a major event, it kicks off the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. I’m thrilled to be a part of the No. 2 team driving with Ed, Johannes and Simon. We have a talented group of drivers that are smart racers. We hope to contend for the win, but anything can happen at the Rolex."
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. Qualifying for prototype cars is scheduled for 4:50 p.m. ET on Thursday, Jan. 23.
The FOX family of channels will provide complete live coverage of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Saturday, Jan. 25
2-4 p.m. ET on FOX
4-9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 2
Overnight (Jan. 25-26)
9 p.m. – 7 a.m. ET on www.IMSA.com
Sunday, Jan. 26
7 a.m. – 3 p.m. on FOX Sports 1
Live streaming of the Rolex 24 At Daytona also will be available on the FOX Sports GO mobile application for iOS devices.
Radio and internet listeners can tune into Motor Racing Network for flag-to-flag coverage of the Rolex 24 At Daytona along with 12 races in the inaugural TUDOR Championship. Live coverage of the Rolex 24 At Daytona also can be heard on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90) starting at 2 p.m. ET. The entire TUDOR Championship season can be heard on Sirius channel 117.
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.