Monday, January 5, 2009

Grand Am tests at Daytona

Anticipating another classic race around the clock, the majority of Grand Am teams will complete three days of testing at Daytona Beach, today, with the usual suspects towards the top of the time sheets.

As previously mentioned, Roger Penske has switched from his duo of Porsche factory backed RS Spyder’s in the ALMS to a single Riley/Porsche Daytona Prototype, which ended up fourth on the time charts during the opening days testing, with Ryan Briscoe, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas behind the wheel, as apparently Penske will only be fielding a single entry for this year’s contest with no sighting of Curt Busch or “Hulio Castro-nervous” on the premises, while approx. 52 challengers took part in the test session.

On Sunday, “The Captain,” a.k.a. Roger Penske showed up at Daytona and confirmed he’d only be running a single car in this year’s Rolex 24, while Dumas set the fastest time of the third session on Day 2.

Chip Ganassi’s championship winning squad is looking for an unprecedented fourth consecutive overall Rolex 24 victory, along with the victor’s matching Rolex chronograph time piece. As “The Cheepster” (Ganassi) will once again return with a Telmex Riley/ Daytona Prototype with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and “MAC” (Juan Pablo) Montoya at the controls, whilst TCGR’s second entry, featuring its stable of Open Wheel Racing stars Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Alex Lloyd took to the track on Sunday and were fastest in the middle of three practice sessions with Dixon behind the wheel.

Indy Car driver Buddy “Hot Rod” Rice was part of the Brumos Porsche DP driving strength along with David Donohue and Darren Law who wound up third fastest on Day 1.

Meanwhile perennial title challenger Wayne Taylor has switched from Pontiac power to the ever improving Ford lumps, which Michael Shank Racing (MSR) has put to good use in the past. Thus, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Taylor’s entry Was fifth quickest on Day 1 of testing, while the MSR Daytona Prototype piloted by Michael Valiante once again headed the timesheets, with Valiante’s co-drivers including AJ Allmendinger, John Pew and Ian James. MSR’s second entry posted the third quick time during one of Sunday’s practice sessions, as “OZ;” Oswaldo Negri Jr, will be partnered with Ryan “The Dude” Hunter-Reay, Colin Braun and Mark Patterson.

Other Sunday runners included Darren “Danger Mouse” Manning, Kyle Petty & Leo Hindery Jr. aboard the Orbit Racing BMW Riley, whilst ex-Indy Car drivers Ryan Dalziel and Tomas Enge, were making hay with co-drivers Chapman Ducote and Carlos de Quesada, behind the wheel of their Alegra Motorsports BMW Riley.

Showing up fashionably late was three time RASSCAR Champ-pee-on Jimmy Johnson, who’ll once again be contesting the Rolex 24 alongside Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmy VASSER, ABOARD THE No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley.

And wait! We cannot forget to mention Princess, who having just paid the $196 Arizona speeding ticket has apparently decided to seek some compensation by deciding to be part of the new Childress-Howard Pontiac/Crawford DP line-up, which lead driver Andy Wallace had a tire let go at 194mph during the day’s first testing session.

No word on whether or not Dan-Dan-Danicker was issued any further citations on her way to Florida...

In the GT ranks, Kevin Buckler’s TRG effort will field an armada of five Porsche 911GT3 Cup race cars, with five Porsche factory drivers including Patrick Long as part of the driving strength, while reigning GT champions Banner Engineering returns with its potent Pontiac GPXR’s and the always quick Mazda RX-8’s will be seeking a repeat GT class victory.

So who will win this year’s Rolex 24? Tune into FOX/SPEED TV on January 24th, as the race kicks off on FOX at 3PM Eastern time before switching over to SPEED for the remainder of TV coverage beginning at 4:30PM Eastern, with the Rolex’s being doled out on Jan. 25...