Riley Matthews Motorsports, SAMAX Prep For Prestigious Season Opener
The race to prepare for the 45th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 27-28 began for two teams on Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway.
Only a couple weeks after the Rolex Sports Car Series season wrapped up, Riley Matthews Motorsports and CITGO Racing By SAMAX were wrenching on their Pontiac Riley Daytona Prototypes in the first day of a two-day test session at "The World Center of Racing."
"The Rolex 24 is a pretty special event to me and my family and the company," said owner Bill Riley. "We start working on it pretty early on. Pretty much after we crashed out in the (2006) Rolex 24, we started working on it again. We had the plan in place to start testing as soon as we could after the season.
"It's a pretty big undertaking to get ready for it, especially if you want to be ready for it the way you need to be to win the thing. You have to start now to be ready. The way we attacked it in 2005 and the way Ganassi attacked it (in 2006), it's a big event. Just showing up with a car at Test Days (in January) trying to win the thing is pretty far out there these days. It's a big event to have all the parts and structure of the team ready."
Riley has parted ways with Wayne Taylor and SunTrust Racing and has partnered with Jim Matthews to form Riley Matthews Motorsports. While the team name and driver lineup are different, Riley says "the soul" of the team that won the 2005 Rolex 24 with Taylor remains the same.
"We're the same team with a different driver lineup," said Riley, who added the team is still searching for sponsorship. "It's the same group of guys more or less."
Matthews and co-driver Marco Goossens are shaking down a brand new Pontiac Riley during the test. Matthews is thrilled to be reunited with Riley for next season.
"Bill and I ran together in 2002 and 2003 and had some pretty good success," Matthews said. "We got a second overall here. It's a lot more like coming home than a new relationship at least for me.
"I try to stack the deck to make myself look good by association with the right people. I'm pretty excited to be involved in this. "
A couple of garage stalls down from the Riley Matthews Motorsports camp is the CITGO Racing By SAMAX team.
Venezuelan Milka Duno is testing along with open-wheel standout Patrick Carpentier, who is hoping to land with the team for the 2007 season.
"I raced for these guys at Sonoma," Carpentier said. "We had a good weekend and it went pretty well. It seems that me and Milka like the same cars and they asked me to come and test again. Hopefully next year, we'll team up together and do the full season."
Last year, Carpentier competed in the Rolex 24 with Cheever Racing. He shared the wheel with Eddie Cheever and Christian Fittipaldi in the twice-around-the-clock challenge.
"I really love these things," said Carpentier of the Daytona Prototypes. "It's the first time that I've raced cars where you can touch and end up in the fence. It's pretty fun. You can bump around and have some good (battles). You don't want to throw the guy off, but you always battle and I love it."
Rolex 24 testing continues on Wednesday. The test is free and open to the public with access to the Oldfield Grandstand through the lobby of DAYTONA USA. Tickets to the Rolex 24 At Daytona are available at www.racetickets.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.