DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 4, 2009) -- The reality of the challenge is starting to sink in for motorcycle veterans Scott Russell and Jeff Ward.
The trio of two-wheel stars will tackle four wheels in the 47th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 24-25 with the locally based team Spirit of Daytona Racing and the No. 09 Porsche Coyote decorated with AMA Pro Racing decals.
This weekend’s three-day Rolex 24 test is their final tune-up prior to the twice-around-the-clock challenge.
Things are totally different for the two-wheel competitors. From the fenders to the seat belts, it’s a new world on the 3.56-mile road course of DIS for Russell, Pridmore and Ward.
“I didn’t think it was going to be as awkward as it was, being tightly strapped in,” Pridmore said during the lunch break on the second day of testing. “On a bike, if I’m going through a turn, I’m use to turning my head and looking through the corner. In a car, I can’t do that as much.
“I was talking to mom about this. I don’t think my mom could sit in the car, she would be too claustrophobic. Just sitting in the car for the first time, one of my first comments to (owner) Troy (Flis) was, ‘I’ve watched this race for the last six years on TV going I want to do it and now I’m in the car and I’m like why am I here.’ “
All three riders have a storied past at Daytona International Speedway. Russell, whose nickname is “Mr. Daytona,” is a five-time Daytona 200 By Honda winner, a record that he shares with Miguel Duhamel.
Ward, who was also competed in open wheels and stock cars, has raced Supercross at DIS while Pridmore anchors the trio of motorcycle champions with two 750 Supersport victories at Daytona.
Russell, who is a native of Conyers, Ga., concurs with Pridmore saying the transition has been difficult.
“Just being able to breathe fresh air is the biggest difference for me on the bike,” Russell said. “You might be a little warm in the leathers if it’s hot but you still have fresh air going under your helmet. In the car, it’s pretty hot in there.”
Another concern for the drivers is the traffic. With more than 50 sports cars on track during this weekend’s test, they’ve learned the ins and outs of dealing with slower and faster cars.
“It’s kind of like bike racing except you got lot less room to make the move on,” Russell said. “A doorway space I could do what I use to do. Now, the car is still a little twitchy and still tentative. The consistency of some of the drivers, you don’t know who you are coming up on, some guys give way, some don’t.”
Ward is the lone driver to have previous Rolex 24 experience having competed in the race in 1997.
“It’s good to be back,” Ward said. “I’m still learning. I’ve never driven these cars and it’s been 12 years since I’ve been on a road course. We just need more seat time, all of us.”
Grey’s Anatomy star turned sports car racer Patrick Dempsey made a couple of announcements in the Infield Media Center on Sunday.
Dempsey says the team, formally known as Hyper Sport, will compete in the Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 under the Dempsey Racing banner and Avon will serve as the team’s sponsor for the Rolex 24. Dempsey will be promoting Avon’s efforts for breast cancer awareness through their charity walks.
“Real men can do pink,” Dempsey said of the black, white and pink Mazda RX-8.
Dempsey, Joe Foster, Charles Espenlaub, Jep Thornton and a yet to be named fifth driver will round out the driving team for the Mazda RX-8 that will compete in the GT class.
Dempsey made his first Rolex 24 start in 2008. He did have a mishap exiting pit road but finished a respectable 39th overall.
“I think it helps to have an understanding of what the entire 24 hours is going to be like,” Dempsey said. “Last year, I didn’t really have an understanding. Certainly, getting out the pits was my first realization. Every time I go out, I’m much slower and careful.
“I think that has a lot do with it, knowing what it’s going to take as far as what the various stages are (of the race) and just relax into it keeping a pace that is going to conserve the equipment and just stay out of trouble and keep running and hopefully we can be there at the end.”
Test session concludes on Monday
: The Rolex 24 test session wraps up on Monday with more than 50 sports cars in attendance.
Monday session running from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. All the test sessions are open to the public with access to the infield, Sprint FANZONE and garage. Tickets, which are $10, are available online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or at the gate.
Rolex 24 At Daytona tickets are on sale now. If purchased by Jan. 9, race fans can save $15 per ticket. Special pricing is available for admission tickets including access to both infield and general admission grandstands. Regular price is $55 – advance price when purchased before Jan. 9 is now only $40. To order, call 1-800-PITSHOP or go online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com