DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., - The three-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test session at Daytona International Speedway, the major tune up for GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and Continental Sports Car Challenge teams for the Rolex 24 weekend, wrapped up on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
The three-day test session for both the 48th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 30-31 as well as the Fresh From Florida 200 Continental Sports Car Challenge race on Friday, Jan. 29 saw close to 100 sports cars turning laps on the legendary 3.56-mile road course.
The test had plenty of star power. In attendance were NASCAR stars such as Bobby Labonte, AJ Allmendinger, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya, open-wheel champions Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti and the best from the sports cars world with Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, Hurley Haywood, David Donohue and Max Angelelli.
One of the more unique stories of the test was Britain’s Derek Johnston, the inaugural winner of the Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge.
In addition to winning the Radical Series championship in his native United Kingdom, Johnston turned in a higher average score (based on finishing position, pole positions and fastest race laps) than 97 other contestants in four British championships to capture the Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge in 2009.
His prize is a funded seat in a Daytona Prototype in the 2010 Rolex 24 and during the Roar, he was able to test for the first time his new ride – the No. 77 Doran Racing Ford Dallara – that he will share the driving duties with Memo Gidley and Fabrizio Gollin.
During this weekend’s test, he experienced a variety of racing conditions with the unusually cold Florida weather.
“There’s nothing like being thrown in the deep end and that’s clearly what this is,” Johnston said. “We’ve had difficult conditions with the weather, with running times with other cars, with the tires. I experienced the dark (for the first time). The experiences can only do you good.”
Johnston, who previously tested Daytona in December with the Spirit of Daytona, experienced driving from the left side of the car for the first time in the No. 77 entry.
“One of the biggest changes is sitting on the left,” Johnston said. “I’ve never driven a race car with a left turn seat, let alone around Daytona. It’s a bit scary when you were coming up the banking having to pass some of the GT cars, not really sure how much car you’ve got on the right hand side. I think that was the biggest thing to get use to but now I think it’s perfect.”
Johnston praised his owner Kevin Doran and his crew for the work they put in to the car and feels prepared for the Rolex 24.
“I’m ready for the Rolex (24),” Johnston said. “I’ve always been ready for the Rolex (24) since the day I won (the Challenge). It’s an awesome thing to do. Kevin and the team are real good. They know how to prepare a car. There are only a few guys on the team and they all know exactly what to do. They are real professional.”
Next up at Daytona International Speedway is NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest on Jan. 15-16, which will feature the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series participating in autograph sessions and fan forums.
Tickets for the Rolex 24 At Daytona as well as the rest of the events at Daytona International Speedway are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by call 1-800-PITSHOP. Stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter (www.twitter.com/disupdates) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/DaytonaInternationalSpeedway)