DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A trio of new Corvette Daytona Prototypes shared the spotlight with new cars from Ferrari and Audi as a two-day GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series test opened at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 28-29, 2012.
Testing concludes Tuesday, with cars on track from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
One of the most eagerly anticipated debuts at the test was the new Ferrari 458 Italia Grand Am, of which there were three at Daytona on Tuesday. Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato, the 2009 Rolex Series GT co-champions, will share a Ferrari 458 Italia for the entire 2012 season with AIM Autosport, and Segal and longtime co-driver Nick Longhi turned the car’s first laps on Tuesday.
Risi Competizione (with drivers Raphael Matos and Toni Vilander) and Extreme Speed Motorsports (Scott Sharp, Ed Brown, Guy Cosmo and Johannes van Overbeek) ran their first Rolex Series test with the Ferrari F458 Italia Grand Am as well. Also making its Daytona debut was the new Audi R8 GRAND-AM, which was being put through its paces by Audi factory driver Frank Stippler.
Stealing the spotlight in DP was Felipe Nasr, who was quickest in the unofficial session driving the No. 58 Action Express Porsche/Riley at 1:41.286. The 2011 British Formula 3 champion, Nasr outpointed drivers from three European series to win the Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge, earning a DP drive and testing for the Rolex 24.
Action Express Motorsports had a pair of new Corvette DPs, the No. 5 for David Donohue and Darren Law, joining the No. 9 of Joao Barbosa, Terry Borcheller and JC France. Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor debuted the No. 10 SunTrust Corvette DP. Antonio Garcia and Oliver Gavin returned in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP that was unveiled at Daytona three weeks ago.
-- Defending Rolex 24 class winner Spencer Pumpelly led the GT class with a lap of 1:49.437 in the No. 67 TRG Porsche GT3. The No. 67 is one of five Porsches being fielded at the test by TRG.
-- In the lone incident of the seven-hour session, Gary St. Amour went off course in the chicane and damaged the front end of the No. 55 Acumen Motorsport Porsche GT3. The car has been repaired and will be ready for Wednesday’s session.
-- Michael Marsal filled in for Paul Dalla Lana in the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW M3, joining Bill Auberlen and Boris Said. Dalla Lana, who had a business commitment, recently became the first GRAND-AM driver to win the prestigious BMW Sports Trophy as the marquee’s top independent driver. He came out on top in a field of 235 participants to win the award, presented for the 50th time at BMW headquarters in Munich, Germany.
-- Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip is expected to test a TRG Porsche GT3 on Wednesday. AF Waltrip, being run in collaboration with Italy’s AF Corse team, has already entered a Ferrari F458 Italia Grand Am in the Rolex 24.
-- The new Racers Edge Motorsports Dodge Viper did not participate in Tuesday’s session as the team worked at its DeLand, Fla. shop on the car’s new paddle shift system. The bright red Viper arrived at the track late Tuesday afternoon, and is expected to test on Wednesday.
-- “Wow! I didn’t expect these cars to be so quick. Obviously this is a big difference from F3 with the weight, the power and the brakes, but I found this car awesome to drive. This is such a great series and I absolutely can’t wait to race here. The Action Express team did a great getting the car ready and I absolutely have to thank Ozz Negri for all of his help. I had such a great day today.” Felipe Nasr, No. 58 Action Express Racing Porsche/Riley
-- “This has been a thrash, because we only got the new Ferrari three days ago. But we felt it was important for us to be here and learn more about the car. That will make the January test more productive and have us better prepared for the Rolex 24. This is a big step for Extreme Speed Motorsports, and it’s nice to have all four drivers in one car. Winning the Rolex 24 (in 1996) was one of my highest accolades. The depth of drivers here is unbelievable, and it’s very prestigious to be part of it.” Scott Sharp, No. 03 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia Grand Am.
-- “We still have to sort some things out because this is the first time the car’s been out here with the new specifications regarding the aero and downforce. I really would like to drive the Rolex 24 and I would love if everything works out, but nothing has been finalized yet. There are a lot of interesting manufacturers in GRAND-AM like Ferrari, BMW and Porsche and it’s great that Audi is going to compete with them.” Frank Stippler, No. 51 Audi R8 GRAND-AM
-- "It’s good to be back in the Rolex Series, and I’m happy to be here with Magnus Racing. They’re one of the youngest teams in the paddock that wants to win the most. It’s been a productive day. John Potter, who will be my co-driver for the season, was fast right out of the box this morning, and that’s extremely encouraging for a team looking to contend for the championship.” Andy Lally, No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3.
-- “This is Ferrari from the factory making a statement, saying, ‘We care about the Rolex 24. We want to win this race. We’ve designed a car for this series. Let’s go do it.’ You’re only going to see four teams here at the Rolex 24 representing Ferrari. To be driving one of those four cars is amazing. It’s the experience of a lifetime.” Jeff Segal, No. 69 AIM Autosport Ferrari F458 Italia Grand Am
-- “There’s a long way to go between now and the Rolex 24, but we’re certainly going to take a shot at repeating our GT victory. Spencer (Pumpelly) and I are going to race the full season in the Rolex Series, and TRG is an incredible team. This is a brand new car, and it’s been quick right out of the box. It’s great to see all the new cars out there – the new Ferraris are going to be tough.” Steve Bertheau, No. 67 TRG Porsche GT3
-- “The last time I drove here was in 2007 and I have to tell you, I have done some PA announcing here, but being in the car is a lot cooler. You get here at Daytona and the first lap you’re just feeling out the changes; the second lap you go a little faster; the third lap you start to grin; and about the seventh or eighth lap I was like – I love this place! Depending on how we do and some sponsorship we may be able to run the whole season. This whole team came together about 14 months ago. We have a car, we have a team, we have the bits and pieces. We had a little excursion today, but those things happen. We’ll be back out tomorrow.” Frank DelVecchio, No. 55 Acumen Motorsport Porsche GT3
The next official activity for the Rolex Series will be the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 6-8. The 2012 Rolex Series opens with the Jan 28-29 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona.