DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., -- The Roar Before The Rolex 24, the three-day test session for the historic 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 28-29, concluded on Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.
Between GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, 112 cars tackled the twists and turns of Daytona’s road course preparing for the Rolex 24 At Daytona Weekend.
In the Rolex Sports Car Series, the new Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototypes got off to a solid start by posting the fastest speed during the three-day test. The No. 10 SunTrust Racing Chevrolet Corvette posted the fastest speed of the test with driver Max Angelelli – 126.713 mph – on Sunday. Overall, the Chevrolet Corvettes took the top five spots in the cumulative speed charts. The No. 63 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 was fastest among the GT class entries with a speed of 117.321 mph and driver Toni Vilander on Saturday.
The Rolex Sports Car Series and the Continental Tire teams will next return to Daytona International Speedway to celebrate the golden anniversary for America’s most prestigious sports car event on Jan. 26-29.
And while the every driver and team wants the distinction of winning the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24, the preparation for the grueling and demanding race doesn’t change.
“It’s still 24 hours,” said Graham Rahal, who was part of last year’s overall winning No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing driver team. “It’s still fighting for a Rolex at the end of it. I don’t think it changes the way we approach anything at all. We really want to win this one of course being the 50th but you want to win any of them.”
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has won four of the past six Rolex 24s and will be one of the pre-race favorites with a two-car effort. Rahal and the entire No. 01 driving team of Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Joey Hand are returning to defend their victory while the No. 02 BMW Riley will be driven by Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray.
For Rahal, it’s a thrill to enter the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 as the defending champions with the same co-drivers.
“It’s great to be back,” Rahal said. “My dad (Bobby Rahal) won it 30 years before I did and certainly to be part of the winning team last year meant a lot. It’s one of the greatest events in the world. There are very few events that you can count on one hand that you would want to be a part of and this is one of them. This really world wide starts the racing season for the year and you’ve got the who’s who of racing all around here at this event.
“To be back in the 01 car, there’s a lot of history in this car and a lot of winners. To be led by Scott and Memo, there’s no better way to going to into this race. We won it last year and we know what we have to do.”
Rahal’s father Bobby, who captured the 1981 Rolex 24, will be among the former overall winning Rolex 24 drivers returning to attend the race. In addition, the Speedway will have more than 30 past overall winning championship cars on display
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Rahal said. “To be here and see the winning cars I think is exciting. To know that my name is on that list of winners is a great accomplishment and certainly I’m honored to be a part of it. With the 50th anniversary, it’s going to be fun to be here. To be a part of this team, you know that when you come here, you have a shot to win. It’s great to go to a race track and know that.”
Dempsey and Johnson: The Roar Before The Rolex 24 also showcased actor Patrick Dempsey and AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson, who were turning laps with their teams in preparation for the twice-around-the-clock endurance challenge.
Dempsey, who finished on the podium in the GT class in last year’s Rolex 24, is returning for his fifth Rolex 24 start. Meanwhile Johnson is making first Rolex 24 start and first GRAND-AM start in the No. 50 50+Predator/Alegra BMW Riley.
Dempsey’s No. 40 Mazda was 33rd in the GT class on the cumulative speed charts while Johnson’s No. 50 BMW Riley was 13th among Daytona Prototypes.
Franchitti’s favorite: In addition to battling for another Rolex 24 victory, Franchitti is excited about the return of the past overall championship cars. The car on top of his list to check out is the No. 96 Arciero Racing Lotus-Climax 19B from the inaugural Rolex 24 (then known as the Daytona Continental) in 1962.
“The Dan Gurney car,” Franchitti said. “I’ve actually sat in that. I haven’t driven it yet. I was supposed to drive that at Monterey last year but I think there was a gear box problem which I believe is quite common with that Lotus.”
Next up: Daytona Preseason Thunder testing sessions are set for this Thursday through Saturday as the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series test the high banks in advance of the 54th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26.
The Preseason Thunder Fan Fest sessions are scheduled for Thursday and Friday and include autograph sessions, driver question and answer sessions, show cars and displays, music and a photo opportunity with the 2012 Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 trophy. In addition, fans can ride the high banks under the lights by purchasing a Richard Petty Driving Experience ride along.
Tickets for Daytona Preseason Thunder Fan Fest are $20 and available by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com. Children 12 and under will receive free admission.
Tickets for the Rolex 24 At Daytona are on sale, along with the rest of Speedweeks events. To purchase tickets, go online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by call 1-800-PITSHOP.
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