Nov 11 | Rolex 24 Flashback: Guest Stars' Mantra: Have Fun, But See the Big Picture

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With its late-January date making the Rolex 24 at Daytona the kickoff event of the international motorsports calendar, recent races have featured a bevy of star-name guest drivers filling the third, fourth and fifth driver roles alongside full-season Grand-Am Rolex Series competitors.

Rahal and Pruett

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- With its late-January date making the Rolex 24 at Daytona the kickoff event of the international motorsports calendar, recent races have featured a bevy of star-name guest drivers filling the third, fourth and fifth driver roles alongside full-season Grand-Am Rolex Series competitors.

That makes it equally exciting and challenging for those NASCAR, IndyCar and other series participants who get thrown into the lion’s den and then have to do their part to help their respective squads in this prestigious, twice-around-the-clock test of speed and endurance.

Graham Rahal, whose day job is pilot of the Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar, took the 2011 overall win, sharing with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Joey Hand, in the No. 01 Riley-BMW of Telmex Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

Far from it being a “win or bust” weekend of fun and no pressure for the “ringers,” Rahal explains a mindset the Daytona “outsiders” have to adopt going into the race weekend.

“Your main goal and the objective is to hand the car off to the next guy in the same condition that you jumped in it,” he says. “You want to make sure you’re taking care of the car while going as quickly as possible. You’re not the only guy, and any mistake you may make can affect everyone else.”

That, along with the obvious power, weight and design differences between running an open-wheeled IndyCar and a closed-cockpit Daytona Prototype or GT sports car, represents the major challenges going into the race.

“Really, the biggest thing is this [Daytona Prototype] drives a lot different, as it’s much bigger, but with less horsepower,” he explains. “You notice those things straight away. They handle fairly well, but it’s a lot different to an IndyCar.”

Rahal had driven three previous Rolex 24s (2006 through ’08), so he’s no stranger to ending the offseason by jumping into a very different car. In 2011, one of the most important aspects of the race was integrating into the CGR environment – it marked his debut for the multi-series organization before embarking on a full IndyCar Series season with them.

“It is a wakeup call for that to be your first event,” he says. “Knowing the success the team has had at Daytona, and being paired with three sports car aces, it wasn’t an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. But it was a great way to start a partnership that I hope will last for long time.

“Scott’s the expert,” he continues. “He’s the man when it comes to driving. You can learn a lot from him, and you need to. You always act as a sponge and soak up as much information as you can. That’s hugely beneficial. For me, coming into it, knowing the success they had had, I had to make sure I played a role in achieving more success rather than the opposite.”

As a professional, and with official test days in January and practice days in the lead-up to the event, Rahal says shaking the offseason cobwebs off should be fairly easy and fast to do. While the outsiders want to play a positive role, they also don’t want to do anything stupid that could compromise the full-season efforts of drivers and teams running for the championship.

Some teams, like Ganassi has done in years past, will put together an “all-star” roster of drivers comprised solely of drivers from different series in a DP or GT car, so as not to jeopardize the main championship entry. In 2011, the lineup in the No. 02 car comprised three Indy 500 winners and a Daytona 500 winner, in the shape of CGR-contracted drivers Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray. Serious juice.

But as the new kid on the CGR block, Rahal was given the added pressure of being put into CGR’s full-season car (coincidentally, a situation he’d also been in for his other three previous Daytona 24 appearances with other teams). Obviously, lining up alongside the guys going for a season-long championship – namely, Pruett and Rojas – means the guest drivers have a greater responsibility than a “go for broke” non-championship car. Not that the bigger picture meant they weren’t looking for a victory.

“I loved the approach on the 01 car; with Scott, we were there to win,” he says. “Everyone wants to go have fun, but having fun is winning races. Really, that’s what we were all focused on and why we had the success we did.

“Sure, you can say the other car is ‘all-stars’ with Scott, Dario, Juan and Jamie and they can just go all-out, all the time. But, really, the reason we won was not making any contact. That’s a big part of it. It’s a fun way for us as a team to start developing the relationship and having some fun. We were fortunate we did that this past year.”

The race, regardless of result, helps to set the tone for the year in building team chemistry from an operations standpoint. Rahal says what he took from Daytona this year, although the crewmembers for Ganassi’s Grand-Am effort focus on that, as opposed to IndyCar, helped him for the rest of 2011.

As for his Rolex? It’s been a nice display piece to this point, and has not yet been worn.

“It’s the best of gifts really, for winning an event like that after 24 hours,” he says. “I never wear mine and have never worn it. To me, it’s so beautiful to look at. I’d love to win a couple more so I could wear one, but the first one’s always going to mean the most. It’s a pretty special group to be a part of, and so special to open a watch drawer and see that.”

CGR has yet to announce its driver rosters for the defense of its 2011 Rolex 24 title, but it’s not out of the question that Rahal could once again play an integral role. Maybe that second Rolex watch isn’t too far away?

Nov 08 | 1966 Rolex 24 Overall Champion Ford Mark II Added to 50th Anniversary Display

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The No. 98 Ford GT Mark II that captured the 1966 Rolex 24 At Daytona will join the display of past overall Rolex 24 At Daytona championship cars to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the twice-around-the-clock challenge on Jan. 28-29.

1966 Rolex 24 Car

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The No. 98 Ford GT Mark II that captured the 1966 Rolex 24 At Daytona is the latest addition to the display of overall Rolex 24 At Daytona championship cars which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the twice-around-the-clock challenge on January 28-29, 2012.

When the race was first held in 1962, known then as the Daytona Continental, it was a three-hour race before expanding to 2,000 kilometers in 1964.  Two years later the prestigious event was lengthened again to become the first accredited 24-hour international sports car race in the U.S. 

Driving the No. 98 Fort GT Mark II, Lloyd Ruby and Ken Miles kept to a schedule of double shifts (three hours) and no sleep on their way to their second straight victory.  The duo led nearly every lap of the 1966 Rolex 24 and won by a margin of eight laps, completing 679 laps at an average speed of 108.02 mph.  The victory was part of a 1-2-3 Ford Mark II finish with Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant in second place and Walt Hansgen and Mark Donohue in third.

The No. 98 Ford GT Mark II joins the growing field of historic championship cars in the display:
• The No. 96 Arciero Racing Lotus-Climax 19B  from the inaugural Rolex 24 (then known as the Daytona Continental) in 1962
• The Porsche 907 from the 1968 Rolex 24
• The No. 98 Eagle GTP from the 1993 Rolex 24
• The Preston Henn Porsches from the 1983 and 1985 Rolex 24s
• The No. 6 Lola T70 Chevrolet from the 1969 Rolex 24
• The No. 9 Bob Garretson’s Style Auto Porsche 935 from the 1981 Rolex 24 At Daytona
• The No. 43 Porsche 911 RSR from the 1977 Rolex 24
• The No. 18 JLP Porsche 935 from the 1982 Rolex 24

Additional cars will be announced as they are secured to be part of this one-of-a-kind display.

The Rolex 24 At Daytona, the kick-off event to Speedweeks 2012 as well as the international motorsports calendar, showcases the world’s best drivers competing against each other lap after lap for 24 hours on Daytona International Speedway’s challenging and demanding 3.56-mile road course.

Tickets for the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona are on sale online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.

Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter (www.twitter.com/disupdates) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/DaytonaInternationalSpeedway). 

Nov 07 | DIS, Predator Performance/50+ Racing Team Up On Special Rolex 24 Ticket Package

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AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson, Predator Performance/50+ Racing teammates ready to rock with fans at the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24.

Predator Performance/50+ Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Daytona International Speedway has partnered with Predator Performance/50+ Racing to create a special ticket package to commemorate the team’s participation in the historic 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 28-29.

Brian Johnson, vintage racing competitor and lead singer for popular rock band AC/DC, along with Byron DeFoor will make their first career Rolex 24 start in a Riley Daytona Prototype with past champions Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Jim Pace and Carlos de Quesada.

Available for $59 per ticket, the Predator Performance/50+ Racing ticket package for the Rolex 24 At Daytona includes:

  • Two-day infield/grandstand admission (Saturday, Jan. 28 and Sunday, Jan. 29)
  • Exclusive fan forum with Predator Performance/50+ Racing drivers on Saturday morning prior to the start of the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona
  • Predator Performance/50+ Racing hero card

A portion of the proceeds from each ticket sold will benefit the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer, a charity chosen by Predator Performance/50+ Racing.

Johnson, a native of England who now resides in Sarasota, has been the lead singer for AC/DC since 1980. The iconic band is one of the highest grossing music groups of all time and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. A racing enthusiast, Johnson competes in vintage races throughout the U.S. when his touring schedule allows.

DeFoor, a Chattanooga, Tenn., businessman, owns and races numerous high-horsepower Can-Am race cars and BMW GT cars.
Rounding out the driver lineup will be three former champions of the grueling twice-around-the-clock challenge. Forbes-Robinson has made 22 Rolex 24 starts and scored overall wins with Dyson Racing in 1997 and 1999. Pace has made 13 Rolex 24 starts and captured an overall victory with Wayne Taylor and Scott Sharp in 1996. A native of Florida, de Quesada is a Rolex Series veteran and captured the GT class win in the 2007 Rolex 24.

Space is limited for the Predator Performance/50+ Racing ticket package. To purchase tickets, call 1-800-PITSHOP or visit www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com

The Rolex 24 At Daytona, the kick-off event to Speedweeks 2012 as well as the international motorsports calendar, showcases the world’s best drivers competing against each other lap after lap for 24 hours on Daytona International Speedway’s challenging and demanding 3.56-mile road course.

Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter (www.twitter.com/disupdates) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/DaytonaInternationalSpeedway).

Nov 04 | Danica Patrick to compete in the 2012 Daytona 500

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Danica Patrick will make her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the prestigious season-opening 54th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26.

Danica Patrick

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Danica Patrick will make her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the prestigious season-opening 54th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26.

Patrick, who will compete full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports in 2012, announced on Friday afternoon that her limited Sprint Cup Series schedule with Stewart Haas Racing will kick off with “The Great American Race.”

“Each year, the Daytona 500 produces unforgettable moments that forever change the lives of fans and drivers,” Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said.  “As Danica embarks on her first start in ‘The Great American Race,’ she may want to talk with 2011 champion Trevor Bayne, who might be able to share some pointers for first timers. We wish her well and are excited about her participation in the NASCAR’s biggest and most prestigious event – the Daytona 500.”

Patrick will become just the third woman to compete in the Daytona 500 when she takes the green flag in February. Janet Guthrie made two Daytona 500 starts in 1977 and 1980, finishing 12th and 11th respectively. Shawna Robinson finished 24th in her lone Daytona 500 start in 2002.

Patrick made her stock car and NASCAR debuts on the storied 31-degree high banks at Daytona International Speedway during Speedweeks 2010. She finished sixth in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 ARCA race and 35th in her first Nationwide Series race.

Most recently at the “World Center of Racing,” Patrick led five times for 13 laps in the Subway Jalapeno 250 Powered By Coca-Cola Nationwide Series race in July before getting caught up in an incident in the tri-oval coming to the checkered flag and finishing 10th.

Tickets for the 54th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26 as well as other Speedweeks 2012 events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP

New for the 2012 Daytona 500 is special youth pricing.  Children 12 and under will receive 50 percent off all Superstretch grandstand seats for the Daytona 500 with the purchase of an adult ticket.  The special offer expires Feb. 1.

Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway’s social media channels on Twitter (www.twitter.com/disupdates) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/DaytonaInternationalSpeedway).

Danica Patrick at Daytona International Speedway
Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 (ARCA)
2010 Started 12th and finished sixth

Daytona 300 (NASCAR Nationwide Series, February)
2010 Started 15th and finished 35th
2011 Started fourth and finished 14th

Subway Jalapeno 250 Powered By Coca-Cola (NASCAR Nationwide Series, July)
2011 Started seventh and finished 10th

Rolex 24 At Daytona
2006 Started 16th and finished 50th. Co-drove with Rusty Wallace, Allan McNish and Jan Lammers
2009 Started 18th and finished eighth. Co-drove with Andy Wallace, Rob Finlay and Casey Mears

Nov 04 | Rolex 24 Flashback: The Gathering of the Clans: Andretti vs. Unser in '91

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Like many of the best ideas, this one came about in a bar. But having a great idea and successfully pulling it off can be two very different things. Especially when the plan involves getting the foremost names from two great U.S. motorsport dynasties, the Andrettis and the Unsers, to race against each other in a sports car superteam at one of the world's biggest endurance races, the 1991 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

1991 Rolex 24

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Like many of the best ideas, this one came about in a bar.

But having a great idea and successfully pulling it off can be two very different things. Especially when the plan involves getting the foremost names from two great U.S. motorsport dynasties, the Andrettis and the Unsers, to race against each other in a sports car superteam at one of the world's biggest endurance races, the 1991 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Yeah, good luck on that one…

The architect of this ambitious program was Jochen Dauer, racer, entrant and font of good ideas. (Just three years later, his Dauer Porsche 962 “road car” would win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the hands of the Porsche factory.) 

The German had already had a couple of Unsers – Al Jr. and cousin Robby – aboard one of his Porsche 962s at Daytona in 1990 and decided, while enjoying a few “adult beverages” one evening, that if you could have two Unsers then you might as well have four.

Dauer claims credit for this initial idea. “We were in a bar near the Nurburgring,” he says. “And it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

The concept was moved on by the team manager at Jochen Dauer Racing, expatriot Briton Steve Charsley, who takes up the story: “After a bottle of champagne or two to celebrate our good idea, I said, ‘We can't do this. It will be rude because it will upset the Andrettis.’ So Jochen said, ‘We'll just have to run two cars then, one for the Unsers and one for the Andrettis.’”

Dauer’s links with the Unsers and Charsley’s with the Andrettis (he’d been crew chief for Mario and Michael during their sports car forays back in 1983) meant contact was quickly made with the two racing families.

“I phoned the Andrettis’ manager, Don Henderson, and ran it past him, and that opened up a meeting at Elkhart Lake at the CART event. They verbally signed up there and then. The Andrettis were in and so were the Unsers. It took me just 90 days from the idea to getting all the contracts signed.”

Mario Andretti remembers being immediately attracted by the unusual proposal.

"We always had a friendly rivalry with the Unsers and figured we'd have a bit of fun," he says. "We always like to give each other a bit of needle in a friendly way, so Jochen's idea was very attractive."

Dauer’s plan was to run Mario, his sons Michael and Jeff, and, before a clash of sponsorship intervened, nephew John in the Andretti car, with Al Sr. and Jr., Bobby and son Robby in the Unser entry. The next question was to find someone to pay for the ambitious program that, at one stage at least, looked set to include a full IMSA campaign with the younger drivers from each family entered in a car apiece.

“It was a case of build it and they will come,” says Charsley, who today is North American vice-president at Lola Cars International. “We believed that we had enough time and that the program was large enough that we could sell the idea.”

Charsley was right. Mario Andretti arranged a meeting with long time backer Texaco, which caught the team by surprise by asking for its Havoline brand to be the primary sponsor on the 1978 Formula 1 World Champion’s car.

“Mario said that we needed to talk to Texaco because they wanted an involvement,” recalls Charsley. “I remember going to the hotel lobby while we were at the Laguna Seca CART race. They asked how much it would cost, and I showed them a few options for 30 or 40 grand. They turned around and said, ‘No no, we want to sponsor the whole car’. I wasn't ready for that, so we had to arrange another meeting.”

Computer giant Olivetti was lined up as a sponsor for the Unser clan, although events in the Middle East, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, meant it provided only limited assistance, resulting in the car running largely unsponsored at Daytona.

Another potential taker as the plan came together over the second half of 1990 was Mercedes-Benz, which was in the process of wrapping up that year’s World Sports-Prototype Championship.

“We approached Mercedes and they were very excited about the program. The Mercedes C11 Group C car wasn't legal in the U.S., so I got on the phone to IMSA and spoke to Mark Raffauf [today director of competition at Grand-Am] and said, ‘Can I bring a Mercedes to the U.S.?’ He said that if I could get Mercedes into IMSA, he’d find a way to accommodate them.”

The Mercedes plan eventually came to nothing, so Dauer went back to the original idea of running a pair of Porsche 962s. Two new customer-spec cars were ordered from Porsche and Dauer came up with its own bodywork, which was produced by the Arrows Formula 1 team.

Ian Dawson, who was brought in to manage the Andretti entry, remembers no expense being spared. “The cars had the best of everything,” he explains. “We even had an early telemetry system. It was an ambitious project – perhaps a little too ambitious.”

That ambition and a shortfall in funding for the Unser car, which ran in plain white at the 24 Hours, meant the cars were behind schedule. The Dauer team missed the pre-event Daytona test early in January and the cars arrived in Florida late after getting stuck in customs, the result of the outbreak of the Gulf War just days before the 24 Hours.

“The cars weren’t quite ready when they arrived in the U.S., and I remember a few all-nighters in the lead up to the race,” says Dawson. “But they were quick.”

So much so that Michael Andretti was able to make rapid progress from sixth in the starting field to take a short-lived lead in the No. 00 Porsche on the opening lap. He was back in the lead on lap nine, before settling down to complete the opening stint in third place.

However, the Andretti's bid for Daytona glory had started to go off the rails even before Michael handed over to his father. He reported a misfire that would eventually lead to a long stop in the second hour. This and what Charsley calls "other little gremlins" resulted in the Andrettis falling 17 laps off the lead.

The Unsers, running with No. 0 on their Porsche, also led briefly, but their Rolex 24 ended early when Robby crashed going up onto the banking in the night, reportedly as a result of the one working headlight failing. The Andrettis, however, had the right car for the conditions.

"I remember Michael insisting on a lot of downforce," says Mario, "and when it was wet in the night that really helped us."

The No. 00 Porsche fought its way back up to seventh by midnight and was third when dawn broke on Sunday morning, though admittedly nine laps down on the leader. That became second when the best of the Nissans ran into problems, and then first when the Andrettis swept into the lead, passing the No. 7 Joest Porsche driven by Frank Jelinski, Bob Wollek, Henri Pescarolo, Hurley Haywood and “John Winter” shortly after nine o'clock.

The remarkable comeback soon ran into problems as Mario had to bring the car into the pits when a flywheel bolt sheered. The resulting stop, lasting more than 70 minutes, left the Dauer Porsche in fifth, which was where it would eventually be classified. In fact, the car was running fourth when the engine expired in the closing stages, but it had completed enough laps, 56 laps behind the winning No. 7Joest entry, to be classified fifth.

"That car was easily fast enough to win," recalls Dawson. "We were flying during the night and the Porsche guys were going mad because they thought we were going too fast. We should have won, and won it well."

Still, not a bad effort for an idea dreamed up in a bar…

Nov 01 | NASCAR Sprint Cup teams to test on Nov. 15

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will test at Daytona International Speedway in an effort to evaluate and prepare aerodynamic baseline packages for 2012 Preseason Thunder.

Goodyear tire testing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will test at Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday, Nov. 15 in an effort to evaluate and prepare aerodynamic baseline packages for Preseason Thunder on January 12-14. Teams will be on track from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. There is a 30-minute lunch break scheduled at 1 p.m.

Teams scheduled to participate include: Hendrick Motorsports (two cars with drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Aric Almirola); Roush Fenway Racing (two cars with drivers David Ragan and Marcos Ambrose); Joe Gibbs Racing (one car with driver Joey Logano), Michael Waltrip Racing (one car with driver Martin Truex Jr.), and NEMCO Motorsports (one car with driver Joe Nemechek).

A section of the Oldfield Grandstands will be open free to the public with access available through the lobby of the Daytona International Speedway ticket office.

Tickets for the 54th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26 as well as other Speedweeks 2012 events can be purchased online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. New for the 2012 Daytona 500 is special youth pricing.  Children 12 and under will receive 50 percent off all Superstretch grandstand seats for the Daytona 500.  The special offer expires Feb. 1.

 

 

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