Amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve teams have been busy putting the finishing touches on their Daytona Prototypes and GT machines, and with good reason. Just four days after the calendar turns from 2006 to 2007, those teams and race cars will be at Daytona International Speedway for the annual Daytona Test Days, scheduled for January 4-6.
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A field of 67 Rolex Series machines¿including 28 Daytona Prototypes and 39 GT cars¿have been entered to participate in Daytona Test Days, many of which will carry at least one champion in some form of motorsport and several carrying established stars in either sports car, stock car and/or open wheel racing.
Although many teams have not formally unveiled their driver lineups¿and several will announce their plans during Daytona Test Days¿the entry list already includes plenty of "big names." With an eye toward defending their 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona title, Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champions Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon have been entered for the test in the No. 02 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley.
Wheldon and Dixon join 2004 Rolex Series Daytona Prototype champion Scott Pruett in a two-car effort for the Ganassi operation. Pruett is currently listed as the only driver for the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley. However, both the No. 01 and No. 02 teams will definitely include additional drivers for the Rolex 24¿and likely the test¿as Rolex Series rules require a minimum of three and a maximum of five drivers for the twice-around-the-clock event.
Another team certain to attract a lot of attention at Daytona Test Days is the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley operation for four-time NASCAR Cup champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon and 2005 Rolex 24 overall winners and Daytona Prototype champions Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor. Gordon, who will compete in the Rolex 24 for the first time in 2007, completed his first test in a Daytona Prototype at Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier this month, but Daytona Test Days will provide his first opportunity to sample the challenging, 3.56-mile road course at the "World Center of Racing."
Gordon is one of four NASCAR Cup champions expected to participate in Test Days. Recently-crowned NEXTEL Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is entered in the No. 91 Lowe's Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley alongside Jim Matthews, Marc Goossens and Ryan Hunter-Reay; two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart is listed on the No. 20 Howard Motorsports Pontiac Crawford alongside multi-time Rolex 24 At Daytona overall winners Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger; while 2000 Cup champ Bobby Labonte is expected to participate with Finlay Motorsports. The Riley-Matthews team is expecting Johnson to complete at least one day of testing despite a wrist injury that sidelined the driver earlier this month.Like the all-star NASCAR group, Dixon and Wheldon aren't the only stars from the open-wheel galaxy on the entry list. Three-time IndyCar Series champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. and two-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves are entered
to share the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley with Daytona Prototype regulars Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri Jr. Michael Shank Racing will also feature two other drivers who made names for themselves in open-wheel racing, as 2003 Champ Car champion Paul Tracy and Champ Car star turned NEXTEL Cup Series rookie A.J. Allmendinger have been entered alongside Ian James and Henri Zogaib in the team's No. 6 Lexus Riley.
The entry list features five Indianapolis 500 winners. Joining Hornish (2006), Wheldon (2005) and Castroneves (2001 and 2002) are 2004 winner Buddy Rice and 1998 champion Eddie Cheever Jr. Rice has been entered to co-drive the No. 58 Red Bull/Brumos Racing Porsche Riley with Rolex Series regulars Darren Law and David Donohue and 1996 IndyCar Series co-champion Scott Sharp. Owner/driver Cheever, meanwhile, returns to the cockpit of his No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve/Cheever Racing Porsche Crawford alongside 2004 Rolex 24 At Daytona overall winner Christian Fittipaldi.
Other open-wheel stars entered include 1996 Champ Car World Series champion Jimmy Vasser, who is entered in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley with co-drivers Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Bob Stallings; 2006 Champ Car rookie standout Katherine Legge in the No. 84 Robinson Racing Pontiac Riley with George Robinson and Wally and Paul Dallenbach; and Champ Car veteran Alex Tagliani in the No. 15 Blackforest Motorsports Ford Mustang GT with co-drivers Tom Nastasi, Guy Cosmo and Lou Gigliotti in the GT class.
Plenty of sports car stars will also be present and accounted for at Daytona Test Days. Among the confirmed drivers are five-time overall Rolex 24 winner Hurley Haywood, who returns to the No. 59 Brumos Porsche Riley to test with JC France, Roberto Moreno and Joao Barbosa; two-time Rolex Series class champion Bill Auberlen, who will share the No. 05 Sigalsport BMW Riley with Mathew Alhadeff, Gene Sigal and Karl Wendlinger; and rising stars Colin Braun and Michael Valiante, who return to Krohn Racing and Finlay Motorsports, respectively, to make a run at the 2007 championship.
Braun will share the No. 76 Krohn Racing Ford Riley with 2004 Daytona Prototype co-champion Max Papis and former Formula 1 pilot JJ Lehto, while Michael Valiante is entered in the No. 19 Z-Line/Make-a-Wish Ford Crawford with team owner Rob Finlay, Rolex Series overall race winner Michael McDowell and Labonte. Krohn Racing will field a second Daytona Prototype at the test for team owner Tracy Krohn and Nic Jönsson, with Boris Said joining the duo for the Rolex 24.
New York native Rob Dyson¿the 1997 overall Rolex 24 winner¿is entered in the No. 16 Howard Motorsports Pontiac Crawford alongside his son, Chris, as well as Englishmen Guy Smith and Oliver Gavin. 2003 Daytona Prototype champion Terry Borcheller also is scheduled to participate, listed alongside Germans Uwe Alzen and Robert Renauer and Argentina's Gaston Mazzacane in the No. 18 XM Satellite Radio Porsche Fabcar for VICI Racing.
AIM Autosport returns in 2007 with a strong driver lineup in its No. 61 Lexus Riley. Lead driver Mark Wilkins will be joined by fellow Canadian David Empringham and brothers Burt and Brian Frisselle for the test.
The GT class also boasts a field of heavy hitters, as the category will see a variety of makes take to the track in early January. In addition to the new Blackforest Mustang, Banner Racing will also introduce a new machine into the fray in 2007, with a pair of Pontiac GXP.Rs. Entered in the machines are longtime Banner racer Leighton Reese, Paul Edwards, Kelly Collins, Johnny O'Connell and Andy Pilgrim.Andy Lally and Marc Bunting, who shared the 2006 GT championship, are also entered in the test, but unlike the past three seasons, will drive separate machines. Lally is entered in the No. 66 TRG Porsche GT3
alongside 2006 Rolex 24 GT class winner Spencer Pumpelly and RJ Valentine, while Bunting will test the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Corvette with Dominic Cicero II, James Gue and team owner John Stevenson.
Randy Pobst¿who co-drove to the GT victory with Pumpelly in last year's Rolex 24¿is also scheduled to participate, entered on the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 with Sylvain Tremblay, David Haskell and Nick Ham. Germany's Wolf Henzler, who finished runner-up in the GT championship in 2006 for Tafel Racing, is entered in the team's No. 74 Rembrandt Charms Porsche GT3 with Eric Lux, Dominik Farnbacher and team owner Jim Tafel.
Strengthening the GT category further is a pair of BMW M3s from the Matt Connolly Motorsports stable, two Porsche GT3s and a Corvette from Team Sahlen, a trio of Porsche GT3s from Synergy Racing and four Porsche GT3s from Farnbacher Loles Motorsports, who entered 2005 GT class champion Craig Stanton in its No. 88 machine. TRG is bringing a total of five Porsches to the test. In all, 23 Porsche GT3s are entered to participate in the Daytona Test Days, looking to continue the endurance racing legacy of the German marque.
On-track activity for the Rolex Series begins Thursday, January 4 at 9:00 a.m., with three full days of testing scheduled at Daytona. When the checkered flag waves on the final session Saturday afternoon, the Daytona Prototypes and GT machines will have had nearly 13 hours of track time to prepare for the 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Fans wishing to get up close to all of the action at Daytona Test Days are in for a treat, as the inaugural "Roar Before the Rolex 24" will give fans access to the paddock and the NEXTEL FanZone at Daytona on Friday and Saturday. As part of the "Roar", the track is hosting a series of 30-minute forums both days, providing fans the opportunity to ask questions of their favorite drivers. Admission for the "Roar Before the Rolex 24" is $5 at the gate and children 12 and under are free.
Tickets for the 45th anniversary of the Rolex 24 on Jan. 27-28 are available online at www.racetickets.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. A two-day advance infield/grandstand ticket with a collectible photo frame are available for $45 (must be purchased by Jan. 5)
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