DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Dec. 9, 2009) - Two dozen GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 teams came away from a two-day test at Daytona International Speedway impressed with the Pirelli tires they will be using in 2010 competition. Their season begins with the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 30-31.
A primary reason for the two-day session was to allow Rolex Series competitors the opportunity to have their first test with the 2010 Pirelli tire. Many competitors said they were pleased, overall.
"Perfect!" said Max Angelelli, driver of the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Ford Dallara.
"The tires are great!" said Bill Auberlen, testing the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 for the first time. "We ran entire stints, and a stint-and-a-half, and we virtually lose no lap time. I think Pirelli knew what they wanted to do, and they achieved it. Everyone's all smiles."
"I'm really surprised; we've got a gain here," said Mike Shank, owner of the Nos. 6 and 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Rileys. "We've got a tire here that we can double stint - minimally - at night."
Shank also feels the tires will be a plus in the upcoming Rolex Series sprint races.
"In the sprint races, when we only have to add fuel, we'll be able to keep a set of tires on the car," Shank said.
Shank's cars were among the leaders throughout both two-day sessions, which ran virtually incident free.After finishing second in the 2006 Rolex 24, winning the pole in 2008 and consistently running near the top, coming close is no longer good enough.
"It owes us," he said. "We're going to get it. We're going to get it."
Reminded that his cars have been fast throughout the two-day test, Shank said, "That's getting a little bit old. We want to translate this into something good this year. We've proven that we can go fast in the practice and test sessions at least a hundred times."
Shank said his program is not totally set for 2010, but he was happy to have AJ Allmendinger testing in the car in preparation for the Rolex 24, as well as Mark Patterson and John Pew. He was also happy with another addition to his lineup for this test - Ricky Taylor.
"Ricky has been the surprise of this test for me," Shank said. "He is doing really well. He's not that far off of Michael (Valiante), and Michael is trying real hard. I was pleasantly surprised with Ricky, and besides, he fits in great with the other guys."
Ozz Negri, however, wasn't surprised with his new teammate.
"Ricky is not a surprise for me," Negri said. "I know he's a good driver, and I know there is a huge potential."
While the Shank cars were among the quickest on Wednesday - along with Scott Pruett in the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates BMW Riley, Angelelli and Brumos Porsche Riley driver David Donohue - Negri said speed was not the goal on the second day of the session.
"The car is very quick," Negri said. "Today we were working on race setup and our endurance, working on things like our brake package."
Times at the test were unofficial and not recorded.
Allmendinger Happy With Offseason Work
After winding up a strenuous NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule at Homestead-Miami Speedway less than three weeks ago, AJ Allmendinger was happy to be back in a race car Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway.
"I hate the offseason," Allmendinger said. "I want to be racing."
Allmendinger tested in the No. 60 Ford Riley, joined by Negri and Pew. Valiante, Taylor and Patterson tested the team's No. 6 entry.
"I never got to do the December test here before, and I'm real excited about it," Allmendinger said. "I love being part of Mike Shank Racing. This will be my fifth year doing it, and I'm real excited. We always have a car that can go out there and win. I just love driving for Mike. He's a great guy and he's a lot of fun being around, and that's why I show up every year. I was going to be out here anyway doing the PRI show's go-kart race Thursday in Orlando, and Mike called me and asked if I wanted to test here on Wednesday. I said, 'Heck yes.'
"I love GRAND-AM, I love the series and I love driving the Daytona Prototypes," Allmendinger continued. "They're a lot of fun. It's definitely a lot different. It takes about 8-10 laps to get back into form and know where to brake. But I enjoy it, and being able to do the December test will make it a lot easier coming back in January. This will help me a lot. I'll be able to come back in January, jump right back in the car and it will be like I was in it all year."
Allmendinger's best Rolex 24 finish was second in 2006, when he co-drove with Negri, Patterson and Justin Wilson.
"We know how prestigious this race is," Allmendinger said. "I'm real excited to be with Ford on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series side, and running here gives me the chance to keep building on that relationship. Now, all we need is to get a little luck on our side. We'll have two cars right up in the top three or four, and now we need to pray to the racing gods for a little luck."
Haywood: 2010 Will Be His Last Rolex 24
Hurley Haywood came up about five seconds shy of winning his sixth Rolex 24 At Daytona this past January, and ended the 2009 campaign in Gatorade Victory Lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
So he's carrying plenty of momentum into the 2010 Rolex 24 At Daytona - which he confirmed Wednesday will be his last drive in the event he's won a record five times.
"I'm certainly going to try my very best," Haywood said. "We're going to have a strong car and a strong driver lineup. Winning would be a nice way to close my career, believe me. I've already stated this is going to be my last Rolex 24. It would be a great way to cap a great career."
Haywood will team with 2009 Rolex 24 winners Darren Law and David Donohue in the Rolex 24, sharing the No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley. The team has a technical alliance with the new No. 9 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley of Joao Barbosa and Terry Borcheller.
Johnston Pleased With First Daytona Test
Englishman Derek Johnston has been waiting to drive at Daytona International Speedway since he learned he won the inaugural Rolex 24 Driver Challenge presented by Sunoco. He won a funded drive in the Rolex 24 and testing after tallying the highest point total in four British racing championships.
"It was absolutely brilliant to go out there for the first time yesterday," said Johnston, the British Radical Series champion. "I was a little nervous at first and was a little slow on the first lap, but I gradually gained confidence and picked it up."
Johnston tested in the No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Porsche Coyote, along with driver/coach Guy Cosmo and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular Paul Menard. The team is also fielding a brand-new No. 90 Porsche Coyote for 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice, Antonio Garcia and Menard. Rice and Garcia were part of the winning lineup in the 2009 Rolex 24.
"It wasn't as bad as I thought," Johnston said. "What made it really good was I already had an understanding of knowing what the car would do from my test last month at Virginia, so I didn't have to start from scratch."
It was the first time in a Daytona Prototype for Menard, who won two Rolex Series GT races for Spirit of Daytona in a Corvette in 2002.
"I've got a lot to learn about the braking in the Daytona Prototype," Menard said. "It seems all the speed is made up in how hard you attack the corner, how hard you can push the brake power. The car stopped really well and has good power. It's real quick from what I'm used to. It's a learning curve, but a lot of fun."
Jonsson Happy with Ford Lola
Nic Jönsson was the lone driver for Krohn Racing Ford Lola at the test, and he was pleased with the progress on the car. The car was badly damaged in a flip after a cut tire a month ago, with team owner Tracy Krohn escaping unhurt.
"I don't know if the Lola's quick enough to be on the pole here, but I think we definitely have the car to be running up front as far as speed and consistency once we get going," Jönsson said. "Hopefully we'll have the same team back and will get another crack at it. I just hope it stays together in one piece."
While he didn't test the car, Krohn Racing driver Eric van de Poele was on hand to offer support.
Lally Says TRG Will Need Strong Package For Repeat
Andy Lally was one of five drivers to win the 2009 Rolex 24 in the Rolex Series GT class. He said Wednesday he and his co-drivers of TRG's No. 67 Porsche GT3 will have a strong package for the 2010 race, but realize they can't take their fellow competitors for granted.
"We're about the same pace as we were last year, but our competition and the other makes have stepped up, so we're going to have something a little bit stronger and hopefully make it comfortable to drive," Lally said.
Lally will race the Rolex 24 with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular Bobby Labonte, Spencer Pumpelly and Tim George Jr. TRG also campaigned its Nos. 66 and 68 Porsche GT3s, and is providing technical assistance to Guardian Angel Motorsports for the second consecutive season.
"I think we had a pretty good car and think we found a pretty good setup for our cars for the Rolex 24," Lally said. "We took our winning combination and just made some minor tweaks and improvements. I think we have a pretty good baseline."
Nonnamakers Happy With Performance
Will Nonnamaker said he feels Team Sahlen is right where it wants to be after testing its new Mazda RX-8 during this week's test. The team had run a Corvette the past three seasons.
Nonnamaker, who along with younger brother Wayne Nonnamaker and team owner Joe Sahlen, were among the fastest on the charts Tuesday, and continued to progress on Wednesday.
"It's better than we can ever imagine it was going to be," Will Nonnamaker said. "We got these cars from SpeedSource, and this has just been a fantastic car. Our goal this year to help Mazda win the manufacturer's championship, so hopefully we can play a big part in winning it this year."
PR1 Motorsports Proving BMW M6 Fast
Thomas Merrill and Max Hyatt, one of the youngest driver pairings in the Rolex Series paddock, participated in the No. 32 Miracle Sealants Team PR1 BMW M6 over the two days, with the assistance of 2008 Rolex Series GT co-champion Paul Edwards.
The team introduced the BMW M6 during the second half of the 2009 season, constructing the car from what was a Pontiac GXP.R. Hyatt finished fourth in the car at Miller Motorsports Park, the team's best finish with the M6.
Merrill, who has competed with PR1 five times over the past two seasons, remarked he was excited about what the team learned this week.
"It's been exciting switching to the new car and learning a lot," Merrill said. "It's a great car. It's the first time we've had it at Daytona, and we're doing pretty well so far. We're trying to get into a comfort zone and find a way to stay there."
Magnus Racing: New Team With Old Feel
Magnus Racing may be a new team, but several crewmembers - and its main two drivers - have worked together in the past. Craig Stanton and John Potter made up the driver lineup for this week's test, and two other drivers will be announced for the Rolex 24 in the near future. Potter said the team's main reason for coming this week was to prep for the 2010 season.
"We've spent a lot of time on the track, and we've also played a lot with setups," Potter said. "We're a new team and most people have worked together. Overall, it's a good binding experience. We've had a lot of fun and made some good progress with the car."
Potter said the team is focused on a full 2010 slate in the No. 44 Porsche GT3.
SpeedSource Team Happy About New Car's Performance"The car is perfect," Nick Longhi said about the Mazda RX-8 following Wednesday's practice session at Daytona.
The new No. 69 Mazda RX-8 rolled off the truck and onto the track for the first time Tuesday and all five drivers that toured the track said they felt happy with the car's performance. Former race winner Sylvain Tremblay shared the No. 69 with its regular co-drivers, Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato, as well as veteran and part-time team racer Longhi.
Joining them for the test was Anthony Lazzaro, a two-time Rolex 24 At Daytona class winner who was competing in a Mazda for the first time. Like the others, Lazzaro was pleased with the car's performance.
"For me, it's a good opportunity to come back to Daytona with a car and team that has proven it could win the race, and with a car that dominated the end of 2009, with friends" Lazzaro said. "SpeedSource has built a great car, nice and easy to drive, and it's a perfect car to win the Rolex 24. We look forward to getting a good result."
SpeedSource hopes to make an announcement on the full Rolex 24 driver lineup soon.
Dempsey Racing Makes Strides At Test
Joe Foster and Dempsey Racing will return to the Rolex Series in 2010. Foster, who normally teams with Patrick Dempsey, turned several laps during the two days with James Gue and Don Kitch. Dempsey's schedule kept him from participating in the test.
This will be the third full season in which Dempsey and Foster will campaign the car. Foster expects to make an announcement on the team's plans for 2010 later in the month. This week, his concentration centered on making the No. 40 Mazda RX-8 a better race car.
"We built this car completely from scratch, had a few teething problems with it, but in the big picture we're fine," Foster said. "We're getting a new car in January, which is similar to the chassis we brought this week. Everything is going fine."
Another Team, ZMG, Made First On-Track Appearance
ZMG was another team that made its Rolex Series GT debut Tuesday, joining Turner Motorsport and Magnus Racing as first-time squads, with Shane Lewis and Richard Zahn.
Lewis has been coaching Zahn for about a year. The team has only had the car for about a month, Lewis said, and the test was most specifically to earn seat time and run laps.
"We're not here to set any track records," Lewis said. "This is Rich's first time at Daytona. I went out there and set up the car for him to drive, and he's been out there just rocking out laps and learning. Our goal is to get him those laps and get ready for the Rolex 24."
The Rolex Series teams - joined by their GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Series counterparts - return to Daytona International Speedway Jan. 8-10 for the Roar Before the Rolex 24. The 48th Rolex 24 At Daytona takes the green flag at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30 (SPEED, live).