Grand Changes In Store For 2011 Rolex Daytona 24
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series is billing this week’s two-day open test at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the final event of the 2010 season.
In reality, the test should probably be viewed as the start of the 2011 season. But few were quibbling about anything as silly as labels on Wednesday, the first day of the event. Not with most of the top teams in the series on the track and not with the event feeling more like a race than a test.
“I’m happy to be running with all the competitors here, just like a race weekend,” Craig Stanton, driver of the Magnus Racing Porsche, said. “It’s nice to do private testing, but having everyone here is very important to us. It’s an apples to apples comparison.”
A dozen Daytona Prototypes are among 31 cars on hand for the testing. That number includes Flying Lizard Motorsports, making its DP debut in the Rolex 24, plus two-car entries for Michael Shank Racing, Action Express Racing and Level 5 Motorsports.
Action Express features the lineups that won both the 2009 and 2010 Rolex 24. David Donohue and Darren Law won the 2009 event for Brumos Racing, and are transitioning to Action Express for 2011, joining defending winners Joao Barbosa and Terry Borcheller.
“It was a big honor to be part of Brumos,” Donohue said. “That was a legendary flag to carry, and I will miss that.”
Donohue and Law are transitioning to a new Porsche engine, going to the Cayenne-based V-8 that powered Action Express to victory in the 2010 Rolex 24.
“David and I have been racing the Porsche flat six since 2004 – David since 2003 – and going to the V-8 is a huge change,” Law said. “It’s quite a bit different to drive. It requires a different driving style. We now have five gears instead of six. It has a different torque band, and there is a lot of different with the RPMs and how you drive through traffic. We’ve made the adjustment very quickly, it’s just very different to drive.”
Action Express will have former NASCAR driver Elton Sawyer as director of race operations in 2011.
“Elton is a huge plus for the team,” Law said of the former Nationwide Series regular. “He brings experience from both the driving and management sides. It’s a huge change since he’s come on board. I know he’s going to be very good for the team.”
The Gainsco team is testing this week without one of the drivers who will be in the seat at
next month’s Daytona 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
The missing driver has permission to be AWOL as he is in Las Vegas being honored for winning his historic fifth straight Sprint Cup championship.
Jimmie Johnson is returning to the team to race in the most important sports car race in America. He will, once again, join Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty in the Gainsco car.
“We’re looking forward to racing with Jimmie Johnson in the Rolex 24,” Fogarty said. “We’re always happy to have him on board. We’re looking to prepare a trouble-free car so we can give him his best chance to win a Rolex.”
Johnson’s first Rolex 24 in The Red Dragon came in 2008, when he finished second overall. He finished seventh in 2009, and 21st overall and eighth in the Daytona Prototype class this past January. Johnson also ran with Gaisco/Bob Stallings Racing at Watkins Glen International in June, finishing sixth in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
“I think like the rest of the motorsports world, we’re all in awe of Jimmie, not only for his relentless on-track accomplishments, but also because he manages to stay so grounded off the track as well,” Gurney said. “We’re very lucky to have him at our Gainsco team and hopefully we can make a little more history with him come the end of January.”
Johnson has six career starts in America’s premier sports car race dating back to 2004, and finished second overall with Howard Boss Motorsports in 2005.
“I am not shocked at all that Jimmie and then (No.) 48 team won another title,” said Fogarty, who has 13 career DP victories co-driving with Gurney. “We have seen first hand at Gainsco Jimmie’s incredible dedication to his profession and obvious talent behind the wheel of anything he is driving. He is good when he is leading, he is good when he is not and he is at his best when it really matters. I am really looking forward to racing with him again at next year’s Rolex 24.”
Johnson has credited racing Grand-Am cars for making him a better driver in Cup cars overall and on Cup road courses in particular.
Plus, Johnson said, “I think most people know how much I want to win on a road course and also in a Grand-Am car.”
The GT field at the test includes Belgium-based Muhlner Motorsport, set to make its series debut in the Rolex 24, and Brumos Racing, which is returning to its historical GT roots after racing Daytona Prototypes since 2003.
Also on hand was racer-actor Patrick Dempsey, who is looking to drive in the Rolex 24 with the team that carries his name. Dempsey made his first on-track appearance at a Rolex Series event since the April race at Virginia International Raceway, taking a few laps in the new Dempsey Racing No. 40 Mazda RX-8.
“The new car feels great,” Dempsey said. “It’s not as violent as the old car. It’s quieter with the different exhaust setup, and a lot stronger. I’m happy with it.”
For 2011, Dempsey hopes to run as many races as his schedule allows, including the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“We had a good run at Daytona last year,” said Dempsey, who had a personal career best sixth-place finish in last year’s classic. “Our team is gelling. We won a race last year, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead for this season.”
Sports car and NASCAR veteran Boris Said is among the drivers expected to test on Thursday. He will be sharing the No. 31 Marsh Racing Corvette with Eric Curran.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment