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Waltrip Gets Taste Of Daytona’s Road Racing Circuit

| , RacinToday.com Thursday, December 8 2011

Michael Waltrip and co-driver Robert Kauffman drove a Ferrari at Le Mans but were in a Porsche at Daytona this week. (File photo courtesy of Michael Waltrip Racing)


Two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip knows every inch of the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway trioval.

On Wednesday, Waltrip familiarized himself with the twists-and-turns of the 3.56-mile road course during the final session of the two-day December Rolex 24 At Daytona test.

An owner/driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with Michael Waltrip Racing, Waltrip tested a Porsche GT3 with The Racers Group as he prepares to compete in his first Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 28-29. Waltrip will co-drive a Ferrari 458 GT in the 50th anniversary of the twice-around-the-clock challenge with Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, four-time North American rally champion Travis Pastrana and road-racing veteran Rui Aguas.

The AF Waltrip Ferrari entry is a joint project between multiple sports car championship -winning team AF Corse and Michael Waltrip Racing. With the Ferrari still being shipped to the United States from Italy, Waltrip wanted to get a jump on learning the Daytona road-course prior to January’s Roar Before The Rolex 24 testing session by hopping into a TRG Porsche.

“It’s so weird for me,” Waltrip said during a break. “When I hit the banks, I’m like, ‘Cool, I know this part.’ When you get to the end of pit road, instead of entering the track like I’ve done for 25 years, I exit the track. The infield is fun and challenging. I know where the turns are now so we’ll just try to improve our lap times.”

Since cutting back on his NASCAR schedule, Waltrip has been competing in select sports car events in Europe, including the famed 24 Hours of LeMans and at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium. But the Rolex 24 always has been on his to-do list, especially after watching brother Darrell compete in an Aston Martin Prototype with A.J. Foyt Jr. in the 1983 Rolex 24.

“I’ve always wanted to do the things my brother did,” Waltrip said of the three-time Cup champion, “and I’ve always wanted to do this race.”

The Rolex 24 At Daytona is the kick-off event to Speedweeks 2012, as well as the international motorsports calendar.

British Formula 3 champion Felipe Nasr, the Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge winner, proved he is a quick learner at Daytona International Speedway. A native of Brazil, Nasr turned his first laps at DIS this week with Action Express Racing, overall champions from the 2010 Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Nasr posted the top unofficial time on the first day of testing among Daytona Prototype drivers in the No. 58 Porsche-powered Riley and was fastest again during the morning session on Wednesday.

“I didn’t expect to be that quick but I have to thank Oz Negri because his tips are what helped be that quick,” said Nasr, 19. “I think I did quite well adapting to the different car but I expect to get better.”

Nasr captured the 2012 Sunoco Daytona Challenge after posting the top average point score out of 100 racers who signed up for the Challenge from three eligible series in Europe _ the Avon Tyres British GT Championship, Britcar MSA British Endurance Championship and the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series.

Nasr’s prize is a fully-funded seat with a to-be-determined team in the 50th edition of the Rolex 24.

Meanwhile, this two-day test featured more than 25 cars including the debut of three new Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Protoypes, three new Ferrari F458 Italia Grand Ams and the American testing debut of the Audi R8 GRAND-AM coupe.

Teams not testing this week will have the opportunity to shake down their new cars at DIS on Monday, Dec. 19, prior to the Roar Before The Rolex 24 on Jan. 6-8.

DIS officials have launched a “barn-find” search in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

The effort to assemble the most unique collection of overall Rolex 24 championship cars to celebrate the golden anniversary of the twice-around-the-clock challenge is well underway, and 25 cars have been secured. However, the whereabouts of three legendary cars remains elusive and DIS officials are turning to sports car fans, industry partners and media representatives to help locate the vehicles.

The missing cars:

_The 1998-winning Ferrari 333SP driven by Gianpiero Moretti, Arie Luyendyk, Mauro Baldi and Didier Theys. Moretti scored his first Rolex 24 win on his 15 th attempt in the open-cockpit Ferrari.

_The 1972-winning Ferrari 312PB driven by open-wheel icon Mario Andretti and endurance ace Jacky Ickx. Andretti and Ickx won the race despite dropping a cylinder in their Ferrari powerplant.

_The 1979 Interscope Porsche driven by Hurley Haywood, Danny Ongais and Ted Field. The car delivered the fourth of Haywood’s five overall Rolex 24 wins.

An official hotline number (386) 681-5343 and e-mail address Rolex24cars@daytonainternationalspeedway.com have been set up. Anyone with information on the location of these cars is encouraged to contact the Speedway.

To-date, DIS has announced the following championship cars as part of this one-of-a-kind display:

_ The No. 96 Arciero Racing Lotus-Climax 19B from the inaugural Rolex 24 _then known as the Daytona Continental _ in 1962

_1966 Rolex 24-winning No. 98 Ford GT Mark II

_1968 Rolex 24-winning Porsche 907

_1969 Rolex 24-winning No. 6 Lola T70 Chevrolet

_1970 Rolex 24-winning No. 2 Gulf Porsche 917

_1977 Rolex 24-winning No. 43 Porsche 911 RSR

_1981 Rolex 24-winning No. 9 Bob Garretson’s Style Auto Porsche 935

_1982 Rolex 24-winning No. 18 JLP Porsche 935

_The Preston Henn Porsches from the 1983 and 1985 Rolex 24s

_1984 Rolex 24-winning No. 00 Kreepy Krauly Porsche-March

_1993 Rolex 24-winning No. 98 Eagle GTP

_1994 Rolex 24-winning No. 76 Nissan 300ZX-Turbo

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

Sports car racing fans planning to attend the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Jan. 28-29 and the 60th anniversary of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on March 17 will have the chance to obtain “backstage passes” to the historic events via a Sports Car Double Header program with The Racers Group.

Marketing firm Private Label Experience, LLC, in concert with Citibank and TRG, is offering the chance to go beyond the normal on-site track visit. A select group of fans will become “entrenched” at each race via an official TRG credential offering access to team-owner Kevin Buckler and his drivers, special pit lane and paddock access, a wine reception/dinner, entry to the at-track VIP Club, private tech talks with Buckler and the drivers, a firesuit and radio to listen to team strategy, team apparel, photos and autographs.

TRG will compete in 2012 with its Porsche 911 GT3s in both the Rolex GRAND-AM Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series, the pinnacles of sports car racing in North America. TRG’s legacy of success includes four wins at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, including one overall victory; two season championships, a win in the GT class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, victory at Petit Le Mans and more podiums than any team at that level over the last 15 years.

Private Label Experience develops and executes experiential entertainment opportunities for fans seeking a “once-in-a-lifetime” adventure. Fans can learn more about the Sports Car Double Header by visiting the Private Label Experience website at www.plexperience.com.

| , RacinToday.com Thursday, December 8 2011
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