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IndyCar Champ, NASCAR’s Bowyer Going Shopping For A Rolex

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 4 2013

IndyCar champ Ryan Hunter-Reay will slide into a sports car for this year's Rolex 24. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

There is no one, single starting date for the American auto racing season. Instead, there are several key events that combine to mark the start. Like this week’s Roar Before the 24 at the Daytona International Speedway infield road course.

The Roar is an open practice for teams and drivers planning to compete in the historic Rolex 24 sports car event at Daytona, which, this year, will be held on Jan. 26-27.

Over the past couple of days, a number of significant announcements have been made by teams and the event-sanctioning Grand-Am series concerning this year’s event. The announcements have included everything from driver lineups to matters of competition.

Among those announcements:

– Wayne Taylor Racing will head into the Grand-Am season with a new primary sponsor and take to the DIS track for the 24 with the defending IndyCar champion sharing seat time with a revamped driver lineup.

The primary sponsor for WTR in 2013, it was announced Thursday, will be Velocity Worldwide, a digital software company which specializes in social media applications. The New York-based company will replace longtime backer SunTrust at WTR.

It was also announced that Ryan Hunter-Reay will co-drive the WTR Daytona Prototype Corvette in the 24-hour race. He joins newcomer Jordan Taylor, who replaces brother Ricky Taylor as one of the team’s full-time drivers in the Corvette, and veteran Max Angelelli.

Hunter-Reay, who drives open-wheel cars for Andretti Autosport, will enter the 24 just a couple months after winning his first IndyCar championship.

Hunter-Reay, who is a veteran of 15 Grand-Am races and who drove for WTR owner Wayne Taylor for a race in 2006, said the goal for the 2013 24 is obvious: Help get himself and Taylor their first Daytona victories and Rolex watches.

“This lineup that we have here with Max and Jordan,” Hunter-Reay said during a teleconference on Thursday, “I think is one of the best out there. So I think this is my best shot yet at the Daytona 24. We’ll have Velocity Worldwide on the side of the car. The car looks amazing.

“English (Wayne Taylor) here wants to win. This team has come so close so many times. I hate to say it, but you guys are kind of due for a good result. I won’t say you’re due for a win because I don’t want to jinx anything. The bad luck over the years, it really hasn’t shown what the team is capable of. Now we’re ready to go for it. We’re really hungry for it. Great organization to be a part of and I’m very happy to be here.”

Jordan Taylor has been competing in GT cars the last couple of seasons, though he does have some DP experience.

The seat at his father’s team opened up when older brother Ricky Taylor opted to move to the Spirit of Daytona organization to co-drive the No. 90 DP Corvette this coming season.

“I’d say excited is the biggest thing,” the youngest Taylor said when asked about his feelings over his new job. “I’ve been in GT for the past few years now. I did DP. It’s nice to come back to the big class, the lead class, which gets the most attention. I was always proud to be in the GT class because I respect those guys a lot, and I don’t feel they get the respect they deserve.

“Obviously coming with my dad’s team, a new identity with Velocity Worldwide, it’s exciting. Especially having Ryan, after his year last year, it will be cool to drive along with him, another cool guy to compare yourself with in the same equipment. Really looking forward to it. Think we have a great shot at doing well.”

– AIM Autosport Team FXDD and sister team R.Ferri AIM Motorsport Racing announced their complete driver lineups for the 24 on Thursday.

The No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD Racing Ferrari F458 will be driven by Emil Assentato, Anthony Lazzaro, Nick Longhi and Guy Cosmo.

Jeff Segal, Max Papis, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander will drive the debuting No. 61 R.Ferri AIM Motorsport Racing with Ferrari F458.

AIM Autosport Team FXDD won the 2012 Grand-Am GT team and driver championships with Segal and Assentato driving the No. 69 Ferrari.

The team will defend its titles with a pair of Ferraris this season with the No. 61 entry being added to the AIM stable in a new partnership with Remo Ferri and R.Ferri Motorsport.

“We quickly moved from celebrating our first championship last year to expanding AIM to a two-car effort to lead Ferrari’s GT campaign once again in the 2013 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series,” said Andrew Bordin, AIM/R.Ferri sporting director and a co-owner of both entries. “Although last year was our first full season in GT and with the Ferrari, we proved ourselves with three victories and the team and driver championships. We are more than up to the challenge of the two-car team and look forward to the partnership with Remo and racing and winning with both cars.”

– Michael Waltrip Racing owners Rob Kauffman and Michael Waltrip announced they will race in the 51st annual Rolex 24. Joining the pair behind the wheel of the Grand-Am version of the Ferrari 458 GT will be NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Clint Bowyer and road racing veteran Rui Aguas.

“The Rolex 24 at Daytona is the pinnacle of sports car racing in America and a world class event with huge historic relevance,” said Kauffman. “We made it to the finish last year in our first attempt. The GT category is large and strong this year, but we are going to give it our best shot. You have to be in it to win it.”

The AF Waltrip entry is a joint project of the Italian championship sports car team AF Corse and MWR. AF Waltrip fielded Ferraris for Waltrip and Kauffman at sports car races around the globe since 2010 including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Sebring and last year’s Rolex 24 in Daytona.

Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 champion, said the Rolex 24 should be on every race fan’s bucket list.

“Daytona is always special whether it’s the 24 Hours or the Daytona 500,” he said. “Last year was my first year in the Rolex 24 and it was so cool. The road course is awesome. During the day you can see families walking around the infield taking in all the sights and at night the place comes alive when the Ferris Wheel and all the race cars light up. The drivers are having fun and the fans are having fun.”

Bowyer will be the newest member of the AF Waltrip driver lineup that has included Travis Pastrana and Brian Vickers in previous races.

“I’m not really sure what I got myself into,” Bowyer, who won three races and finished second in the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup driving for MWR, said. “Rob asked me to race and I said I would do it. Everyone has told me how much fun this race is. So, I’m ready. Running 24 hours is a long time, but we will give it our best shot.”

– Two-time American Le Mans Series PC class championship runner-up Jon Bennett will make his Rolex 24 debut at Daytona this year with regular ALMS co-driver Colin Braun.

The CORE autosport duo will join forces with Doran Racing’s Dr. Jim Lowe and former Champ Car champion Paul Tracy in the newly upgraded No.77 Riley-bodied Dallara-Ford DP.

Bennett and Braun will also contest another round of the North American Endurance Championship with Lowe, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. Additionally, the duo will team up for the second round of the GRAND-AM Rolex Series in the Doran Racing entry at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.

– The Grand-Am series announced that veteran road racing official Paul Walter has been named as the organization’s race director, effective immediately.

Walter, who will report to Managing Director of Competition Richard Buck, also will continue to serve as race director for the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón, a job he has held since January 2012. His dual roles will become one in 2014, when the recently merged organizations present a unified series aimed at redefining sports car racing in North America.

“This is a prime example of using our combined resources to make things happen and build for the future,” Buck said. “Paul brings considerable experience and respect, and will serve as a great bridge in the competition area between GRAND-AM and the ALMS.”

Concurrent with his ongoing stint at the ALMS, Walter has been the race director for the USF2000 open-wheel series since January 2010. He will act as Competition Director for USF2000 and the Pro Mazda Championship at non-conflicting events in the upcoming season.

He also served as operations manager for Tasman Motorsports Group/Forsythe Racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series from 1996-2001. He also was race director of the Formula BMW Series from 2005-2009; operating steward of the ALMS from 2008-2010; chief steward at Historic Motorsports Productions for the 2011 season; clerk of the course for the inaugural U.S. round of the World Touring Car Championship at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway last September; and deputy clerk of the course for the inaugural Formula One event last November at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 4 2013
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