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The 2013 Rolex 24 Will Have Designated Villain

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 10 2013

Juan Pablo Montoya will have a target on his car and his back at Daytona. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Some random racin’ thoughts:

Juan Pablo Montoya may want to give the safety equipment in his BMW Riley prototype some extra attention before he takes to the track in this year’s Rolex 24-hour race at Daytona International Speedway.

Montoya, the former Formula 1 bad boy, has morphed neatly into being the Grand-Am Road Racing bad boy during his occasional forays into the series in recent years.

His aggressive driving style has been publicly and loudly criticized as overly-aggressive by his Grand-Am peers in recent years. Several of those peers have talked about retribution for past acts of aggression – some of which have scuttled chances for race victories and, even, championships.

Prior to last year’s 24, other drivers on the Chip Ganassi Racing team joked that they hoped that the growing posse hostile competitors knew exactly which stints Montoya would be driving in the race. The CGR teammates did not want to become victims of mistaken identity.

Later this month, when the field takes to the DIS infield road course for the 2013 Rolex24, the situation would be even worse for Ganassi drivers. That’s because both times that Montoya drove in Grand-Am events in 2012 – at DIS and Indy – he made on-track enemies. Lots of them.

Enemies with long memories.

Long after the end of the 2012 season, Peter Baron, team principal of Starworks Motorsport, was still fuming about what shunts by Montoya had cost his team.

“I’m still not all that happy” with Montoya, Baron said during a test at Kansas Speedway last fall. What Montoya did at Indy, crashing Starworks driver Ryan Dalziel under caution, “basically cost us a championship”.

Sports car racing is not stock car racing. Retribution is not pro forma. But, when circumstances call for/allow for it, paybacks do happen. And in the case of JPM in Grand-Am, the circumstances will be there at DIS.

Add Sprint Cup’s Marcos Ambrose to the Daytona 24 driver lineup.

Ambrose will join Michael Shank Racing for the 2013 Rolex 24 At Daytona to drive the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley.

Ambrose will supplement the driving line up of AJ Allmendinger, Justin Wilson, John Pew, and Ozz Negri as Negri continues to heal from an off-season testing injury.

The two-car Shank organization led five of eight practice sessions during the weekend.

“We couldn’t have been happier with how quickly Marcos gelled with everyone on this team,” Mike Shank said. “Obviously he’s very fast in the car, but he was also great out of it. That’s hugely important for a race like this–you need to have everyone pulling in the same direction. He fits that perfectly. We are incredibly lucky to have someone like him interested in racing for us. Ozz is coming back quickly, but we wanted to go ahead and commit to having Marcos with us now.”

Negri will continue to push ahead with his physical therapy and expects to be able to compete in the 51st running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

“The biggest thing for me is to not do anything that keeps this team from winning the race again,” said Negri, who suffered the leg injury while mountain biking. “It was hard to watch everyone test this weekend, but I still was very proud of the results. We’ve been working very hard on our set ups and it was good to see such a strong test. Marcos is a good guy and has the right attitude with this team. I’m happy to have someone like him as my teammate and hopefully I can contribute to another big result in a couple of weeks.”

Details about life in the merged American sports car series are gradually seeping forth into the daylight.

Last week, for example, officials of the series – which will feature the combined assets of the Grand-Am and American Le Mans Series and which will begin racing in 2014 – announced the car classifications.

However, on key details – details that matter like crazy to sports car fans – the phrase “that is a work in progess” still is getting a lot of use.

One of the works in progress is the 2014 schedule. Officials have said they want to start the merged series with a 12-event calendar. But they have not said which 12 courses will be included on that calendar.

Some venues – like Daytona, recently born Kansas Speedway and Sebring – are slam dunks. Others – some very popular with fans of the respective series – are facing the axe.

Last fall, a couple of drivers who will likely be behind steering wheels in merged-series cars (the name of the merged series is also a work in progress) were asked by RacinToday.com which five tracks should be slam dunks. After, that is, Daytona and Sebring.

Joao Barbosa, a Daytona Prototype driver, said: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Detroit, Road Atlanta, Long Beach and Laguna Seca. He also said there are “so many” other tracks that deserved to be on the schedule that a 2014 schedule of 16-18 races would be better for the sport.

Bill Auberlen, a GT driver in both series, said: Road Atlanta, Road America, Sears Point (Infineon), Watkins Glen and Long Beach.

Here are my top five: Road America (best road course in the Western Hemisphere), Watkins Glen (wonderful track with lots of history), Long Beach (great fans and atmosphere), Indianapolis (it’s Indy) and Laguna Seca (the corkscrew).

The Sprint Cup Series’ sixth-generation cars will take to Daytona International Speedway today for the first of three days of testing for the 2013 Daytona 500.

The occasion will be the annual Preseason Thunder event.

This week’s sessions will be the only test for the new car at Daytona prior to Speedweeks, which begins with The Sprint Unlimited on Feb. 16.

“This test is an opportunity for the teams to prepare their cars for Speedweeks and the 55th running of the Daytona 500,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “This is the teams’ test and provides an excellent lead in to the upcoming 2013 season. There has been a lot of work put into the development of the Gen-6 car by the manufacturers, teams and NASCAR. It will be exciting to see the new cars on the track for Daytona Preseason Thunder.”

After several tests for the new car, including one restrictor plate test at Talladega Superspeedway, the rules package has been set heading into Preseason Thunder.

The rules package for Daytona includes:

· Plate size 29/32″ (same plate size as 2012)

· Spoiler size 4″ high x 53″ wide

· Spoiler angle 70 degrees

· Front Grille size 1-3/4″ high x 23″ wide

· Radiator Relief valve 32 psi

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 10 2013
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