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Notes: Sports Cars ‘Roar’ To Life At Daytona

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 3 2014

Scott Pruett returns to Chip Ganassi's sports car team. (File photo courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Series)


Christian Fittipaldi logged the fastest lap of the day Friday at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.

The “Roar”, which serves as practice for the upcoming 24, will continue through the weekend.

The 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona will be held on Jan. 25-26, opening a new era in North American sports car racing with the first unified sanction since 1997. The TUDOR Championship is the result of a merger of the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón.

Fittipaldi turned a lap of 1:38.630 (129.940 mph) on the 3.56-mile circuit in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP co-driven by Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais to lead 15 teams in the premier Prototype (P) class.

“It was very interesting today to see different cars running together at different speeds, from four different classes,” said Fittipaldi, winner of the 2004 Rolex 24. “All in all, it was a very good day. We managed to put into practice everything we learned since our last test here. The car felt very strong, but we still have a long way to go before the race.”

Nick Tandy was first in the GT Le Mans (GTLM class, running 1:45.564 (121.405 mph) in his first time at the wheel of the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR.

“It was a very good day, and it’s nice to be on top,” said Tandy, who won the GT class in the 2013 season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in a Porsche.

Also announcing its Rolex 24 lineup was the SRT Motorsports GTLM team. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champion, joins full-season drivers Dominik Farnbacher and Marc Goossens in the No. 91 SRT Viper GTS-R, while two-time European Le Mans Series champion Rob Bell will share the No. 93 Pennzoil Ultra SRT Viper GTS-R with full-season teammates Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer.

Colin Braun led Prototype Challenge competitors with a lap of 1:42.468 (125.073 mph) in the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA FLM09 co-driven by Jon Bennett and Mark Wilkins.

Spencer Pumpelly was fastest in the GT Daytona group with a lap of 1:47.981 (118.688 mph) during the afternoon session in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS. His co-driver, Nelson Canache Jr., led the morning session with a lap of 1:48.444 (118.181 mph).

In Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge testing, Bill Auberlen led the Grand Sports competitors with a lap of 1:56.451 (110.055 mph) in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3, while Eric Foss led the Street Tuner competitors, running 2:05.813 (101.865 mph) in the No. 56 Murillo Racing BMW 328i).

Testing for both series continues on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. ET, and includes an evening session from 6:30-8 p.m.

Chip Ganassi Racing on Friday announced it plans for the 2014 Tudor United SportsCar Championship. It also unveiled its driver lineups for the upcoming Rolex 24 race at Daytona International Speedway.

The lineup was announced at Daytona International Speedway on the opening day of the annual “Roar Before the Rolex 24″ test.

The seven-time and reigning GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series championship team and five-time and reigning Rolex 24 At Daytona winners will run the season with Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas behind the wheel.

Long-time partners Telcel and TELMEX return as the primary sponsors of the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley in the prototype category .

In addition, CGRwill again field two Prototypes for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, featuring eight drivers that represent some of the best talent the motor racing world has to offer.

Pruett and Rojas will unite with Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) teammate Jamie McMurray and reigning Indy Lights Champion Sage Karam to form the lineup in the No. 01 Telcel/Target/Comfort Revolution Ford EcoBoost Riley, while the Team Target trio of drivers Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Kyle Larson join sports car star Marino Franchitti in the No. 02 Target/Telcel/Big Machine Records Ford EcoBoost Riley.

SRT Motorsports announced Friday that Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rob Bell will join the factory two-car team for the extended endurance races in the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014.

Ryan Hunter-Reay to drive a Viper. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar Series champion, returns to the SRT Motorsports team he competed with in 2012 and is looking forward to getting the upcoming racing season off to a good start overall.

“The SRT Motorsports program has come such a long way in a short period of time,” Hunter-Reay said. “This is truly one of the most competitive forms of GT class racing in the world and for the Viper GTS-R team to earn three poles and a win last season is outstanding. I have a long history with the Riley Technologies family and am looking forward to working with the same group in 2014 to again represent SRT on the track.”

Hunter-Reay competes full-time in the IndyCar Series for Andretti Autosport. With 10 years and over 150 career starts, he has recorded 11 victories behind the wheel of an Indy car. In 2012 he secured the series championship after capturing a league-leading four victories in the season. Hunter-Reay is the only driver to earn wins in IndyCar, CART, Champ Car, ALMS and GRAND-AM.

Early in his career, Hunter-Reay was the 1999 Skip Barber Formula Dodge National Champion. In 2002, he won three races in the Toyota Atlantic Series and then moved up to the Champ Car World Series in 2003 and scored his first win at Surfers Paradise in Australia. In 2004 he then led all 250 laps en route to victory at The Milwaukee Mile, the historic track where he also recorded back to back wins in 2012 and 2013.

Hunter-Reay has 16 previous starts in the former GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series where he owns one victory in 2007 at Miller Motorsports Park Toole, Utah, and four total podium finishes. He has seven starts in the Rolex 24 At Daytona with a best finish of second overall in 2013.

Hunter-Reay will join returning drivers Dominik Farnbacher and Marc Goossens in the No. 91 SRT Viper GTS-R. Hunter-Reay and Goossens have a winning history together and were co-drivers in the 2007 Utah GRAND-AM victory driving a Riley Technologies entered Riley Daytona Prototype that also carried No. 91.

A McLaren GT factory driver, Bell has been racing sports cars for over eight years after working his way through the ranks of karting and single-seat race cars. During this time he has driven for Ferrari, Aston Martin and Porsche, competing in all the major sports car series including the European and American Le Mans Series and FIA GT. He has competed in the sports premier endurance races including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans.

“After seeing the steady progress the SRT Motorsports team has made, I can’t wait to get behind the wheel at Daytona and compete against some of the best GT class teams in the world,” Bell said. “Being the new kid on the block that is joining a team as it continues to grow and get better with every race, I’m confident it won’t take long to feel right at home.”

A double European Le Mans Series (ELMS) champion, Bell began his career in the UK Formula Renault championship, taking two titles before moving into sports cars in 2005. Since this time he has completed five seasons in ELMS, taking the GT2 titles in 2007 and 2008. He has made six 24 Hours of Le Mans starts with a best finish of fourth in GT2 in 2009 after having spent most of the race in second place. Bell has also made five starts in the Spa 24 Hours, including a second-place finish in 2009, and he also has a GT runner-up finish in the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona. Additional U.S starts include a return to Daytona for the 2012 Rolex 24, four Sebring appearances and three Petit Le Mans starts.

Bell will be joining returning drivers Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer in the No. 93 SRT Viper GTS-R.

“With Ryan returning and Rob joining SRT Motorsports, we’ve solidified our team for competition in the longer endurance events,” said Beth Paretta, Director of Marketing and Operations – SRT Brand and Motorsports, Chrysler Group LLC. “We can now turn our focus to continuing to get ready for Daytona and the upcoming season. We’re excited to kick off the new season and confident that we can continue improving and have an even better year in 2014.”

All six SRT Motorsports drivers will be participating in a press conference this Friday, January 3, at 12:20 p.m. in the infield media center at Daytona International Speedway where the annual Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona is being held, January 3rd – 5th, 2014. The season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, the inaugural race of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, will be run January 25th and 26th, 2014.

Patrick Dempsey will run the full IMSA Tudor United SportsCar Championship GT Daytona season with Andrew Davis in the No. 27 Dempsey Racing Porsche 911 GT America while the team’s sister No. 28 Porsche 911 GT America GTD entry will compete this year in a technical partnership with Konrad Motorsport.

Dempsey and Davis will be joined by Joe Foster and one additional driver for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, January 23 – 26, while the No. 28 Dempsey Racing/Konrad Motorsport Porsche 911 GT America will be co-driven by Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen, Lance Willsey, Klaus Bachler and team owner Franz Konrad at the Daytona opener.

Dempsey Racing officials announced Friday that factory Porsche Prototype driver Marc Lieb will be the fourth and final driver of the team’s No. 27 Porsche 911 GT America in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.

“Driving the full season with Andrew as my teammate is fantastic,” said Dempsey, the popular Hollywood actor who is also a lead driver and owner of Dempsey Racing. “He is truly one of the good guys in the paddock and we learned working with him last year that he is also one of the fastest on the track too, and very experienced in Porsches. We are heading into this season with high expectations.”

Foster, Dempsey’s longtime teammate and motorsports business partner, will join the No. 27 team for Daytona and the year’s other endurance races. Foster also led Dempsey Racing’s efforts in establishing the technical partnership with Konrad Motorsport, a top European sports car racing team that also has extensive experience in the Rolex 24.

“Our technical partnership with Konrad Motorsport is an ideal situation for all of us,” Foster said. “They bring a strong amount of recent experience with this particular model of 911 GT race car and also have a great relationship on all levels with Porsche.”

Bachler is a young factory Porsche Junior driver from Austria who has recent experience in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup. Engelhart is an equally talented German who races with Konrad Motorsport in Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup while Ineichen is also a Konrad team fixture as the reigning B-class Champion in the German Porsche Carrera Cup, a series in which Engelhart finished second in the main driver championship last year. Willsey is an American who tested at Daytona with Konrad in November and brings solid Porsche 911 GT3 racing experience to the team. Team owner and driver Konrad is also among the fastest veterans competing today and has more starts in the Rolex 24 than any driver on the team.

Nissan and Muscle Milk Pickett Racing will combine to compete in P2 in the new series.

As part of the Nismo Global Driver Exchange, racers from Nissan’s squad of international drivers will compete alongside Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf. Luhr is no stranger to Nissan colors – winning the GT1 World Championship aboard a Nissan GT-R with Michael Krumm in 2011.

Nissan P2 World Endurance Championship regular Alex Brundle will join the team for the Rolex 24 at Daytona – the young Brit aiming to follow in the footsteps of his father Martin Brundle who won the American round-the-clock endurance classic 26 years ago in 1988.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona will be the British driver’s first opportunity to contest a major US championship event. The second-generation racer drove for Oak Racing in 2013 in the FIA World Endurance Championship – finishing second in both the championship and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LM P2 class.

Nissan drivers will also drive the Muscle Milk ORECA 03 prototype class entry at the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 3 2014
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