Spirit Is Strong During Final Day Of The Roar
Spirit of Daytona Racing left the November TUDOR United SportsCar Championship open test at Daytona International Speedway with a torn-up race car.
The team returned to Daytona for the Roar Before the Rolex 24 with a brand-new race car and took the honors of running the fastest lap on Sunday, the final day of the three-day test session. Richard Westbrook – who avoided injury in the November incident – led the Prototype competitors with a lap of 1:39.748 (128.484 mph) in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP he co-drives with Michael Valiante and Mike Rockenfeller.
“We’re really happy with the test, especially after the accident here in November,” Westbrook said. “That was the worst possible start for our 2014 campaign. Ironically, it’s helped turn everything around. Now, we’ve got a brand new car, the guys are on top of it, and I’ve got two great teammates. It’s still early, but we had a fantastic, trouble-free test and a nice car. Daytona is a fantastic place to drive when you have a nice car.
“I’m ready to race now, but now the team has to work on a lot of the boring stuff, working on all the details to make sure we’re up front at 2:30 [p.m.] on Sunday, Jan. 26.”
Teams have less than three weeks to make final preparations for the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona before opening practice and qualifying on Thursday, Jan. 23. The race takes the green flag at 2:30 p.m. that Saturday.
Christian Fittipaldi turned in the fastest lap of the three-day test on Friday, when he braved chilly conditions to run 1:38.630 (129.940 mph) in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP co-driven by Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais. Sunday’s test was held under sunny skies and nearly 40 degrees warmer.
Backing up his best time of the testing, Sam Bird was fastest on Sunday in Prototype Challenge, running a best lap of 1:42.704 (124.786 mph) in the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport ORECA FLM09 co-driven by Eric Lux, Mirco Schultis and Renger van der Zande. Bird led the class by running 1:42.010 (125.635 mph) on Saturday.
Mike Guasch, 2013 ALMS PC champion, was third-fastest in the final session in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA FLM09 co-driven by Tomy Drissi, Luis Diaz, David Cheng and James Kovacic.
“This is my first time at Daytona,” Guasch said. “I learned how the track went by practicing on a simulator, but I’ve got to admit it was pretty exhilarating driving on the high banks for the first time. We’re still sorting out the car for Daytona, because this is our first time here, but we’re very close.
“The Rolex 24 is going to be a real tough race. The other teams are bringing their big guns out, but we are bringing ours, too. You don’t have to be the fastest here. You’ve got to be good and quick – and the least unlucky.”
Corvette Racing posted the two quickest times Sunday with the No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R driven by Oliver Gavin leading the way at 1:45.915 (121.003 mph).
However, the final practice session was indicative of the variety of the factory-backed competition in the GT Le Mans class. An SRT Viper GTS-R led the session, followed by a Porsche 911 RSR and a Corvette C7.R – with an Aston Martin Vantage not far behind.
Jonathan Bomarito led the class with a lap of 1:46.496 (120.343 mph) in the No. 93 Pennzoil Ultra entry from SRT Motorsports. Patrick Long was second quickest in the No. 912 Porsche North America machine at 1:46.779 (120.024 mph), followed by Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette Racing C7.R, 1:46.783 (120.019 mph).
“It’s an honor to be amongst this group,” Long said. “This is an opportunity that I’ve hoped to be part of for the past 10 years – an all-factory GT team here in the states.
“Corvette has been setting the bar the last few seasons, and SRT has progressed faster than many people expected. We’re not sure where the Porsche is going to fit in. Fortunately, Daytona is usually very good for the Porsches. We’re cautious, because this team is so new. We’ll race the race and hope we’re still there with two hours to go, and then race who’s left.”
At the end of the three-day test, Porsche came out on top, with Nick Tandy running 1:45.564 (121.405 mph) in the No. 911 Porsche North America 911 RSR, followed by the No. 4 Corvette C7.R of Oliver Gavin, 1:45.743 (121.200 mph), and Jan Magnussen in the No. 3 Corvette, 1:45.792 (121.143 mph). The top seven cars in the class were separated by less than six-tenths of a second.
The TUDOR Championship’s GTLM class also includes the Krohn Racing Ferrari F458 Italia and a pair of BMW Z4 GTEs from BMW Team RLL.
The GT Daytona class was paced on Sunday by Markus Winkelhock, who turned in a best time of 1:48.462 (118.161 mph) in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsport Audi R8 LMS. It was the third session of the test to be led by the No. 45 machine, as Winkelhock’s co-drivers, Spencer Pumpelly and Nelson Canache Jr. both led earlier in the weekend.
Porsche led the final session of the GTD test, with Alex Riberas running 1:48.846 (117.744 mph) in the No. 23 Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing 911 GT America co-driven by Ian James and Mario Farnbacher.
Audi was fastest of the 28 cars participating in the class throughout the Roar, with Pumpelly running 1:47.981 in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS in the Friday afternoon session.
“This class is going to be very competitive, no question about it,” Pumpelly said. “Each car has its own strengths and weaknesses. I think Audi’s strong point is braking and the torque off the slower corners. We learned a lot at this test, and we’re close to our race setup. The Rolex 24 includes a lot of factors that are out of your control, so it’s important to have a good car and a good team that can deal with the variables that creep up during the Rolex 24.”
One of the teams transitioning into GTD is Level 5 Motorsports, moving from three consecutive prototype titles in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón to the production-based class in the TUDOR Championship.
“We’ve had a lot to learn, and we had a very productive test,” said Jeff Segal, a two-time GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT champion who will drive with Level 5 Motorsports in a Ferrari 458 Italia. “The car has been really well sorted out after running for the past two seasons of development.
“Our challenge is taking a team that has been racing a prototype to work with a GT car and put together a lot of new faces. Now we’ve got a laundry list of things to do before the race, but I think we’re in good shape. You can tell this team is used to winning championship. They’ve been up to the challenge at every step.”No Comment