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Bet On Edwards And Ambrose Having Grand Time This Weekend

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 29 2009
Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose will take to the Grand-Am track this weekend in top-notch Bill Doran equipment. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose will take to the Grand-Am track this weekend in top-notch Kevin Doran equipment. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Can NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose win the Grand-Am Rolex Series race in Montreal?

“We don’t expect to win it, but we want to put up a good challenge,” said Ambrose.

The Australian and Edwards will become the latest NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers to participate in the Grand-Am Rolex Series. Some have fared better than others aboard the Daytona Prototypes in the series founded by the France family and currently owned by NASCAR.

Kyle Busch overshot the chicane twice at the Daytona round of the Grand-Am in July, flat-spotting his tires and forcing unscheduled pit stops for the Chip Ganassi Racing team. That put co-driver Scott Speed, a Formula One veteran, at a disadvantage. On the other hand, ex-Formula One driver and current NASCAR regular Juan Pablo Montoya is a two-time winner in the prestigious 24-hour Rolex race at Daytona with Ganassi.

“I think people will be impressed at how quickly they adapt to the car,” said Kevin Doran, the veteran owner of the Dallara-Ford chassis Edwards and Ambrose will drive. Sponsorship comes from Aflac and Subway for Edwards plus iRacing.com and Aussie wines for Ambrose.

In a recent test at the Virginia International Raceway, Doran himself was impressed. That’s not easy to do with a former crew chief for five-time Camel GT champion Al Holbert and a five-time winner at Daytona’s 24-hour as a crew chief, team owner and car constructor.

“They took to the car really quickly, surprisingly quickly,” said Doran of the test that ran aproximately 50 laps.

“Both drivers have raced at Montreal in the Nationwide Series, so they both know the course already,” continued Doran. “Marcos has driven cars that are slower than this and faster (on road courses). He has a feel for sports cars. For Carl, it was probably the hardest cornering and the highest g-forces of a car he’s ever been in. It was a different animal for him.”

Edwards likened the Daytona Prototype to a space vehicle. “There’s all this carbon fiber around you, the windshield is round and you have all these switches on the dashboard,” he said. He also compared the Dallara-Ford to a dirt track vehicle.

“It was so fast, it was like a winged sprint car,” he said.

After driving single-seater Formula Fords in Europe in pursuit of a Formula One ride and having won the Australian V8 Supercar Series championship twice in Ford Falcons, Ambrose was in his element aboard a purpose-built road racing machine.

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had driving a race car,” he said of the test. “It would do anything you wanted it to do. You drive it so aggressively and you got speed out of it.”

The biggest adjustment for either driver is the perennial issue of learning to pass the slower GT class cars such as the Porsche GT3, Mazda RX.8 and Pontiac GXP.R. “That’s going to be something completely different for them,” said Doran. The GT field will include NASCAR Nationwide regular Brendan Gaughn in a Porsche GT3 entry from TRG Motorsports.

Doran expects his duo will be able to mix it up with the other Daytona Prototype drivers. “You have to be careful about a low percentage pass,” said Doran. “But these guys want to win. They’re going to go for it. That’s what they get paid to do and that’s what they’re going to do.”

Scott Pruett of the Ganassi team believes the Sprint Cup regulars will fit in well at Montreal. Pruett and co-driver Memo Rojas lead the Daytona Prototype championship by four points over Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty of GAINSCO Racing.

“I know Carl real well,” said Pruett. “I don’t know Marcos very well. But, you know, Carl will go out there and be a great competitor and certainly won’t do anything to disrupt the championship. But at the same time, every race car driver wants to go out and run, run as fast as they can.”

Rules for the two-hour race require two drivers. The driver who qualifies must start and each team must make a pit stop within the first 45 minutes, a procedure used to equate fuel mileage. Doran expects the fuel window to open after about 50 minutes, depending on caution laps, meaning pit strategy remains a toss-up.

Given Ambrose’s road racing experience, it will be a tough call for Doran to choose who qualifies, then starts and who finishes. “I think they’ll both end up leaving it up to me to decide,” he said.

The most likely scenario is for a driver change in the first 45 minutes, then a gas only stop after the fuel window is open during a caution period. That points to Ambrose finishing, because the second driver will get the most seat time.

In any event, team owner Doran expects to qualify somewhere in the top ten. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we qualified in the top eight,” he said.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 29 2009
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