Tag Archives: GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series

24 Hours at DAYTONA

Porsche GT3


In motorsports racing, every driver aims to win pole position whenever and wherever they race, bringing to mind the old adage “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”  With the completion of the qualifying sessions for the 51st Rolex 24 At Daytona, three drivers can enjoy the knowledge (and bragging rights) associated with earning pole position for their class as just over 48 hours remains to prepare for the iconic endurance race which starts at 1530 EST on Saturday, 26 January 2013.

Posting a lap of 1:40.553 (127.455mph) during Daytona Prototype (DP) qualifying, American driver Scott Pruett will start from pole position in the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing BMW/Riley.  “It was exciting to go out there and get it done,” said Pruett of his third career pole at the Rolex 24. Pruett, who comes into the race as the 2012 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Champion, has won this race eight times in class and four times overall and is unconcerned that he is one away from tying Hurley Haywood’s record five wins of the twice-around-the-clock challenge.  “If it’s meant to be it is.  The good Lord’s blessed me with this incredible career.  I’m going on my 45th or 46th year of driving and I wake up every morning and pinch myself.  To come to a place like Daytona…I get goose bumps just being here.”

Starting from pole allows these drivers to avoid traffic, as well as the mistakes of other drivers. Cars approach turn one at close to 200 mph, and applying their brakes while downshifting into the corner on the first lap leads cars in mid-pack to crowd each other and even touch, causing one or both cars to spin out — obviously not an ideal way to begin a race.

Britain’s Nick Tandy, driving the #32 Konrad Motorsport/Orbit Porsche GT3 Cup car, won the GT pole with a time of 1:47.631 (119.074 mph).  “We went out later in the session in order to preserve tyres and brakes,” said Tandy of his team’s strategy.  “It is huge to have pole position because we won’t need to be chasing the race right from the start and in this way we don’t stress the car, the tyres and the brakes.  At the Rolex 24 At Daytona every single lap you have to be on, so having a little less pressure from the start by being on pole is huge.”

As he was at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 earlier this month, Florida resident Shane Lewis was fastest in GX with a lap of 1:54.606 (111.827 mph) at the wheel of the #16 Napleton Racing Porsche Cayman.  He becomes the first-ever pole winner in the class which debuts at this race.

“I ran faster in practice than I did in qualifying because I couldn’t find anyone to draft with,” said Lewis who is marking his 16th time racing the Rolex 24 At Daytona.  “Daytona is a very special place.  To start on the pole when thousands of fans are going to be here is very special.”

Daytona 24 HRS

Rolex Stephan Cooper 1


As 59 teams utilize the Roar Before the Rolex 24 to get up to speed in preparation for the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 26, advances in technology and stepping up to the next level of competition are a common thread during the three-day test event at Daytona International Speedway.

For Jonathan Bomarito (Monterey, Calif.), who has been with Speedsource for three years, the transition from the GT class Mazda RX-8 to a new class and car with the Mazda6 GX is an exciting one.  “Everything is great about this all-new Mazda6 GX, powered by the SKYACTIV-D clean diesel engine.  We’re doing a lot of system tests here because this (clean burning fuel) is a first for GRAND-AM.  There a lot of things to go through and we are starting the process here at the Roar Before the Rolex 24.  The guys at Mazdaspeed/Speedsouce have done a great job.  The chassis is similar to what we ran last year, but with a little longer wheel base and the car is a little bit heavier than last year.  Actually, the chassis is a bit low on our list right now because everything is pretty good with it.  We’re concentrating on system checks, running temperatures and horsepower.”

“I really like the concept of the new GX class (basically a street car that has been marginally engineered to race) in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.  It’s growing now but when GRAND-AM announces that there will definitely be a GX class for 2014, after the merger with ALMS, I am sure there will be a lot more manufacturers coming on board.  The concept is great and the racing will definitely be great too.”

Another team making a major move is Team Sahlen which competed for seven years in GT before making the decision to step up to the DP class for 2013. 

“Do we start with a completely brand new car built from the ground up and keep running a Mazda, or do we make the move up to the Daytona Prototype class,” said Joe Sahlen (Elma, N.Y.) of the decision process which started a year ago when they learned the RX-8 was no longer an option.  “Our team began with pretty humble beginnings, but in the last few years we have upgraded the entire team – in terms of engineering and with the equipment in the paddock – and we felt we were now ready to be a part of the premier GRAND-AM roster.  We cannot ask for a better circumstance than what we have now at the Roar Before the 24 with not one but two DP race cars.”

Success at this level of competition relies on consistency in endurance racing, as well as minimizing mistakes.  “There are a bunch of very fast cars here, but we’re all human and errors occur and things happen so we plan to be consistent and run a clean race,” said Sahlen, a driver and team principal, along with Joe Nonamaker, at Team Sahlen since 2005.  “One of our cars, the #42, will be driven by pros and the #43 car will be driven by gentlemen drivers.  We would like to finish in the top five with the #42 and we hope to run a strong clean race with the gentleman car and have a lot of fun in the process.  We plan to run the two cars for the entire GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car season.”

“For me as a driver there was a bit of a learning curve and I had a few butterflies at first,” said Sahlen, explaining that when they tested at Mid-Ohio he felt pretty comfortable in the car by turn four.  “The DP car has such great responsiveness it makes the car relatively easy to drive.  We are really looking forward to completing our test here at the Roar Before the 24.  The Roar is crucial to a team, especially if you are bringing in drivers… they have to get used to the car and, for that matter, many of them have to get used to the track since so many of them have never been here.”

With Dane Cameron (Suwanee, Ga.) driving the #42 car, Team Sahlen moved to the top of the leader board with a best lap time of 1:42.101 over five practice sessions, a good indicator that the new  DP effort is paying off.

“This has been a huge project that Team Sahlen has undertaken,” said Cameron, a 23-year old California native who won the penultimate race of the 2012 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series driving the #43 Team Sahlen Mazda RX-8 on his home track of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.   “I can’t thank Joe Sahlen and the whole Nonnamaker family enough for the opportunity to be a part of this magnificent GRAND-AM team and I’m really proud of what we have accomplished up to this point.  To grow from a couple of GT cars over the years to two brand new fulltime Daytona Prototypes is such a huge step in motor racing.  All the hours that the crew have been putting in and the significant financial investment of the team just to get the cars on the pavement here is unbelievable.”

“The DP cars are so different from the GT cars I have raced.  The power it has… the down force it has … along with incredible brakes take a bit of getting used to and we are now getting pretty comfortable with it all.  It’s great to be at the Roar because we get to do so many laps we can work with the crew to make the necessary adjustments to improve the car before we get to the Rolex 24 At Daytona.  This is only our eighth or ninth day with the car so we have some catching up to do.  The race is going to be very challenging but I am hopeful we will be a consistent threat to the rest of the DP field throughout the season.”

Grand Am Series



While the setting for the Championship Weekend at Lime Rock Park may be bucolic, the hills today reverberated with the sounds of intense action from the 13th and final race of the 2012 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.   The yellow flag was in regular use as, right out of pit row, the race started under a full course caution after the #70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 went off the course in turn one during the last parade lap.  A stop and go pace followed for much of the first half of the race – a second full-course yellow for a multi-car accident was shortly followed by a wreck between Andrew Davis (Bogart, Ga.) in the #59 Brumos Racing Porsche and Paul Dalla Lana (Toronto, Canada) in the #94 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 at the entrance to the esses .  And, just over an hour into the race, the #70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8, driven by Jonathan Bomarito (Monterey, Calif.), was again off track.   As the race neared its conclusion, it seemed the drivers were finally in their comfort zones.

In the DP class, with the championship title still on the line, the race win was taken by Ricky Taylor (Apopka, Fla.) and co-driver Max Angelelli (Monaco) in the #10 SunTrust Racing Corvette DP.   It was their third victory of the season as well as their third victory in three races at Lime Rock Park. 

“I was sitting there at the beginning of the race and I was hoping for a podium, to be honest,” said Taylor explaining that as soon as he saw Angelelli’s speed on the restart at the beginning, he knew they had a car that could possibly win the race.  “When the yellow came out I was a bit nervous, but in hindsight I was lucky because it made us a bit safer on fuel and got us less laps on the tires.”  The final yellow gave Taylor a chance to collect himself:  “I’ve never been one to take a deep breath, and I needed it.  I was shaking, I was a mess.  It definitely helped me a lot.  The car dropped off dramatically the last five laps and that yellow might have given me that extra buffer, especially since it’s a four-lap yellow here instead of a three-lap yellow and that gave me a little of a buffer as far as tire wear goes.”  

Richard Westbrook (London, England) had turned three pole position starts in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP into wins earlier in the season – at Barber Motorsports Park, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – but was unable to make it happen for a fourth time.  “It was a very tough race,” said Westbrook who shares the #90 driving with Antonio Garcia (Madrid, Spain).   “A good advert for GRAND-AM again; it was a really good DP race.  Everyone on a different strategy, but everyone had the same problem when they were on the end of the life of the tires.  It was very difficult and there was a big drop off in lap times.  It made for interesting racing.  There was quite a bit of overtaking.  Considering its Lime Rock, it’s very difficult to overtake.  Congrats to the Sun Trust crew.  I thought they drove really well today and deserved it.  I’m really happy to just get podium.  We’ve either won or not finished this year, so it’s nice to get a good solid haul of points.” 

Finishing third with the 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP was Jon Fogarty (Bend, Ore.) and Alex Gurney (Irvine, Calif.).  “It was tough going without a win this season, but it wasn’t for lack of effort on the Gainsco guy’s part,” said Fogarty.  “It was a quite a strong end to the year.  We had good pace, and we did run up front, just never quite put everything together, which is exactly what you have to do.  You’ve got to be perfect to win one of these; the competition is tough.  It’s not like the wins are easy to come by.”

GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series points leaders Memo Rojas (Mexico City, Mexico) and Scott Pruett (Auburn, Calif.) driving the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley, finished seventh overall in DP to claim their third consecutive series title, and their fourth in five years (2008, ’10, ’11 and ’12).  Pruett also marks another milestone with the finish – securing his fifth DP championship – and setting a new GRAND-AM record.  GT teammates Emil Assentato and (Locust Valley, N.Y.) and Jeff Segal (Miami, Fla.), co-drivers of the #69 AIM Autosport Ferrari 458, who secured their GT class championship three weeks ago at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, will celebrate with Rojas and Pruett in Manhattan on Monday, October 1, when all four will be presented with Rolex Daytona Chronographs during the Rolex Champions Banquet presented by SunTrust at Gotham Hall. 

In the GT class, after leading for close to two hours of the race, Andy Lally (Northport, N.Y.), at the wheel of the #44 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3 Cup car, was overtaken by the #57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro GT.R driven by Robin Liddell (England) with three laps remaining.  Building from the pole start of co-driver John Edwards (Cincinnati, Ohio), Liddell went on to win the class and earn the team it’s third victory of the year, having won previously at Watkins Glen and Montreal. 

“I had limited dry running yesterday [during practice] and so to be honest I didn’t really feel in good control of the race and the car for most of the race,” said Liddell.  “But towards the end it just turned into a big fight and we knew Lally was probably a bit short on fuel.  We didn’t really know how much they could do so we just tried to keep the pressure on him and see if we could force him to run out of fuel or make a mistake.  Fortunately that’s what happened at the end.  It was a tough race.  I felt mentally not really on top of the whole thing, but as the race progressed I got more into it.  In the end we were able to get a good rhythm.  We had a slow first pit stop which lost us a lot of track position, but as the race unfolded and we got back on sync with the strategy we were able to work our way back up.  From second through sixth in the championship everyone was close on points and we really felt that pressure coming into this race, knowing that if we had a slip up we could easily end up sixth in the championship.  The car performed very well all season and the guys have done a superb job, been absolutely faultless.  I’ve been with these guys five years now and this year they’ve really excelled in their performance of preparing the car and executing in the pits.”

Finishing second in the #51 APR Motorsport Audi R8 was South African native Dion von Moltke (Coral Gables, Fla.) and co-driver Jim Norman (Tampa, Fla.), for their first podium finish of the season.  Third was Alessandro Balzan (Rovigo, Italy), in his second series appearance, driving the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 with Johannes van Overbeek (San Francisco, Calif.).  The podium finish also earned Ferrari the GT manufacturer’s championship.

 Photo By: Rolex / Stephan Cooper