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Daytona 24 HRS

Rolex Stephan Cooper 1

DAY TWO TESTING: ROLEX 24 HOURS AT DAYTONA

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.”