Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day 1: Thursday Practice and Qualifying for Rolex 24-hour at Daytona

The 2010 edition of the Rolex 24-hour of Daytona is a go. As near freezing temperatures and icy rain plagued the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car teams through Daytona testing earlier this month, the first day weather for practicing for this weekend's 24 hour race was a polar opposite (pardon the pun; particularly to my fellow Canadians in Ontario enduring a late January cold snap).

The First practice for the Rolex Series, occurring in the late morning under a Florida sun saw the #6 Daytona Prototype of Michael Shank Racing outrunning the SunTrust #10. With Ford engines powering those two leading entries, a Porsche powerplant allowed the #59 Brumos Racing car to achieve a 3rd fastest time. One of the drivers of the #59 will be sports car legend Hurley Haywood who has pledged this to be has final 24-hour of Daytona event. Running nine seconds slower than the Daytona Prototype leaders, both Mazda RX-8 GT cars sandwiched the Porsche GT3 campaigned by TRG/ Flying Lizard Motorsports.

Besides the speeds, the first practice was spotlighted by the day's misfortune of 2009 Rolex Series Daytona Prototype champion team GAINSCO/ Bob Stallings Racing. After regular sports car driver Alex Gurney performed the first shake-down laps for the Chevrolet-powered Riley chassis, the #99 car (nicknamed Red Dragon) was turned over to reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson. Having placed some laps, Johnson misjudged a slower GT class car on an infield portion of the Daytona road course. Passing the GT car, the #99 spun out and slid back into a safety barrier.

While the team posted a time fast enough for 4th overall in the session, the rest of the Thursday had the GAINSCO/ Bob Stallings Racing Riley sidelined until a replacement rear bulkhead could be frown from Charlotte to Daytona. For sports car fans who might be under the impression that a NASCAR guy like Jimmie Johnson is merely running some sort of 'cameo appearance' in the Rolex Sports Car Series, he committed the resource of his airplane to have the replacement parts as well as an installation jig sent to the speedway Thursday evening. Planning a long night of at least five hours of work, the crew of #99 GAINSCO/ Bob Stallings Racing will have their Riley Chevy back in competition on Friday.

The Rolex Sport Car Series GT and Daytona Prototypes, less the entry of GAINSCO/ Bob Stallings Racing, were unleashed for the first round of qualifying amidst a bright, 70 degree farhenheit afternoon. Setting the top 20 grid position for each class, the pressure in of qualifying is enhanced by the tight 15 minute per class sessions.

At the end, the #10 SunTrust Racing Dallara Ford swept to the pole position. This car, driven by the collective racing talents Max Angelelli, Wayne and Ricky Taylor as well as former F1 driver Pedro Lamy, has shown consistent speed through all of 2010 at Daytona. The SunTrust Dallara Ford outran the Crown Royal sponsored #60 car of Michael Shank Racing by almost half a second. The rest of the top five features the second Michael Shank Racing vehicle in 3rd followed by the two Chip Ganassi Racing BMW-engined Rileys, the #02 car preceding the #01.

Photo Credit: Grand-Am Media

The GT Class featured a domination of the Mazda RX-8 in qualifying for the 2010 Rolex 24-hour of Daytona. Led by the #69 car for the SpeedSource team, the Racers Edge Motorsports car divided the SpeedSource's team #70 Mazda from the GT pole-sitting teammate. The Godstone Ranch Motorsport/ Team MBR entry, an all-new Chevrolet Corvette C6R GT is built by the same Pratt & Miller organization behind the Chevrolet-factory's American Le Mans Series car. Fifth place in time is the world-class TRG Porsche GT3 car, 2009 GT Class winning team of the Rolex 24-hour race.

3 Daytona Prototypes and 2 GT cars have not posted times in through the Thursday qualifying. Qualifying on Friday will finalize the 2010 Rolex 24-hour of Daytona.

Photo Credit: Grand-Am Media

In the 3rd and final practice after qualifying, the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team topped the top chart with the superstar #02 team of Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Jamie McMurray and Juan Montoya ran faster than the Michael Shank Racing #6 car. Unable to run a lap in Thursday qualifying due to damage caused by a tangle with a GT car in the 2nd round practice, the #95 Crown Royal/ NPN Racing car presented themselves in a strong 6th place position. SpeedSource again led the GT class in speed. Followed by the Porsche of TRG/ Flying Lizard Motorsports, the 3rd fastest spot went to an emerging #32 BMW M6.

For Friday, final round qualifying and two more practice sessions will be the prelude to the 2010 Rolex 24-hour of Daytona.

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