It’s been an interesting morning and afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. Practice kicked off for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona this morning and there was plenty of action to be seen.
Endurance racing is a different breed from the exciting world of the IZOD IndyCar Series. While, yes, ultimately it is a race and there’s a start and a finish; there are literally thousands of things that can go wrong over the course of 24 hours. As a result, practice for this event is quite a sight. Teams are scrambling to put together race setups as well as find that extra bit of speed for the qualifying session in the afternoon. It takes a high level of preparation combined with dependable equipment and super-fast drivers.
Showing that they look to continue to dominate the Grand Am series Team Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates jumped to the top of the practice charts in the first session.
Dario Franchitti was behind the wheel of the #02 TELMEX/Target Daytona prototype that he will be sharing with co-drivers Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray.
Quite a lineup with four Indianapolis 500 wins and one Brickyard 400 win amongst them. Dario laid down a quick lap of 1:40.54 which was good enough for the top position. The #01 Target/TELMEX struggled in the morning session having turned a 1:41.002 which was good enough for 7th place on the charts.
Grand-Am practice is quite interesting to watch. There are multiple classes on track at the same time so it can breed some hairy situations. If you’re ever lucky enough to attend a Grand-Am event or the 24-Hours of Daytona be sure to find a seat at the end of a long straight into a heavy braking zone. The Daytona prototypes have so much more power than the GT class cars that they make massive gains on the straights (and the corners for that matter). As a result as they approach heavy braking zones often times DP drivers have to make last second decisions with the car to avoid contact and negotiate passes.
Practice two took off later in the day and showed that there were some other forces to be reckoned with in the paddock. Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe’s team for the weekend showed they’re ready to run up front. Ryan, co-driving with Wayne Taylor, Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli, helped his team post a fast lap of 1:40.340 putting them in P1 for the final practice session before qualifying.
Justin Wilson and his Michael Shank Racing teammates A.J. Allmendinger and Michael McDowell picked up the pace and finished the session in 5th place with a quick lap of 1:40.902.
The Ganassi cars seemed to struggle a bit, compared to the first session, with the #01 finishing in 7th place and the #02 ending up in 12th position. The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley, which is being driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Raphael Matos in coordination with Scott Tucker and Richard Westbrook, that finished 5th in the first session dropped five positions to end practice in 10th place.
Qualifying in Grand-Am is different from practice in that the classes qualify individually. Daytona International Speedway was recently repaved and post-practice all the drivers were commenting about how much faster the track was. It became clear just how much faster it was in qualifying. Jorg Bergmeister, who is competing in a Daytona prototype for the first time, would show that he’d found the fastest line around the course. Jorg and the Flying Lizard Motorsports team, a first year Daytona prototype team, laid down not only the fastest lap of the qualifying session but also a new Daytona prototype track record with a 1:40.099. Ryan Briscoe’s teammate and co-driver Max Angelelli put in a super strong effort finishing with a fast lap of 1:40.133 which was good enough for second place. Scott Pruett, who’s co-driving with IZOD IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal, proved that he still hasn’t lost any pace with a lap of 1:40.245 landing him in 3rd place. Scott Dixon would take the wheel of the #02 for qualifying and would not disappoint. Scott put together a great lap with a 1:40.302 yielding him a 5th place starting position. A.J. Allmendinger would put Justin Wilson’s car towards the front with a 8th place grid spot. Unfortunately the #95 of Raphael Matos and Ryan Hunter-Reay did not qualify and will start in the 50th position.
The teams have now taken to the garages for the day to make changes for practice tomorrow as well as change engines. Tomorrow should be another interesting day. Be sure to check back and MAKE SURE you follow us on Saturday as we’ll be live blogging for the full 24 hours!