Roar's excitement loud as Rolex 24 testing begins
January 03, 2014, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Rolex 24 at Daytona, a long-running good thing, is destined to become even better.
That fact was underscored Friday both on and off the track during the first day of the annual "Roar Before the Rolex 24" test sessions at Daytona International Speedway.
Friday showcased star power in terms of machinery and men, providing ample preseason boost to already burgeoning anticipation about the 52nd running of the Rolex 24, which will open the inaugural IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season on Jan. 25-26. The TUDOR Championship is the product of the merger of the American Le Mans Series and the GRAND-AM Rolex Series.
The long-awaited combination of prototypes from the two former series, resulting in the new headlining Prototype class, was on display in the form of 15 exotic pieces. At day's end, the fast lap around the 3.56-mile DIS road course belonged to the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP of Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais -- 1 minute, 38.630 seconds (129.940 mph).
Complementing the on-track action was the announcement of another all-star, two-car Prototype lineup from Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, combining drivers from sports cars, stock cars and open-wheel. Ganassi's organization has dominated the Rolex 24 in recent years, winning the endurance classic five times: 2006-08, 2011 and 2013.
In the team's No. 01 Ford EcoBoost/Riley, five-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett and three-time winner Memo Rojas will be joined by former Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray and reigning Indy Lights champion Sage Karam. In Ganassi's No. 02 entry, former Indianapolis 500 champion Scott Dixon and reigning Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan will be joined by sports car prototype ace Marino Franchitti and young NASCAR star Kyle Larson, last year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series who is moving up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year with Ganassi.
"When you make it to Victory Lane in [the Rolex 24], you know you have accomplished something really special," Ganassi said. "In addition, it isn't often when we can bring such a diverse group of drivers from NASCAR, IndyCar and IMSA together to compete in one race. It is a great kick-off to our racing season."
The TUDOR Championship consists of four classes: Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona. In addition to the Prototype class, Friday's other three class-leading times:
-- In Prototype Challenge, the No. 54 CORE Autosport ORECA FLM09 of Colin Braun, Jon Bennett and Mark Wilkins led the way at 1:42.468 (125.073);
-- In GT Le Mans, the No. 911 Porsche North America 911 RSR driven by Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet was clocked at 1:45.564 (121.405);
-- In GT Daytona, the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8, driven by Nelson Canache Jr., Tim Pappas and Spencer Pumpelly ran a fast lap of 1:47.981 (118.688).
Testing continues Saturday with a 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. ET session followed by the traditional Roar night practice set for 6:30-8 p.m. under the lights. The Roar wraps up Sunday with a 9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. schedule.