A few news items and notes from around the paddock and track at Daytona International Speedway on Friday, the final day of preparations of the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona weekend.
FOYT OUT AS GRAND MARSHAL – One element of the 50th anniversary celebrations at this year's Rolex came to a halt on Friday, with the news that A.J. Foyt will not be attending this weekend to perform his duties as grand marshal. Foyt, the 1983 winner of the Rolex 24, said his doctors held him out after sustaining complications from his recent knee surgery.
“I'm really sorry I can't be there this weekend,” Foyt said in a statement. “I was really looking forward to it because I thought it was a great honor to be asked to be the Grand Marshal of the 50th Anniversary of that race and considered it to be one of the great highlights of my career. I guess I'll be watching the race from my hospital room – the doctors pulled rank on me.”
HEIGHT PLANS – If its driver lineup wasn't reason enough to pay attention, the AF Waltrip Ferrari 458 also is of interest because its driver lineup runs the gamut of different heights more so than any other team in the paddock. Michael Waltrip and Travis Pastrana both tower over their respective co-drivers (ABOVE), each standing at least 6'3”, while Rob Kauffman and Rui Aguas only hover around 5'6”.
The team has had to adjust the paddle shift sets on the steering wheel (RIGHT). Its stock unit has been replaced with one that now turns with the steering wheel. Meanwhile, Aguas and Kauffman utilize separate seat inserts for their stints, while Waltrip and Pastrana share one of similar stature. The AF Corse-run entry features sponsorship from NAPA Auto Parts, Aaron's (Waltrip's longtime sponsors) and Motegi Racing, among others.
MORETTI DECALS – A number of teams are running commemorative decals in tribute to MOMO founder Gianpiero Moretti, the 1998 overall winner of the Rolex 24 who passed away in late December. MOMO made the decals available for teams to use. While most have opted for a small square featuring the traditional No. 30 in yellow lettering with the red background, the Doran Racing Ford Dallara DP has its rear wing fully decked out in a similar livery as the MOMO Ferrari 333SP prototype was during its racing tenure (BELOW). Doran team principal Kevin Doran ran Moretti's Ferraris when that team was active. Max Papis, who first came on the scene with his stunning effort aboard Moretti's Ferrari in 1996, sported a red hat with the No. 30 on it in yellow.
ROTATION QUEUES – Many teams are trying to make their driver changes as simple as possible, with teams opting to put their third or fourth drivers in second. For instance, SunTrust and GAINSCO's Corvette DPs will put their lead driver (Max Angelelli and Alex Gurney, respectively) in first, followed by their endurance addition (Ryan Briscoe, Memo Gidley) and normal second driver (Ricky Taylor, Jon Fogarty). Fogarty and Angelelli estimated it would be easier to maintain the normal routine as they'd have at another Rolex race.
COMBINED PRACTICE – Friday's final day of practice for the Rolex 24 at Daytona didn't offer teams much chance of testing their race setups in full per the inclement weather. Steady rain fell throughout the two morning sessions, which made any time improvements impossible. GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing (DP, 1:50.365) and Paul Miller Racing (GT, 1:53.160) posted the all but negligible fastest times.
With all five practice sessions complete, SunTrust Racing posted the fastest practice time for the weekend at 1:41.952 – but that time was eclipsed by the top six in qualifying in the DP class. Corvettes were 1-3 throughout practice, with the first Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Riley fourth and Action Express's No. 9 Corvette in fifth.
GT practice produced a similar story in terms of qualifying times beating the practice ones. TRG ended fastest in the combined times with its No. 67 Porsche GT3 Cup at 1:49.512, with the top three on the grid quicker than that. Sister Porsches from Miller, Magnus and Alex Job's teams were next up in the combined practice times, with the No. 94 Turner BMW rounding out the top five in class. Eight cars dipped below 1:50 in GT practice, and nine did so in qualifying.
MANUFACTURER GRID BREAKDOWN – In Daytona Prototypes, the top seven on the grid are the new third-generation body kits. A top nine sweep would have been likely had Action Express's No. 5 and the Ganassi No. 01 taken times and not been hit with engine woes. Michael McDowell clocked in fastest of the five grandfathered G2 cars, Michael Shank's Ford Riley, three tenths slower than Joao Barbosa in seventh in the sister Action Express Corvette.
GT sees Porsche, Ferrari, Mazda and Chevrolet in the top 10 on the grid. Porsche has locked out six of the top 10 spots, with two Ferraris and an RX-8 and Camaro apiece in the best starting positions in class. Audi managed to qualify 15th, while the Turner BMWs struggled to only 20th and 30th (Paul Dalla Lana, Turner's gentleman driver, was in the 30th-place qualifier). The single Ford Mustang and Dodge Viper slotted in 23rd and 28th, respectively. While qualifying otherwise doesn't mean much for a 24-hour race, it was interesting to see how the manufacturer parity played out throughout the session.
OTHER TIDBITS – The saga of who's in Starworks' No. 2 entry took another turn Friday when Michael Valiante, who was in Daytona to run the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge' BMW Performance 200, was added to that car's lineup. The latest, and likely last, entry list update sees Valiante and Ryan Hunter-Reay sharing that car with Miguel and Enzo Potolicchio and Scott Mayer. APR Audi driver Dion Von Moltke estimated the team gained two full seconds in Thursday's running from where they had been at the Roar Before the 24 testing. Doran Racing's Paul Tracy said the team had changed engines overnight, and also dismissed rumors a tweet that said “signed, sealed, delivered” was a cryptic confirmation of an IndyCar ride for this season. Tracy described that as a continued “work in progress." Forty drivers are doing “the double,” this weekend, by not only competing in the Rolex 24 but also in Friday's Continental Tire race. Billy Johnson and Jack Roush Jr. (GS, Roush Performance Ford Mustang BOSS 302R) and Pierre Kleinubing and Jayson Clunie (ST, MAZDASPEED 3) scored the class victories.