JANUARY 9, 2015
There is an old adage in motor sports: “To race is to live; all the rest is just waiting.” For many of the sports car racing teams that have gathered at Daytona International Speedway this week, it has seemed like forever since the last season ended. And now with off-season sponsor negotiations and other game-changing business matters mostly behind them, it’s time for getting down to the real business of preparing for the first major international motor sports event of 2015: the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
As its name implies, the Roar Before the Rolex 24 is a thunderously sweet three days of dress rehearsal for the iconic big event later this month, providing veteran drivers like California’s Scott Pruett the chance to test a variety of technical arrangements, ranging from suspension settings and gear ratios to aerodynamic adjustments and brake bias. As well, new drivers have the chance to familiarize themselves not only with their cars but other team members. A last opportunity, if you will, to make things right.
“Year after year there is so much excitement leading up to the Rolex 24 At Daytona,” said Pruett. “With this weekend being the precursor to that event…the teams, the drivers, the cars…we arrived here and were immediately swept right back into that excitement.”
Pruett has won more major sports car races (59) in North America than any other driver in history, and he has claimed 12 major sports car championships, the most of any American. Although he has won his class at the Rolex 24 At Daytona 13 times (a record) and is tied with Hurley Haywood for most overall victories (five), the fact that another overall win this year will propel him into a league of his own does not play into Pruett’s overall psyche.
“The focus here with the Ganassi team and with Ford is that unlike last year when everything came together so late, this year the team is prepared the way we want to be prepared,” said Pruett. “This year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona will be a totally different race for us.” (Last year, Chip Ganassi Racing finished 43rd after completing only 610 laps.)
Pruett is sharing his 01 Target/Ford EcoBoost Riley car with a new driver this year, fellow Californian Joey Hand, who posted today’s fastest lap (1:39.397) and called this “a great first day on the job.” Hand co-drove with Pruett for the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona when they won that race, but this year will be his first full season with Chip Ganassi Racing.
“The nice thing with Joey coming on board,” said Pruett, “is that since he has driven with us a couple of times, he already fits in with the team. His becoming a full-time driver is going to be seamless. Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam (Pruett’s other co-drivers, respectively British and American) have also raced with us a couple of times before, and we all like the car set up somewhat the same. We are also similar in size; therefore, the Roar Before the Rolex 24 is a situation where we are moving forward rather than having to relearn anything.” (The Ganassi team’s second car, 02 Target/Ford Ecoboost Riley, will be driven by New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, Brazil’s Tony Kanaan, California’s Kyle Larson and Missouri’s Jamie McMurray.
The third fastest car today was the Delta Wing DWC13. When it made its debut in 2012 it astounded with its unique design and intriguing concept, but reliability was a problem and it lacked the overall speed to be competitive. Under its current owner Don Panoz, however, development has been steady and the car is beginning to impress.
Katherine Legge from Surrey, England has done most of the testing and development on the car and is credited with its promising turnaround. In 2005, she was the first woman to win a major open-wheel race in the United States, driving a Formula Atlantic, and while racing the Delta Wing Roadster, she became the only woman to hold the overall lead in an American Le Mans Series race.
“We started to show some real promise at the end of the 2014 season” said Legge, “so it’s fair to say the time and effort we have spent testing and developing this car has paid off. This could be the year our team finds the top step of the podium; we would really like to win here at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, and everyone at the shop has worked very hard to make that a reality.”
For the 2015 season, Legge is joined by a former teammate to Scott Pruett: Memo Rojas. Rojas joins another Ganassi alumnus, Tim Keene, who is the Delta Wing team manager. Their combined success at Ganassi Racing included three Rolex 24 At Daytona victories.