Record-Setting Rolex 24 At Daytona Field Looks to Make History on Several Levels

25.01.2007: Record-Setting Rolex 24 At Daytona Field Looks to Make History on Several Levels

A Rolex 24 At Daytona record 78 champions from throughout the world of motorsports are set to take on North America's most prestigious and grueling endurance event as the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve gets underway just after 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday for the twice-around-the-clock spectacular at Daytona International Speedway (Live television coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on FOX Sports).

Defending Rolex 24 At Daytona overall winners and IRL IndyCar Series champions Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon alongside their No. 02 Target/TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley co-drivers will lead a star-studded cast of drivers and a 28-car Daytona Prototype field. Wheldon, who also won the 2005 Indianapolis 500, and Dixon look to become the first co-drivers to repeat as Rolex 24 At Daytona victors since Al Holbert, Al Unser Jr. and Derek Bell went back-to-back in 1986 and 1987.

The No. 02 squad will have its hands full, however, with one--if not THE--deepest and most talented driver lineup in motorsports history. The trio needs to look no further than their own teammates in the No. 01 TELMEX/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley when looking for drivers and a car with the potential to prevent a repeat victory. Sharing the No. 01 machine will be 2004 Rolex Series Daytona Prototype co-champion Scott Pruett, Mexican rising star Salvador Duran and international racing superstar Juan Pablo Montoya, whose résumé already contains the 1999 Champ Car World Series title, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and seven Formula 1 Grand Prix victories.

Pruett owns a Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victory (1994) and is currently tied with sports car racing greats Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood with six class victories in the Rolex 24. Montoya, meanwhile, is looking to join the legendary Mario Andretti as the only drivers to win the endurance event at Daytona, the Indianapolis 500, an open-wheel title and at least one Formula 1 Grand Prix. However, Montoya would be the first to win a 24-hour race, as Andretti's Daytona sports car triumph came in a six-hour event in 1972.

Another team that has grabbed its share of headlines--and with good reason--is the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley lineup of Jeff Gordon, Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor and Jan Magnussen. Gordon, the four-time NASCAR Cup champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner, will make his first appearance in the Rolex 24, and has chosen one of the top teams in the Rolex Series with which to make his debut.

Angelelli and Taylor co-drove to the 2005 Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victory and the Daytona Prototype co-championship later that same year, while Magnussen is widely considered one of the top sports car drivers in the world. Angelelli posted the quickest time of Daytona Test Days earlier this month, while Taylor--who also took an overall Rolex 24 victory in 1996--is looking to become one of just 10 drivers to have three or more Rolex 24 victories. Gordon is looking to become the first NASCAR Cup champion to win the Rolex 24.

Gordon will be joined in his pursuit of history by fellow NASCAR Cup champions Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte. After a one-year absence, Johnson--who claimed his first NEXTEL Cup title and Daytona 500 victory in 2006--returns to the Rolex 24 At Daytona and will co-drive the No. 91 Lowe's Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley with Champ Car race-winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and road racing experts Marc Goossens and Jim Matthews.

Stewart, the two-time NASCAR Cup champion and 1996-97 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion, returns for his fourth consecutive Rolex 24 At Daytona and will once again co-drive the No. 20 Howard Motorsports Pontiac Crawford with a pair of sports car aces in Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace. Both Leitzinger and Wallace own three Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victories and would love nothing more than to add another Rolex Daytona Perpetual Cosmograph to their jewelry cases on Sunday afternoon.

The century's first NASCAR Cup champion, Labonte, returns for his third run at Rolex 24 glory and has joined forces with Finlay Motorsports and co-drivers Michael Valiante, Michael McDowell and Rob Finlay in the No. 19 Z-Line/Make-A-Wish/Mission Residential/Menards/Uniden Ford Crawford. This is another car that posted lightning-fast times throughout preseason testing and could be a strong contender on Saturday and Sunday.

The aforementioned Dixon and Wheldon are not the only stars from the open-wheel racing galaxy to join the Rolex 24 fray, as a host of other champions and Indianapolis 500 winners appear throughout the Daytona Prototype entry list. Three-time IRL IndyCar Series champion and 2006 Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves--who are teammates on the vaunted Team Penske IndyCar squad--will share the same car for the first time in the Rolex 24.

The duo will co-drive the No. 60 Fresh From Florida/Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley with Rolex Series regulars Oswaldo Negri Jr. and Mark Patterson. While Hornish is returning to the Rolex 24 for the first time since 1999, it will be Castroneves' maiden race at the "World Center of Racing." This is yet another strong contender, as Negri and Patterson won the most recent Rolex Series endurance race, last September's Discount Tire Sunchaser 9-hour at Miller Motorsports Park.

Alongside the No. 60 team is the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley with another high-profile driver lineup. Rolex Series stalwart Ian James and Daytona Prototype newcomer Henry Zogaib will be joined in the No. 6 machine by 2003 Champ Car World Series champion Paul Tracy and his former Champ Car teammate, A.J. Allmendinger, who won five Champ Car events last season before embarking on a career in NASCAR. It will be Tracy's third-straight Rolex 24, while Allmendinger returns for the second time after finishing second last year in the No. 60 Lexus with Negri, Patterson and then-Champ Car teammate Justin Wilson.

Tracy is one of two Champ Car World Series champions in the field. The other is 1996 champion Jimmy Vasser, who has reunited with the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Pontiac Riley team of Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and car owner Bob Stallings. Vasser already owns a Rolex 24 At Daytona class victory, which came in 1992 in the GT Lights class, but he remains focused on scoring the overall victory and its accompanying Rolex watch.

Joining previously mentioned Indianapolis 500 winners Montoya, Castroneves, Hornish and Wheldon in the 2007 Rolex 24 field are 2004 winner Buddy Rice and 1998 Indy winner Eddie Cheever Jr. Rice will co-drive the No. 58 Red Bull/Brumos Racing Porsche Riley with 1996 IRL IndyCar Series co-champion Scott Sharp--who took an overall Rolex 24 victory in 1996--and sports car regulars David Donohue and Darren Law. Cheever is sharing the No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve/Cheever Racing Porsche Crawford with 2004 Rolex 24 At Daytona overall winner Christian Fittipaldi and Porsche factory drivers Sascha Maassen and Emmanuel Collard, who scored an overall Rolex 24 victory in 2005.

Other familiar names to open-wheel racing aficionados include Indianapolis 500 veterans Ed Carpenter, Tomas Scheckter, A.J. Foyt IV, Stephan Gregoire and IRL and Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Tony George in the No. 00 Vision Racing Porsche Crawford, 2006 Champ Car Atlantic star Graham Rahal with sports car veterans Shane Lewis, Randy Ruhlman and two-time Rolex 24 overall winner Elliott Forbes-Robinson in the No. 3 Preformed Line Products/Southard Motorsports Lexus Riley, IndyCar competitors Roger Yasukawa and Tomas Enge alongside aspiring open-wheel racer Chris Festa in the No. 7 SAMAX Pontiac Riley, 2007 Champ Car rookie Ryan Dalziel, five-time Champ Car race-winner Patrick Carpentier, Champ Car and IndyCar veteran Darren Manning and three-time Rolex Series race-winner Milka Duno in the No. 11 CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley, 2004 Daytona Prototype co-champion and three-time Champ Car race-winner Max Papis alongside 18-year-old Rolex Series star Colin Braun and Champ Car and Formula 1 veteran JJ Lehto in the No. 75 Krohn Racing Ford Riley, Champ Car veterans Memo Gidley, Oriol Servia and Michel Jourdain Jr. with Italian co-driver Fabrizio Gollin in the No. 77 Kodak/Doran Racing Ford Doran and 2006 Champ Car rookie standout Katherine Legge with co-drivers George Robinson, Paul Dallenbach and four-time Rolex 24 class winner Wally Dallenbach Jr. in the No. 84 74 Ranch Resort/Robinson Racing Pontiac Riley.

While much has and will be made about the stars dropping in from other series on the 2007 Rolex 24, the real favorites may be in the strong lineup of accomplished sports car racers. The field will include every Daytona Prototype champion, as Pruett, Papis, Angelelli and Taylor will be joined by 2006 Daytona Prototype champion Jörg Bergmeister and 2003 champ Terry Borcheller.

Like their championship-winning counterparts, Bergmeister and Borcheller also own Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victories and rate among the favorites this weekend. Bergmeister is sharing the No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team Porsche Crawford with fellow Porsche factory drivers Patrick Long and Romain Dumas, while Borcheller is co-driving the No. 18 XM Satellite Radio/VICI Racing Porsche Fabcar with 1998 Rolex 24 GT1 winner Uwe Alzen, Robert Renauer and Formula 1 and Champ Car veteran Gaston Mazzacane.

Certainly not to be overlooked is five-time overall Rolex 24 winner and six-time Rolex 24 class winner Hurley Haywood in the No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley. Haywood goes for win number six this weekend with regular Rolex Series co-driver JC France as well as Champ Car race-winner and Formula 1 veteran Roberto Moreno and Portuguese sports car racer Joao Barbosa, who earned a GTS class victory in the 2003 Rolex 24.

Karl Wendlinger, Timo Bernhard and Rob Dyson are also former Rolex 24 overall winners in this year's field. The '97 winner returns to the cockpit of the No. 16 Thetford/Norcold Porsche Crawford to co-drive with his son, Chris Dyson, and English road racing hotshots Guy Smith and Oliver Gavin. Wendlinger, the 2000 overall winner, joins two-time Rolex Series GT champion and two-time Rolex 24 class winner Bill Auberlen, Matthew Alhadeff and Gene Sigal in the No. 05 Luggage Express Sigalsport BMW Riley. Porsche factory driver Bernhard--an overall winner in 2003--is slated to co-drive the No. 47 TruSpeed Motorsport Porsche Riley with past Rolex 24 class winners Rob and Charles Morgan as well as BJ Zacharias.

The Daytona Prototype field features Rolex 24 class winners aplenty, with 1984 GTU winner Jack Baldwin in the No. 12 RVO Motorsports Pontiac Riley with co-drivers Roger Schramm and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racer Bill Lester, as well as 2003 Rolex 24 Daytona Prototype class winner David Empringham in the No. 61 AIM Autosport Lexus Riley with co-drivers Mark Wilkins and Burt and Brian Frisselle. Fan favorite and two-time Rolex 24 class winner Boris Said will co-drive the No. 76 Krohn Racing Ford Riley with past Rolex Series race-winners Tracy Krohn and Nic Jönsson, and Harrison Brix, who won the final Rolex Series SGS class race at California Speedway in 2004, will co-drive the No. 51 Cheever Racing Porsche Fabcar with Rolex 24 veterans Mike Newton and Tommy Erdos.

The weekend festivities get underway on Thursday with practice and qualifying for the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Fresh From Florida 200, which takes center stage on Friday at 2:15 p.m. ET. After the traditional autograph session and pre-race pageantry, the 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona will take the green flag shortly after 1:30 p.m. ET.

FOX Sports will kick-off 15 hours of live television coverage of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Saturday, January 27 beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET. SPEED will then take over coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET for the first of three parts to air on the motorsports and automotive network. Part 1 will air from 2:30 to 6:00 p.m. ET, with Part 2 slated for 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. ET. After an overnight break, SPEED cameras will capture all of the action from the final seven-and-a-half hours beginning at 6:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, January 28 and running through the checkered flag and post-race interviews.

Live coverage of both the Rolex Series and KONI Challenge will also be available via the official web site of Grand-Am, www.grand-am.com. Coverage will include race notes and news updates, as well as live timing & scoring data from every session and live audio webcasts of both races in English and Spanish.

- Grandam -

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25.01.2007 / MaP

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