ROLEX 24 DAYTONA - Record setting class looks to take Top GT Honors

25.01.2007: ROLEX 24 DAYTONA - Record setting class looks to take Top GT Honors

In what could potentially be the largest single class to ever start the Rolex 24 At Daytona, a field of 43 GT machines are entered to take the green flag of the 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona Saturday, with a chance to eclipse a record set more than 20 years ago.

Only once in the 44-year history of the Rolex 24 At Daytona has a single class eclipsed the 40-entry mark. The 1983 Rolex 24 saw 40 GTO class cars start the race, the most in race history. The record could fall this weekend, however, if more than 40 of the 43 GT cars entered for the race start this year's twice-around-the-clock classic.

Last year's Rolex 24 At Daytona saw 36 GT cars start the race, which was fourth-most all-time. Both the 1976 and 1977 editions had 37 GT entries.

It's always impossible to predict what team will emerge victorious when the checkered flag flies Sunday afternoon, but it would be hard to overlook the success of Porsche in the Rolex 24, and the German marque has 23 of its Grand-Am-spec Porsche GT3s entered this year.

Headlining the Porsche fleet is TRG, which will field five GT3s in the Rolex 24. The defending Rolex Series GT class team champions have won the Rolex 24 At Daytona twice in the last five years and took the overall victory in 2003.

Defending GT driving champ Andy Lally returns to TRG in 2007, and will share the No. 66 iRise/F1 Air Porsche GT3 with defending Rolex 24 GT winner Spencer Pumpelly, RJ Valentine, Mark Greenberg and team owner Kevin Buckler.

Also returning for another run at Rolex 24 At Daytona glory will be Farnbacher Loles Motorsports, the 2005 Rolex 24 GT-winning team. With four Porsche GT3s entered--including the lead car of Leh Keen, Pierre Ehret, Dirk Werner and Jörg Hardt--expect this polished team to be in contention throughout.

Tafel Racing, fresh off a second-place team finish in last year's GT championship, and Synergy Racing, who played the bridesmaid role in 2005, will each field a three-car Porsche effort in the Rolex 24. Wolf Henzler and Dominik Farnbacher--2005 Rolex 24 GT winners--headline the Tafel Racing lineup, while the Synergy group is led by Austrian Patrick Huisman and ex-NFL tight end Steve Johnson.

Aside from the litany of Porsches competing in this year's Rolex 24, a host of other manufacturers will look to make their mark on the motorsports community with a win this weekend. In total, nine different manufacturers are scheduled to complete for top GT honors.

Of the bunch, many will be debuting cars in Rolex Series competition, including the pair of Pontiac GXP.Rs out of the Banner Racing stable. With an all-star driver lineup that includes Kelly Collins, Paul Edwards, Leighton Reese, Andy Pilgrim, Johnny O'Connell and Tim Lewis Jr., speed won't be an issue for the machines. The main focus will be reliability, considering the cars' first-ever race will last 24 hours.

The Ford Mustang Cobra GT will also make its Rolex Series debut in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, with Blackforest Motorsports campaigning the No. 15 USG Sheetrock/Ramset Tools/Guardian Insulation Mustang Cobra GT. Champ Car World Series veteran Alex Tagliani, Rolex Series regular Guy Cosmo and Canadian up-and-comer Valerie Limoges will share the driving duties with team owner Tom Nastasi.

In addition to the GXP.R and Mustang, the Infiniti G35 will make its much-anticipated debut in the Rolex 24 with Howard Motorsports. Bryan Sellers, Joey Hand, John Lewis and Doc Bundy will co-drive the No. 45 machine in the race.

Team Sahlen will debut its pair of Chevrolet Corvettes in the Rolex 24, with Joe Sahlen, Joe Nonnamaker and sons, Will and Wayne, sharing the driving duties. The team has also entered a pair of Porsche GT3s.

After stepping up to Rolex Series competition in 2006, and nearly winning in just its second race, SpeedSource is back in 2007, this year bringing a pair of Mazda RX-8s to North America's premier endurance race. Led by team owner Sylvain Tremblay and two-time KONI Challenge titlist David Haskell, the SpeedSource bunch could be a sleeper in this year's Rolex 24. Defending Rolex 24 GT winner Randy Pobst adds firepower to the SpeedSource lineup, and will be joined by Emil Assentato, Nick Ham, Jeff Segal and Matt Plumb.

Marc Bunting, who shared the GT championship with Lally a year ago, returns to Rolex Series competition this season with Stevenson Motorsports. Bunting is entered in one of two Stevenson Corvettes, and is joined on the roster by team owner John Stevenson, Dominic Cicero II, James Gue, Lou Gigliotti, Tommy Riggins, Vic Rice and Spencer Trenery.

Playboy Racing returns to Rolex Series competition in 2007, and will compete a Porsche GT3 in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Co-driving the No. 35 Playboy/Vonage Porsche GT3 will be Tommy Constantine, David Murry, Mike Borkowski and Hal Prewitt.

Only two GT cars will carry the BMW emblem in the Rolex 24, both residing in the Matt Connolly Motorsports garage. Team owner Matt Connolly has assembled a talented driver lineup which includes Romeo Kapudija, Jason Workman, Mike Pickett, Bill Cotter and Ray Mason.

Of the 43 cars entered, there are 23 Porsches, six Chevrolets, two Pontiacs, two BMWs and one each of Ford, Nissan, Infiniti and Ferrari. The 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona is shaping up to be perhaps the most competitive sports car race in history, and with such a deep, diverse field primed to battle for GT supremacy, the record class could steal the spotlight.

- Grandam -

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25.01.2007 / MaP

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