Thursday morning the track sprang to life at 10 am ET for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series to have its first of three long Practice sessions at the newly paved 3.56-mile, 12-turn stadium road course, i.e. a permanent facility as opposed to a street course. The weather was sunny and chilly, in the low fifties F, with some wind.

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA/No.02 Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Riley Daytona Prototype was the fastest overall, and in the DP class. His time was 1:40.544/127.467 mph.

The fastest GT car was TRG’s No.67 Porsche GT3, with ANDY LALLY of NY setting the best lap of 1:49.116/117.453 mph.

Aten's Ferrari garage parked
Aten's Ferrari garage parked. Photo by Lynne Huntting

One car seemingly not going to run the race this weekend is the beautifully restored No.00 Aten Motorsports Ferrari F430 CH with five drivers: three French men, GABRIEL ABERGEL, EMMANUEL COLLARD, and ZAVIER POMPIDOU, plus DAVY JONES of NV, and STEVE LISA of AZ. The good looking red car with white graphics was the only car of 50 entries not to be on track for the 90-minute session.

While so far the Ferrari Challenge car has not officially withdrawn, the car is sitting in the garage with all equipment removed and the garage door rolled shut.

Grand-am is reporting that one of the drivers, Jones, said the car was being withdrawn. I spoke with the over-the-wall fire bottle crew member, LISA SIMONI of SFR SCCA, who said the team told her it was being withdrawn. The details are sketchy, unconfirmed and thus not worthy of repetition.

I had spoken with Aten team principal, TONY DOWE, a couple of hours earlier, as we were passing in the Infield Pit Lane road. The car had suffered an bad engine fire at the Rolex Test, and packed up for the shop to repair the damage. Thursday morning, Dowe answered my three questions affirmatively, and tersely but offered no further information. The car was repaired, it was ready to go, and they had determined what had caused the fire…and then he kept on walking. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, Aten’s rented motorhome is empty and available in the Driver’s Motor Home lot. For a small fee it is completely equipped, set up for the race weekend, and will handle six people. Check back with me.

A new DP was entered Thursday by Starworks Motorsport No.2 Ford Riley with ENZO POTOLICCIO, ALEX POPOW, and ROMAIN INNATE of France. It was the last of the DP’s during the session.

Not the fastest GT on rack, but slowly improving over each race is Dempsey Racing No.40 and No.41 Mazda RX-8. Team Principals are actor PATRICK DEMPSEY and his partner, JOE FOSTER. Other drivers on the teams are CHARLES ESPENLAUB OF FL, Foster of GA and TOM LONG of NC with Dempsey in No.41. The other car has DANE CAMERON of CA, JAMES GUE of GA, IAN JAMES of AZ, DON KITCH of WA and DAVE LACEY of Canada.

Dempsey made a Media Center appearance Thursday noon, and one of the questions regarded his progress with producing and starring in the movie based on the best-selling book of GARTH STEIN – “The Art of Racing In The Rain.” Dempsey said the screen play is going through the second draft of the
book. Right now changes concern giving the dog, ENZO, more parts than just voice-overs. You had to have read the big to understand this thread.

It’s probably no coincidence that Kitch is part of the Rolex 24 lineup. Kitch is one of the drivers mentioned by name in the book about a Pacific Northwest race car driver.

Dempsey will have an even busier weekend than usual. He directed a movie, “Flypaper” which was accepted at the Sundance Film Festival. So after Friday morning practices, Dempsey is flying to Sundance for the movie premiere, and then back to Daytona for Saturday’s race and activities. And yes, in the movie, Dempsey kisses ASHLEY JUDD, wife of Indycar racer and winner of the 2010 Indianapolis 500. Such hard work.