Daytona International Speedway was sunny, warmish and clear Thursday for the rig parking and set up for Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Presented by Crown Royal Cask No.16. The Continental Tire Challenge Series rigs followed. Although the rigs came in the back gate due to their size, the tunnel was closed to traffic until the parade was complete, leaving lots of teams waiting in the Tram Parking Lot.
Once everyone was in, it was relaxed bustle, setting up the cars for the three-day Daytona Test Days, called The Roar Before The 24. Here and there were some drivers, most in stealth mode, hanging out with their pals, greeting friends not seen in a while, and an occasionally having a seat fitting.
It must be just me, but there appeared to be an overwhelming number of crews wearing black. Maybe that’s the preferred set-up day uniform.
The Test Days Entry List is a work in progress. It is similar but not completely the same as the race Entry List. Some drivers are testing only – that’s the name of the game. At this point – 2:15 pm Thursday, there are 17 Rolex Daytona Prototypes and 30 Rolex GT cars. Some of the driver lineups won’t be completed until the weekend, in carefully orchestrated press conferences. Conversely, some printed driver line-ups are already changing.
Friday SpeedSource, the 2010 GT winners, will announce who will join season regulars, SYLVAIN TREMBLAY and JONATHAN BOMARITO, in No.70 Mazda RX-8
Saturday Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian is slated to announce its race line-up. For the test, the listed drivers are A.J. ALLMENDINGER, MICHAEL McDOWELL, and JUSTIN WILSON.
Another Saturday announcement will be Dempsey Racing’s fourth driver. For the test, the No.40 Mazda RX-8 already lists team owner, PATRICK DEMPSEY, CHARLES ESPENLAUB and JOE FOSTER. The Visit Florida graphics will also be unveiled.
Despite retiring last year, HURLEY HAYWOOD of Florida is back in the saddle, so to speak. He’s running the Rolex 24 in No.59 Brumos Porsche 911 GT3 Cup with ANDREW DAVIS, LEH KEEN, and MARC LIEB. He said “We, as a company, want to race what we sell.” Haywood said he’d come full circle, and was finishing what he started – racing a Porsche 911 GT. “It wouldn’t be right to have a No.59 Brumos Porsche 911 without the Haywood name on the car.”
For the Star Seekers, Saturday is the expected test day for actor Dempsey and NASCAR’s five-time Sprint Cup champion, JIMMIE JOHNSON, who will again run with JON FOGARTY and ALEX GURNEY in No.99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley.
KEVIN BUCKLER, owner of TRG, has two GT cars entered, No.66 and No.67 Porsche GT3 Cup. The No.66 lineup changed Thursday afternoon. Owner/driver Buckler will run the test, but not the race. In addition to BEN KEATING, three other drivers will be in the car – TIM GEORGE, LUCAS LUHR and a mystery driver, TBA. Buckler said details are still being finalized.
Buckler is one of the Class of 2010 inductees into the Road Racing Driver’s Club. Membership in the 58-year old organization is by invitation only by membership voting. Buckler’s TRG cars won back to back Rolex 24 GT victories in 2002 and 2003, won the 2002 24 Hours of LeMans and the Porsche World Cup that year. Two more GT back to back wins came in 2005 and 2006. TRG also runs the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Friday’s Test Day starts at 9 am for a 105-minute Rolex Series practice session, followed by an hour for the Continental Tire Challenge. In the afternoon, the Rolex Series runs for two and a half hours, and the Continentals for an hour.