Rolex Series Gets their First Test Under Lights for 2008

Suntrust are getting up to speed with their car
Courtesy of the Rolex Grand American Road Racing Series

After two days of testing under the sun, drivers got their first test on Saturday night of what the early-morning hours may feel like during the Rolex 24. Rolex Series teams used a 90-minute session in darkness to test under the lights.

The sun has set around 6 p.m. in Florida over the last two weeks and hasn't risen until around 7 a.m. During the Rolex 24, drivers will spend almost as much time racing in the dark as they will in sunlight.

Jon Fogarty pedaled the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley to the fastest time during the session with a lap of 1:42.010, followed by Oswaldo Negri at 1:42.390. In GT, the No. 15 Blackforest Motorsports Ford Mustang Cobra GT was quickest during the session and second fastest on the day at 1:51.159, followed by the No. 89 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Porsche GT3 at 1:51.232.

Penske-Taylor Racing Announces Official Two-Car Effort

Wayne Taylor made certain everyone knows exactly the name of the No. 9 Pontiac Riley team.

"It's Penske-Taylor Racing," he said. "Not Taylor-Penske Racing."

Indeed, Roger Penske has loaned more than his name to the team, which encompasses both the No. 9 car and the regular No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley in Indianapolis. Penske's drivers - Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Kurt Busch - make up the three-driver lineup, and Penske Racing President Tim Cindric attended Saturday's press conference as a member of the audience.

Penske, a former Rolex 24 winner, approached Taylor and Max Angelelli last year after the trio formed a relationship. Taylor and Angelelli manage Briscoe's career.

"We were up at an event with him," Taylor said, "and Roger called me into the bus and we thought we were going in there for a discussion about Ryan, and he said, 'What do you think about us doing (the Rolex 24) together. I'll give you my guys, we can send them up to your shop, we'll integrate the two teams and we'll build a program.' So that's how it started."

This weekend is the first time the teams have taken to the track together, and the results of the pairing have been to this point spectacular. Castroneves, Briscoe and Busch have consistently sat among the top five in each session.

The GT cars are on track too
Courtesy of the Rolex Grand American Road Racing Series

"We will be benefitted from having the No. 9 car and the Penske organization with us because we will keep learning," Angelelli said. "And those people have such great experience everywhere - sports cars, IRL, NASCAR, so we're going to learn, we're going to improve our car, we're going to have a strong combination, two cars together for the race. It's going to be great."

TRG, Farnbacher Loles Pushing Seven Car Efforts in Different Fashions

TRG and Farnbacher Loles have each put together seven-car efforts for this year's Rolex 24 At Daytona. Covering a third of the entry list, the two Porsche-powered teams have run near the front of testing throughout the weekend and are favorites for this season's race.

However, the teams are looking to different strategies and have taken different approaches to get to their respective efforts.

TRG, located in Petaluma, Calif., tailors each of its programs specifically to meet individual driver needs and goals. Farnbacher Loles, which recently purchased a shop in Braselton, Ga., has accumulated its seven cars by servicing Team Seattle and customers in Europe, and sees the effort more as a 2-3-2 combination.

TRG team owner Kevin Buckler called his shop "mass chaos" when speaking of his crew putting together cars. Farnbacher Loles team principal Greg Loles said the breakaway from its Connecticut-based performance shop has created fewer headaches in terms of logistics and travel.

However, both teams have strong driver lineups. Former series driving champion Andy Lally anchors TRG's efforts and will welcome Bryce Miller, Ted Ballou and Richard Westbrook in the No. 66 Porsche GT3. Defending series driving titlist Dirk Werner will be joined by Germans Dominik Farnbacher, Pierre Ehret and Timo Bernhard.

Former Rolex 24 Winners Bergmeister, Papis Getting Acclimated to GT Cars

Jörg Bergmeister and Max Papis - former Rolex 24 champions as well as Rolex Series Daytona Prototype titlists - will compete in this year's twice-around-the-clock classic in the GT class.

Bergmeister, who captured the 2006 Daytona Prototype championship with Krohn Racing and the 2003 Rolex 24 At Daytona, will drive in the endurance classic behind the wheel of the No. 86 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup. The German will be part of a seven-car effort for Farnbacher Loles Motorsports gunning for the GT class win.

"It's back to my roots again," Bergmeister said. "I've had good success here in Daytona in the GT cars, especially at the Rolex 24. I'm glad to be with Farnbacher Racing, as I raced with Horst Farnbacher in Europe in Super Cup and won the championship there together."

Derek Bell was at the test as well
Courtesy of the Rolex Grand American Road Racing Series

"Mad" Max put his stamp on American racing with a thrilling performance in the 1996 Rolex 24, charging to a second-place finish after challenging for the lead with a flair. His challenge this year will be getting acclimated to the GT car and the awareness necessary to negotiate with the faster Daytona Prototypes.

"It's a great challenge to be in a GT car, and something very different for me," Papis said. "I was very surprised at how competitive the whole GT field was. It's like having 40 Daytona Prototypes running 100 percent."

Plumb Fastest Again, Skavnes Continues ICY/Phoenix Bragging Rights For KONI

While the Rolex Series saw different drivers atop the leader boards through its Saturday sessions, the KONI Challenge Series Grand Sport (GS) and Street Tuner (ST) charts remained nearly unchanged in preparations for the Fresh From Florida 200.

Hugh Plumb and the No. 60 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT, which he shares with Mike Canney, led the way for the second consecutive day in GS with a time of 2:00.963 (105.950 mph). Trailing again was the team's sister car, the No. 59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang. Canney said Friday the team's combined efforts with Rehagen strengthened the car, and the driving duo will try to make a clean sweep of fast times on Sunday.

Like Friday, ICY/Phoenix Racing sat atop the ST charts today with Kristian Skavnes piloting the No. 111 Subaru Legacy, which he shares with Chuck Hemmingson, fastest at 2:10.000 (98.433 mph). A day earlier, the team's No. 141 Subaru Legacy with David Rosenblum and Andrew Aquilante set the fast time. That car posted the third-fastest time on Saturday.

"This is a very good car for this type of track," Hemmingson said. "It's always getting better. We're getting more grip in the corners."

"Chuck and I have been in a car together now for three years, so we're communicating better," added Skavnes. "It's nice to have him on the headset when I'm in the car or vice versa and make the changes we need to make."

NOTES: Three-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner and 66-year-old Derek Bell may be making another attempt in the prestigious race. Bell joined his son, Justin, Roger Schramm, Paul Dallenbach and Tonis Kasemets in the No. 12 RVO Motorsports Pontiac Riley. Bell will decide Sunday whether or not to compete in the event...Ralf Kelleners and Anthony Lazzaro were added to Autometrics Motorsports Rolex 24 At Daytona lineup earlier in the week, joining Cory Friedman and Mac McGehee. The team hopes to campaign the Porsche GT3 fulltime in 2008...Former Champ Car World Series titlist Cristiano da Matta was roaming the pits looking for a ride in the Rolex 24. da Matta is looking to compete in his first race since suffering a serious injury at Road America in August 2006.