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47th Rolex 24 at Daytona kicks off 2009 Speed Weeks

 Race fans winter waiting is just about over.  The 2009 racing season gets underway Saturday with the traditional season opener, the 24 hour round the clock Rolex 24 endurance classic featuring the Grand Am series cars.
Last year Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates became the first team to win the Rolex 24 three consecutive seasons. This year they are back to try to make it four in a row.  The team has two entries in this year’s race. The No. 1 TELMEX/Target Lexus Riley will be driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Pruett, and Memo Rojas.  Montoya and Pruett have won the event the last two years.  The No.2 Target/TELMEX Lexus Riley will be driven by Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Alex Lloyd.

A number of NASCAR drivers will test their sports car prowess in this year's Rolex 24.
Three-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will drive the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley in the featured Daytona Prototype category.  He’ll share the cockpit with team regulars Jon Fogerty and Alex Gurney and open wheel champion Jimmy Vasser. The team finished second overall in last year’s race.
Other NASCAR national series competitors who have lined up rides are Casey Mears, who won the 2006 event as part of the Ganassi Racing team with Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Pruett, Kyle Petty, A J Almendinger, and Colin Braun.

NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner Roger Penske has entered a Porsche/Riley joining fellow Cup owners Chip Ganassi and Richard Childress in the field.

An interesting entry is the Spirit of Daytona Racing Porsche Coyote entry to be driven by motorcycle veterans Jason Pridmore, Scott Russell and Jeff Ward.  The No. 9 entry is decorated with AMA Pro Racing decals.  Things are totally different for the two wheel competitors.  From the fenders to the seat belts, it’s a different world on the 3.56 mile road course for Pridmore, Russell, and Ward.

“I didn’t think it was going be as awkward as it was, being tightly strapped in,” Pridmore said.  “On a bike, if I’m going through a turn, I’m used to turning my head and looking through the corner.  In a car, I can’t do that as much.  Just sitting in the car for the first time, one of my first comments to car owner Troy Flis was, “I’ve watched this race on TV for the last six years and wanted to drive in it. Now I’m in the car and I’m like, 'why am I here?' "

All three drivers have a storied past at Daytona International Speedway.  Russell, whose nickname is “Mr. Daytona, “is a five-time Daytona 200 by Honda winner.  Ward, who has also competed in open wheel and stock cars has raced Supercross at Daytona, while Pridmore anchors the trio of motorcycle champions with two 750 Supersport victories at Daytona.

Love her or hate her, the Indy Racing League's glamour gal, Danica Patrick, is part of a four-driver team entered by Richard Childress Racing.  Joining Patrick in the No. 2 Pontiac Crawford is the newest member of Richard Childress Racings Sprint Cup team, Casey Mears, three time Rolex 24 winner Andy Wallace,  and Rob Finlay.  
It will be Patrick’s second Rolex 24 start. She competed in the 2006 Rolex 24 with Howard-Boss Motorsports, driving a Porsche Crawford with Jan Lammers, Allan McNish and NASCAR’s Rusty Wallace.

“I had such a good time,” said Patrick of her 2006 Rolex 24 start. “So many drivers come together for this event. Of course everyone wants to win and do well.  But there’s such camaraderie at this event, different from at least my IndyCar season.  I just had a really great time and the cars are wonderful to drive and just the difference of doing a 24 hour race.

“Unfortunatly, I think we were running maybe third when we fell out of the race. We were doing pretty well but we only made it nine hours.  I was getting ready for my second stint.  It was just really cool and I’m really grateful to come back.   To be with a great group of drivers like this, we have a great chance at winning this race.”

For those wanting to watch on TV, SPEED and FOX TV will share live coverage of this years Rolex 24.  FOX opens with 90 minutes beginning at 3:00p.m. Saturday, coverage will then switch to SPEED at 4:30 p.m.

You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

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