Fingers crossed for Daytona


The American racing season gets under way every year at Daytona with what is now known as the Rolex 24 at the end of January. But everyone is wondering what the racing world of 2009 will look like amid the global financial crisis. Over the past few years the Grand-Am series’ primary Daytona Prototype category has attracted around 25 cars for the 24-hour race, with an equal or even greater number of GT cars filling out the field. Grand-Am has already cut its calendar from 14 to 12 races in 2009, and the fact that many Daytona Prototypes are powered by Detroit iron is hardly helping to allay fears.

Alex Gurney and co-driver Jon Fogarty won the Grand-Am championship in 2007 and finished second in this year’s series aboard Bob Stallings’ Pontiac-powered Riley. With General Motors facing possible bankruptcy, the biggest of Detroit’s Big Three has been slashing its motor sport spending, and Stallings’s team appears to be the only remaining Daytona Prototype squad with any GM factory support for next year. And if GM is forced into bankruptcy over the next few months, all bets and contracts for ’09 may be off.

“The GM situation is a big question mark,” Gurney said this week. “I was worried for a little while. It’s difficult money-wise right now, as everyone knows. But Bob Stallings is making it happen and we’re going to be testing near the raceshop in about a week. Then we’ll be testing at Daytona at the beginning of January. Everything is shaping up again.

“We had expected a much smaller field for the Daytona Prototypes, but the field is coming together,” Alex added. “It’s going to be bigger than I thought.”

Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, who drive Chip Ganassi’s Lexus-Riley, beat Gurney and Fogarty to this year’s Grand-Am title. Ganassi’s team has won the last three Rolex 24s, and will again be the operation to beat in January with a driver line-up that includes Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, as well as Pruett and Rojas.

Gurney and Fogarty have led but not yet won at Daytona. Last year they were joined for the Rolex 24 by NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and former CART champion Jimmy Vasser, and Gurney is delighted that Johnson and Vasser will likely share Stallings’s car with them again as they try to beat Ganassi’s two-car team.

“We should have the same line-up we had last year and that will be great,” Alex grinned. “Jimmie Johnson is a tremendous all-round driver, and Jimmy Vasser has run a few other races with us and is as good as they come. So we’re looking forward to it. It’ll be great to dig into the new year and see what it’s all about.”
I couldn’t agree more.

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