Fourteen Daytona Prototypes showed up for the three-day Roar Before the Rolex 24 test at Daytona International Speedway. The top teams of the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series brought their best machinery: proven second-generation prototypes, sleek third-gen models, and the best performers of the weekend, the Corvette Daytona prototypes.
With the grueling 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona only two weeks away, the teams had to use every moment to find out what worked and needed work, how their cars responded to different fuel loads, different amount of tire wear, and different track temperatures, and how the cars worked over long runs.
The Corvette DP bodywork, designed in collaboration with General Motors, Grand Am, and the various chassis manufacturers, is a big step for GM and Grand Am. GM is the first auto maker to design—and put its name on—bodywork with road-car style cues. So far it seems to be paying off—but racing will tell the final tale. For Grand Am, GM is the first of what it hopes will be many carmakers which will invest in the series.
Jim Lutz, head of GM’s Grand Am racing department, told the Corvette Racing website, “I think all of our teams accomplished everything they wanted to during the weekend. We are in really good shape for the race event. I am pretty happy with where the Corvette DP cars are at after the weekend and what the teams accomplished.”
Those Corvette-clad cars accomplished a lot: fastest in every test session, and sweeping the top three spots in five out of seven sessions.
The new Corvette DP bodywork was designed to fit multiple chassis and succeeded with all of them—Dallara, Riley, and Coyote Corvettes all ran in the top three.
Max Angelelli in the No. 10 SunTrust Corvette Dallara turned in the fastest lap of the weekend on a lucky, one-off qualifying-type effort, but the SunTrust car was tops in two other sessions as well.
“We did a qualifying run under the perfect conditions—low fuel, new tires, a good, clear lap, no mistakes. It was the perfect lap,” Angelelli told the Corvette Racing website. “Obviously we’re happy, but not because of that lap. We’re happy because we did eight practices without a single issue. Our SunTrust Corvette ran really well the entire time. So far, I’ve never had a January test as good as this one.”
“The new Corvette is a major step that General Motors has taken. There is a lot that still has to be done; many little things that still need to be improved. And, to understand that the hardest race for a car is its first race, and this one just so happens to be a 24-hour race, it’s a major risk and commitment that everybody is taking. On the positive side, things have gone very, very well, so far.”
Teammate Ricky Taylor was similarly pleased. “We did qualifying simulations, we did long runs, we did brake testing, we did radio testing, back-up radio testing. We did everything you could possibly think of and had plenty of time and are now down to our final prep for the 24-hour. Brian [Pillar,] our engineer, told me he’s never left a test this happy and this well-prepared, so I think that says a lot.”
The final member of the SunTrust Rolex test team, IndyCar star Ryan Briscoe told Corvette Racing, “I love the new cockpit and the Corvette body style. The car looks great, it feels great. I really felt comfortable and confident driving the car this weekend.
“It’s handling beautifully and just feels really fast. That’s a good sign for the race. But, over a 24-hour period, you’ve got to be there at the end and that’s going to be the main goal.”
Action Express brought two Corvette-Coyotes, and both of them performed well, scoring best time in one of the eight sessions and top two best times in two more. Action Express driver Max Papis told Grand-Am.com that he expected the closest Rolex 24 ever.
“I’ve been looking at the time chart, and there is no one with a clear advantage over everyone,” he said. “We’re going to see 24 hours of everyone pushing to the limit. The key will be not making any mistakes, and dealing with traffic will be more important this year than in the past.”
Gainsco/Bob Stalling Racing’s No. 99 Corvette-Riley topped one session and was top three in three others. Team owner Bob Stallings told Corvette Racing he felt “really good” about the weekend’s tests. “The car is way beyond where I thought it would be at this point. I really thought it was going to take up until the last practice right before the race to have a general idea where we were, but the drivers are pretty happy and the car is certainly drivable. It’s obviously not perfect—they are never perfect—but all in all, it is pretty doggone good. We’re encouraged.”Drivers Memo Gidley and Alex Gurney both commented on the lack of any serious problems throughout the weekend. “We ran the whole time without any show stoppers. We got through a lot of laps, so we have a lot of information to draw on,” said Gurney. “The car is pretty quick so we feel pretty good about it.”
Gidley agreed. “Everything is going really smoothly it seems. Still some issues to work out, I would say, but the consistency, and how the car feels over the course of a long run, is good.”
Jon Fogarty, the team’s third driver, said, “The team has done a tremendous job. They worked through the holidays and we threw a lot of issues at them that you need to sort out for a 24-hour race, and they did a good job.
“We are definitely pleased with the progress that the guys have made. We found some good pace and we are definitely getting a handle on it. I am encouraged that we used almost all of the track time this weekend, but it’s never enough when you are working with a new car.”
The Spirit of Daytona Corvette Coyote ran in the top five most sessions, with a lineup a Corvette Racing factory drivers, this team is sure to show well in the race.
The Corvette DPs were strong on the test days, but the real test is the race. The Corvette cars will face 24 hours of pounding around Daytona’s high-speed oval and the infield road track, as well as challenges from other teams, most notably the two-car Telmex Ganassi squad: with several Rolex championships, four-time winner Scott Pruett and a roster of IndyCar and NASCAR stars, both cars are a threat to win.
Odds are, though, that the new Corvette DP bodywork will clothe at least some of the top five finishers, and GM’s investment in Grand Am will pay off with publicity for the factory.