The variety of international talent that comes together for the Rolex 24 At Daytona was very evident Saturday in TUDOR United SportsCar Championship testing at Daytona International Speedway, as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and a Formula 1 test driver led the respective Prototype classes in the second day of Roar Before the Rolex 24 testing.
Jamie McMurray, winner of the 2010 Daytona 500, paced the Prototype drivers with a lap of 1:38.980 (129.481 mph) in the No. 01 Telcel/Target Ford EcoBoost/Riley. Sam Bird, runner-up in the 2013 GP2 championship, led the Prototype Challenge class with a lap of 1:42.010 (125.635 mph) in the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport ORECA FLM09.
McMurray was not aware that he was fastest in practice after getting out of the car he shares with defending Rolex 24 winners Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas and reigning Indy Lights champion Sage Karam. The team is looking to give Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates its sixth Rolex 24 victory since 2006.
“Today we’re really trying to get the car comfortable for everyone,” McMurray said. “The car is different from the one we raced here last year, with traction control, and it drives differently with the turbocharger. Absolutely, this would be a huge race to win. I’ve won the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400, and even won in go-karts here. It would be awesome to win the Rolex 24.”
David Brabham ushered in the Daytona Prototype era in the Rolex 24 by winning the class in 2003, driving for Multimatic Motorsports. This year, he will drive an LMP2-spec car in its Daytona competition debut as part of the No. 1 Tequila Patrn HPD ARX-03b/Honda with Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel for Extreme Speed Motorsports.
“It’s kind of cool to be racing in the first TUDOR Championship race, after being involved here in the very beginning of the DPs here,” Brabham said. “The DPs have come a long way since then. Obviously, I’m used to the P2, having raced the HPD since 2007 and I know the car very well. It’s difficult to say what’s going to happen in the Rolex 24. The two cars have strengths in different areas and perform quite the opposite. It will be a fascinating battle as it goes on.”
Two-time Rolex 24 winner Wayne Taylor is making his return to racing for the event, joining his sons, Ricky and Jordan Taylor, and long-time associate Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette DP.
“It’s great to be driving with them, and that’s a big motivating factor for me,” Taylor said. “But we’re having loads of little issues that are not making it easy. My biggest challenge is that I have to focus on the driving. That’s very tough given all the details of running the race team and I don’t want to detract from the guys. The DP is completely different from the last time I drove here in 2011. It’s got a lot more technology, including paddle-shifters, carbon fiber brakes and a 6-speed gearbox.”
It was also a day of firsts for Bird, who co-drives with Mirco Schultis, Renger van der Zande and Eric Lux.
“This is my first time stateside, my first endurance race and my first time in a PC car,” said the 26-year-old London driver. “So far, I’m really enjoying it. I hope I get many more opportunities to race in America.
Bird finished second in the 2013 GP2 championship for Russian Time, winning five races. He has also been a test driver for the Mercedes F1 team for the past three seasons.
“My fastest lap today was only my second lap here,” Bird said. “I haven’t gotten a clean lap yet. I hope to be pushing it into the 41s pretty soon. It’s nice to have a fast one-off lap, but that really doesn’t mean much in a 24-hour race. This form of racing is completely new to me, but I’m loving it and hope to get many more opportunities to do this.”