Daytona 24: Apple Motorsports preview
One Family, One Team, One Dream York, Pa.-Based Apple Motorsports to Compete in Super Bowl of Endurance Sports Car Racing YORK, Pa., Jan. 28 -For the Philadelphia Eagles, it's one team, one city, one dream. For the Stewarts of York, Pa., it's ...
One Family, One Team, One Dream
York, Pa.-Based Apple Motorsports to Compete in Super Bowl of Endurance Sports Car Racing
YORK, Pa., Jan. 28 -For the Philadelphia Eagles, it's one team, one city, one dream.
For the Stewarts of York, Pa., it's one family, one team and one dream.
As the Philadelphia Eagles make their final preparations to bring the National Football League championship to Pennsylvania on Super Bowl Sunday in Jacksonville, Fla., the York-based Apple Motorsports racing team will be wrapping up its assault on the Super Bowl of endurance sports car racing some 87 miles away at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Philadelphia and York are about the same distance apart as Jacksonville is to Daytona Beach, and a lot of folks from the Keystone state will be focused on Florida on Sunday, Feb. 6 as they pull for both teams in both world-class events.
The checkered flag will fly at noon on Sunday, Feb. 6 to mark the end of the Rolex 24, a grueling 24-hour endurance race that tests the limits of man and machine on the road course and high banks of Daytona International Speedway. Generally regarded as one of the top-10 races in the world, this year's Rolex 24 has attracted its regular complement of top sports car racers from around the globe as well as five NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champions, the past three Champ Car World Series champions, two Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champions, and the reigning Indy 500 winner.
For Apple Motorsports' Gary Stewart and his three nephews, Dave Stewart, Rob Stewart and Bob Gilbert, all residents of York, the Rolex 24 is an opportunity to challenge the top drivers from around the world in a 24-hour contest of speed.
For the Stewarts, it's also quality time with the family.
Gary Stewart tasted victory at the Rolex 24 in 1999, winning the GTT class in a Ford Mustang Cobra. But he says this year's race is special for him because it's all about family.
Stewart has assembled a team consisting of his three nephews and professional driver Guy Cosmo of West Palm Beach, Fla., who "we've adopted as our temporary son," according to Gary.
Of the three nephews, Bob Gilbert, vice president of Apple Automotive, has two championships under his belt in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) competition, winning the Mid-Atlantic Road Racing Series in a Ford-powered Spec Racer in 2000 and 2001. Dave and Rob Stewart are the sons of Bob Stewart, owner of the famous No. 12 Apple Chevrolet sprint car which will be piloted by Jeff Shepard in 2005. Rob's credits include a Mid-Atlantic Road Racing Series title in 2003 and 12 Spec Racer Ford victories in the last two years.
"It's time to move up," said Gary when asked about his nephews and the move to professional sports car racing. Despite facing competition at the Rolex 24 from the likes of Tony Stewart (no relation) and Kurt Busch, whose on-track antics have earned them reputations as roughnecks, the Stewarts aren't fazed. "They'll be aggressive, but if we give them room, we'll be OK," Gary said. "Those guys will add something to the show. If we beat them and make it onto the podium, it will be phenomenal."
Many of the big-name drivers will be competing in the Daytona Prototype category, driving cars that show little resemblance to street cars. Designed to cut through the air while hugging the track on the twisting infield portion of Daytona's road circuit, Daytona Prototypes are sleek and low to the ground, with looks more akin to aircraft than automobiles.
Road racing, as opposed to oval-track racing, intends to simulate actual road conditions with left and right turns and, of course, traffic.
With two different categories of competition on the track at the same time traffic is inevitable, and 29 Daytona Prototypes and 33 GT cars are entered in this year's race.
Competing in the GT category, the Stewart's Apple Motorsports team will field a brand-new Apple Automotive Group Porsche GT3 Cup car. But don't let the production moniker fool anyone. The York contingent's Porsche is a full-blown racing machine. The Prototype division is definitely faster, but don't count the GT category out for excitement.
The Rolex 24 is similar to other international endurance races such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, with awards for the overall winner, second and third as well as the top-three finishers in each class. "We're looking for a top-five finish in our class," said Gary.
There are two strategies in endurance racing. One is to race flat out and hope the car holds together for 24 hours. The second is to set a pace that will allow the car to cover over 2,000 miles over the course of the event. Porsche builds a bullet-proof endurance racer and the Stewarts are more than capable of setting a competitive pace.
Although the Prototypes are faster, "our car is more fuel efficient, which means we'll be making fewer pits stops," Gary pointed out. "The Prototypes will have to change brake pads more than once. I think we'll be able to get away with one pad change during the race," he added.
It stands to reason the Stewarts could be contenders when the chips start to fall into place as the sun rises on Sunday morning to greet the weary competitors and their last five hours of competition.
Some drivers say they'd rather be lucky than good, while others say one makes his own luck. All agree that preparation is vital.
If effort is any indication it's no wonder the Stewarts are optimistic about their chances. Competing in a six-hour endurance event at Watkins Glen, N.Y. last year, the Apple Motorsports team was running in the top-five late in the race when a spin and a subsequent penalty for speeding on pit lane dropped the team to eighth at the finish. That experience was vital in preparing for this year's Rolex, a race four times as long.
"In addition to the six-hour race at Watkins Glen, we ran a couple of Porsche events, one at Daytona and one at Watkins Glen, that helped us get more experience with the Porsche," said Gary. Preparation continued after renting road circuits in Virginia and West Virginia for testing and to just get acclimated to the powerful 400-horsepower Porsche race car, a big jump from racing Spec Racers in the SCCA. "We rented Virginia International Raceway and Summit Point. It was fun having the whole track to ourselves," Gary said, noting that it also allowed everyone to become more familiar with the car.
Two tests at Daytona, one just a few weeks ago, proved that Gary, Dave and Rob Stewart, along with Bob Gilbert and Guy Cosmo, are ready for their Super Bowl. "There is still some room for improving the car, but as drivers, we're ready," Gary said.
At the completion of the Rolex 24 the Apple Motorsports Porsche drivers will pack up and head back to York, but the crew will embark on another racing mission. Just as the Rolex 24 kicks off Daytona's Speedweeks, the country's 2005 late model and sprint car season also kicks off in early February in Central Florida.
Switching gears, so to speak, the crew of the Apple Motorsports Porsche will meet up with team manager Lee Stauffer and the crew of the No.12 Apple Chevrolet sprint car team to lend a hand as the sprinters make their swing through Florida. Many of the fierce competitors on the ultra-competitive Central Pennsylvania scene compete in Florida in February before heading back to Lincoln and Williams Grove Speedways for the East Coast openers on Feb. 26-27.
As team manager for the Apple Motorsports Porsche, Michael Goss is also looking forward to working with Stauffer and the sprint car team. Goss is a third-generation motorsports participant. His grandfather competed in karts and midgets while his father raced dirt late models. While the Porsche and sprint car team have separate shops, "they're only about a quarter-mile apart," said Gary, "and we help each other with fabrication. Our crew will be staying in Florida to help the sprint car team and we're taking an extra chassis to Florida in our hauler for them."
For brothers Bob and Gary Stewart, the dirt and gravel infield at Williams Grove Speedway and the modern garage area and paddock of Daytona International Speedway are worlds apart. Sharing their love of the sport, competing as a team, those worlds come together as Gary Stewart takes his nephews on an adventure at the top of the international racing scene. They'll face competition from world-renown drivers from every discipline under adverse conditions but they've done their homework, they've practiced their craft and they've paid their dues. Thirty hours before the Eagles and Patriots face off in football's Super Bowl, the Apple Motorsports team will start its own Super Bowl, only this time it'll take a full 24 hours to determine the winner.
Fourteen hours of the race will be covered live on SPEED starting at noon on Saturday, Feb. 5 with seven straight hours of coverage. After a one-hour break the coverage will resume at 8 p.m. and continue until 11 p.m. While the TV viewers are sleeping that night the cars will still be flying over the course, and SPEED will let the public know which ones survived the night when coverage resumes at 8 a.m. Sunday morning, Feb. 6. That coverage will continue to show the finish at 12 p.m. before signing off at 12:30 p.m., long before the Eagles and the Patriots do their coin toss at 6 p.m. on FOX.
Live timing and scoring of the race is also scheduled to be offered on the Internet through www.grandamerican.com, while photos and other news will be posted at www.restartcommunications.com.