Rolex 24 at Daytona opening day

By David Reininger - Daytona Beach, Fla. (February 1, 2001) - It was opening day for Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway today and the first day of official practice for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. After an early ...

Rolex 24 at Daytona opening day

By David Reininger -

Daytona Beach, Fla. (February 1, 2001) - It was opening day for Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway today and the first day of official practice for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. After an early morning practice session under dry conditions, a steady rain developed causing the second practice session and front row qualifying to be held on a wet track.

James Weaver, driver of the Dyson Racing Ford-powered Riley and Scott chassis earned the team's fourth consecutive pole position for the Rolex 24 with a lap timed at 1:47.361 around the 3.56-mile road circuit. Dyson Racing's No. 16 sat atop the speed charts after all three daytime sessions, recording their best lap in the first practice session with a lap of 1:42.978, over four seconds faster than the pole time.

"The grip was excellent in the wet, no problem at all," said Weaver. "We did a couple of laps and then we just waited until it looked like it was time to put the slicks on."

After taking on slick tires, Weaver found the circuit, "quite greasy."

"We took couple of laps and then the track would come in very, very quickly at the end."

Weaver set his fast lap on his 17th tour of the circuit, while Jack Baldwin, who will start on the outside of the front row, was fastest on his 18th lap.

"This is the fourth year in a row that Rob (Dyson) has had his car on pole position," said Weaver. "That says a lot for the car and the team. The thrill of being on pole never goes away, but sadly, it has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of the race. It makes me feel great today but it won't have any bearing on what happens on Sunday afternoon."

Today's qualifying session set the front row for start of Saturday's race with the rest of the field to be set on Friday afternoon. Starting outside Weaver will be the No. 74 Judd-powered Riley and Scott chassis of Jack Baldwin, George Robinson, Irv Hoerr and 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier. Baldwin, the team's lead driver, qualified the car with a lap timed at 1:49.201.

"We went out on rain tires," said Jack Baldwin. "I was running okay. I was running good enough, but not good enough. I was second and then I was third. My crew chief called me and said, 'everyone that's ahead of you is on slicks', so I pulled up and got tires."

"I went back out and I couldn't get heat in the tires. I spun the car going out on the banking with my foot off the gas. That was kind of interesting. It just took forever to get the right rear in. I came in and I wanted them to check the right rear for pressure. There was a problem because the car really wanted to hit the fence."

Although Baldwin thought he might have a problem that was preventing his right rear tire from reaching optimum temperature, he pressed on. "I just kept messing with it, working on the tire, looking for the lap. I knew I needed the lap, one clear, or halfway clear lap. Right there at the end, she opened up. I went to a (one minute) 50 (second lap) from a 54, gained five seconds a lap just by having a clean track."

Apart from keeping a high performance race car in one piece for twenty four hours, both Baldwin and Weaver agreed that Daytona's greatest challenge was traffic.

"Dealing with the traffic and dealing with the different levels of drivers and the different levels of what they consider to be courteous," was Baldwin's response when queried about Daytona's greatest challenge.

"They just don't understand the closing rate," said Baldwin regarding the slower GT cars. "The closing rate is incredible. It's almost like a video game."

The Rolex 24 takes the green flag at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Twenty five hours of live television coverage will be provided by Speedvision.


Rising star Andy Lally, who scored three podium finishes in his first three Barber Dodge races last season, will compete in the Rolex 24 in the No. 21 Nissan-powered Lola in the SRPII class. "This is definitely the most fun car I've ever driven," said Lally. "The Atlantic was probably one of the fastest, it was really great, but this is an entirely different kind of fun. This is something I could see myself doing for a while."

Andy Lally and his co-driver, Paul Macey, will compete for the S2 championship in Grand Am this season.

Indy Racing Northern Light Series competitor, Jeret Schroeder described today's track conditions as "hectic".

"It was pretty nasty," Schroeder said. "I've driven in heavier rains, but slower cars were trying to find their own lines. A lot of different classes were trying to find their own lines and people were all over the place. Mud was flying, water was flying and it was just hectic, that's all.

Scott Pruett, who drove the Tide car for PPI in Winston Cup competition last season, finds his way back to sports car racing in the Saleen S7R entered by Paul Gentilozzi's Rocketsports.

"Right now, the car is faster than I am," said Pruett. "It's been along time, over a year, since I've been in a ground effects car. My real mission for the session was just to get acquainted with the car."

Pruett's comment on traffic?

"I haven't seen so much traffic since the last time I was in Los Angeles."

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