VIR: Round ten preview

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (September 28, 2004) -- Several close title battles -- including a Daytona Prototype driver championship with the top-four drivers separated by just 11 points -- will make this Sunday's VIR 400 presented by SunTrust (SPEED ...

VIR: Round ten preview

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (September 28, 2004) -- Several close title battles -- including a Daytona Prototype driver championship with the top-four drivers separated by just 11 points -- will make this Sunday's VIR 400 presented by SunTrust (SPEED Channel, Live, 12:00 Noon ET) from Virginia International Raceway a critical round in the 2004 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series season.

After tough outings one race ago in the Miami 250, the points leaders of all three Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series classes will be looking to get their respective seasons back on track in Sunday's race which is Round 10 of the 12-race 2004 Rolex Sports Car Series. This weekend marks the third appearance of the Rolex Series at the state-of-the-art Virginia road course.

In the Daytona Prototype category, co-points leaders Scott Pruett and Max Papis will be looking to return their No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley to the podium after their worst finish of the season in the Miami 250. While running second to the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley of Max Angelelli in the closing stages of that race, Pruett spun entering the first turn. The mishap cost Pruett and the venerable Ganassi team three laps and several championship points, as Pruett and Papis saw their points lead reduced from 19 points going into the race to eight after the Miami 250. The tightened Daytona Prototype championship now has Papis and Pruett co-leading with 265 points apiece, Angelelli's teammate Wayne Taylor is close behind with 257 points and CITGO Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford driver Andy Wallace, who won the Miami 250, is fourth in the standings with 254 points.

At the same time of Pruett's mishap in the Miami 250 the No. 21 Prototype Technology Group BMW M3 of GT points leader Bill Auberlen encountered a rare mechanical failure. Auberlen, who earlier in the season built up a healthy points lead thanks to a Rolex Series record run of six consecutive class victories, wound up sixth in the GT class at Miami and he now holds a slight one-point advantage over teammate Boris Said in the No. 22 PTG BMW.

Perhaps the most disappointing mechanical failure of the Miami 250 was reserved for Super Grand Sport (SGS) co-points leaders Marc Bunting and Andy Lally in the No. 38 TPC Racing Porsche GT3 Cup. Lally and Bunting were riding a streak of eight consecutive class podium finishes only to see their perfect record go up in smoke with mechanical problems. Because of their misfortune, Lally and Bunting saw their SGS points lead shrink from 28 points prior to the Miami race to 16 after the event.

Despite their misfortunes, however, all of the class leaders were able to maintain their positions and all remain among the favorites as the series returns to the 3.27-mile, 17-turn road course in Danville, Va., for the first of back-to-back Rolex Series race weekends. Round 11 will be held October 10 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

Papis and Pruett must rate among the favorites in Daytona Prototype by virtue of the fact that they are the only drivers to have won more than two races thus far in 2004. The No. 01 machine has also started from the pole position in all but one race this season, albeit the last two poles came based on their points position due to qualifying cancellations.

As has been the case throughout the 2004 season, Papis and Pruett will face an intense challenge from Angelelli and Taylor in the SunTrust No. 10. The teammates have already tasted victory twice this season, and now that Taylor is within eight points of the lead, look for the black and yellow Pontiac Riley to be at the front throughout the weekend.

Likewise, the No. 2 CITGO Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford should also be a force at the front of the pack. In the Miami 250, co-drivers Wallace and Milka Duno took their second win in dramatic fashion with Wallace passing Angelelli for the win in traffic just three laps from the finish. Now just 11 points out of the points lead, look for Wallace to engage in another "showdown" if given the opportunity at VIR, which is the closest thing to a "hometown" race for the North Carolina-based Howard-Boss Motorsports team.

Not to be overlooked is the defending VIR 400 champion No. 54 Kodak EasyShare Bell Motorsports Pontiac Riley team with 2003 Daytona Prototype champion Terry Borcheller and Christian Fittipaldi sharing the controls. The No. 54 has proven to be plenty quick thus far, and with a little racing luck, the teammates could return to the top step of the podium for the first time since the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Another team to watch will certainly be Didier Theys and Italian driver Andrea Montermini in the No. 27 Doran-Lista Racing Lexus Doran. While this will be Montermini's first Rolex Series appearance of the season, Theys tasted the victory champagne two races ago in The Sahlen's 200 and will be looking for a return visit to the winner's circle again this weekend.

Fresh off their first podium finish of the season in Miami, Butch Leitzinger and Elliott Forbes-Robinson should also play central roles in the No. 4 Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford at VIR. Likewise, there is probably no team that knows the track better than the VIR-based No. 81 Motorsports BMW Doran pairing of Cort Wagner and Brent Martini. Both of the aforementioned cars are still searching for their first wins of the 2004 Rolex Series season.

Other teams looking for their first wins of the season include Jimmy Morales and Luis Diaz in the No. 02 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley, Oswaldo Negri Jr. and Burt Frisselle in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Lexus Doran, Shane Lewis and Vic Rice in the No. 7 Southard Motorsports BMW Fabcar, Mike Borkowski and Paul Mears Jr. in the No. 9 Mears Motor Coach Pontiac Riley, Doug Goad and Stephan Gregoire in the No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Racing Pontiac Crawford, Larry Huang and Chris Hall in the No. 39 The Spark of Georgia Tech Pontiac Crawford, David Donohue and Darren Law in the No. 58 Red Bull-Brumos Racing Porsche Fabcar and Hurley Haywood and JC France in the No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche Fabcar.

With 18 Daytona Prototypes on the entry list, the VIR 400 presented by SunTrust will have one of the largest fields of the 2004 season. In fact, this weekend's entry list includes one of every series-approved chassis. Co-driving the No. 5 Essex Racing Ford Multimatic will be Scott Maxwell and David Brabham, while Johnny Miller, Robert Chase and Chris Bingham are slated to run the No. 18 Chase Competition Engineering Chevrolet Chase and Steve and Danny Marshall will pilot the No. 80 G&W Motorsports BMW Picchio.

In the GT category, look for the Prototype Technology Group BMW M3s to come out swinging. Co-driving the No. 21 will be Auberlen and rookie Justin Marks, while Said shares the No. 22 with Joey Hand. Driving a new, third PTG entry, will be Tom Milner and Billy Johnson in the No. 16 BMW M3. Milner is the son of PTG president and CEO Tom Milner.

Based on their 1-2 class finish in Miami, however, The Racer's Group will also be heard from in Virginia. Owner/driver Kevin Buckler leads the way in the No. 67 Porsche GT3 RS, and the talented trio of Ian James, Chris Gleason and RJ Valentine will share the team's No. 66 Porsche GT3 RS. Returning to GT action this weekend will also be the No. 23 Horizon Motorsports Pontiac GTO of Charles Espenlaub and Frank DelVecchio and the No. 44 Orbit Racing Porsche GT3 RS of Jay and Joe Policastro.

Bunting and Lally will be looking to get back on the SGS podium this weekend, but they figure to be faced with another challenge from their TPC Racing teammates, Michael Levitas and Randy Pobst in the No. 36 Porsche GT3 Cup and John Littlechild and Bill Adam in the No, 37 Porsche GT3 Cup. The three-car ORISON-Planet Earth Motorsports entry, led by two-time SGS race winner Wayne Nonnamaker in the team's No. 43 Porsche GT3 Cup, will also be heard from in SGS. A team of local interest is the No. 86 G&W Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup driven by Mae Van Wijk and Armando Trentini.

In addition to the Rolex Series activities, the weekend schedule will also feature Round 8 of the 10-race 2004 Grand-Am Cup Series, the Grand-Am Cup 250 on Saturday at 1:50 p.m. ET. Class points leaders Terry Borcheller (Grand Sport) and Don Salama and Will Turner (Sport Touring) will lead a field of more than 50 cars as they look to stop a two-race win streak for the No. 13 Unitech Racing Nissan 350Z. The Grand-Am Cup 250 will be televised on SPEED Channel at 12:00 Noon ET on Sunday, October 17.

This weekend's activities get underway Friday at 9:20 a.m. ET when the Rolex Series GT and SGS cars take to the track for their own, 30-minute practice session. At 9:50 a.m., the Daytona Prototypes share the track with the GT and SGS machines for practice until 10:50 a.m. before a Daytona Prototype-only practice session from 10:50 to 11:20 a.m. At 1:00 p.m., the Grand-Am Cup Series sees its first track activity of the weekend with a one-hour session, followed by another Rolex Series practice from 2:10 to 2:55 p.m. The day's activities conclude with another Grand-Am Cup practice from 3:40 to 4:35 p.m.

Saturday will see the Grand-Am Cup machines on track for a 50-minute practice session beginning at 9:00 a.m. ET, followed by an hour-long Rolex Series practice beginning at 10:00 a.m. Following the Rolex Series practice, the focus shifts to Grand-Am Cup qualifying with the Sport Touring cars on-track for a 15-minute session beginning at 11:10 a.m. The Grand-Am Cup Grand Sport machines will then have their qualifying session from 11:35 to 11:50 a.m.

At 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, the Rolex Series GT and SGS machines will start their 15-minute qualifying session, followed by Daytona Prototype qualifying from 1:05 to 1:20 p.m. Saturday's schedule draws to a close with the Grand-Am Cup 250 at 1:50 p.m. The race is scheduled for 250 miles (77 laps) and is subject to a three-hour time limit.

Sunday's schedule calls for the Rolex Series machines to get a final practice session from 9:40 to 9:55 a.m. with the green flag scheduled to drop on the VIR 400 presented by SunTrust at 12:00 Noon ET. The scheduled distance for the race is 400 kilometers (250 miles, 77 laps) with a two hour and 45 minute time limit.

The VIR 400 presented by SunTrust will be televised live on SPEED Channel beginning at 12:00 Noon ET. Live Timing & Scoring data from all sessions is also available via Zippo Live Timing on the official web site of the Grand American Road Racing Association,

Rolex Series VIR 400 presented by SunTrust Weekend Fast Facts

WHO: Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series and Grand-Am Cup Series

WHAT: VIR 400 presented by SunTrust
Rolex Series -- VIR 400 presented by SunTrust (Round 10 of 12)
Grand-Am Cup Series -- VIR 250 (Round 8 of 10)

WHERE: Virginia International Raceway, Danville, Va. (3.27-mile, 17-turn, road course)

WHEN: Friday-Sunday, October 1-3
VIR 250 -- Saturday, October 2, 1:50 p.m. ET
VIR 400 presented by SunTrust -- Sunday, October 3, Noon ET

LENGTH: VIR 400 presented by SunTrust --77-laps (400 km) or 2

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