David Empringham out-duelled friend and fellow Mustang pilot Scott Maxwell to cross the line in first place by a slim .356-second-margin to claim victory in the Fresh From Florida 200, the traditional Grand Am Cup curtain raiser before the Rolex 24 Hours.
Empringham, who will drive for new prototype team AIM Autosport in the main Grand Am event, just held off Blackforest Motorsport teammate Maxwell in a thrilling climax to Friday's race, giving the Ford Mustang a great 1-2 finish at the start of their second full season on the tracks.
Empringham shared the driving duties and the champagne spraying with Tom Nastasi, who started the Koni Challenge race from third position, but made quick work of making his way to the front of the pack before turning the USG Sheetrock Mustang FR500C over to the ex Toyota Atlantic Champion.
The victory was like déjà vu all over again for Nastasi, who took a break-through win in 2005 when Blackforest gave the Mustang FR500C a proper Koni Challenge debut at Daytona International Speedway.
“I just tried to save the car for David as much as I could, but I still had no problem taking the lead,” said Nastasi. “The Mustang was fantastic, and David had a great battle with Scott out there. I told him he'd better win, or bring the car back in a bucket trying! Fortunately, he drove a great clean race and we're here in victory circle. I was really disappointed to not win this race last year, so it feels pretty good right now to get back to the top of the podium.”
“I had a lot of fun fighting with Scott because we are friends and share office space back home in Toronto, so it's going to be great to give him a hard time about this for a while,” smiled Empringham, who was the 2005 Koni Challenge Champion. “Brian Nott (Blackforest Motorsports team owner) prepares these Mustangs better than anyone else, and it is always great to get to race with this team. I want to thank Tom for giving me the opportunity to race this car again because it was just fantastic on this track.”
The Blackforest squad is based in nearby Deland, Florida, and campaigned no less than five Mustangs in the three-hour event that saw more than 90 cars take the start.
Lady racer Valerie Limoges and Champ Car star Alex Tagliani were looking to re-create their strong run together in last seasons' Trois-Rivieres event, which saw them qualify on the front row and contest for a win. However, after Limoges moved up some ten positions in her first stint and then turned the Mustang over to Tagliani, it was clear that Friday was not their day as the Mustang suffered a problem that sapped power from the big V8 and the duo were forced to retire early.
“I'm just disappointed because we were so fast in testing here but now we are leaving without any real points in the championship and it's going to be quite a hill to climb from here,” said Limoges. “But it was great to see Tom and Dave take the win, and I'm really looking forward to making my first Rolex start tomorrow.”
Limoges will be one of just three female racers in the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona, partnering with Tagliani, Nastasi, and Guy Cosmo in the Ford Mustang Cobra GT as the sole Ford entry in the blockbuster 43-car GT class field for the 45th running of the 24.