AIM Autosport may not have made it to the finish of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but the Toronto-based team certainly made a statement as it battled with the likes of Ganassi and Michael Shank Racing at the front of the field.
The black-and-gold Riley-Ford enjoyed an outstanding opening to the 2008 Rolex Sports Car Series before a run of bad luck ultimately forced the team to park up and begin preparations for the rest of the season. All four drivers - Mark Wilkins, Brian Frisselle, Andrew Ranger and Colin Braun - led the race at different stages, and the decision to move to Ford power for 2008 proved to be prescient, as the team led nearly 40 of the 448 laps it completed over 16 hours.
“Last year, we were very conservative and worked our way up and were eventually fifth at the end,” said team owner Ian Willis, “We had good luck last year, but it certainly didn't go our way tonight.
"We had a number of issues that put us about 26 laps behind at some point and, when the tyre let go,..... The car is repairable and we could probably have got it back out on track in a couple of hours but, when you're that far back, sometimes you just have to cut your losses.
"But this was a good kick-off to the season as far as pace was concerned, and we know we had a podium-calibre car and driver line-up today. Andrew did an amazing job to keep it off the wall when we had the tyre problem, and we're working with Pirelli to evaluate the cause.”
Despite a worrying fuel pressure problem, the plan set by Willis and the crew was going exactly as hoped for until the combination of rain, oil and track debris in the Bus Stop sent Wilkins off-course and behind the wall for repairs. Despite a lot of hard work getting the car back on track, the effort suffered another setback when Frisselle was forced off the road in turn three - and was then penalised for passing slower GT traffic before the line on the subsequent restart. The final blow came just before the sun was set to rise, when Ranger had a tyre go down and smash the rear bodywork. The damage proved to be significant enough to force the team to park the car for the day.
Despite the disappointment, however, Willis managed to find positives for the rest of the campaign.
“Ford Racing gave us a great motor and, even though we had the fuel pressure issues, it turned out to just be a bad fuel filter, and we were still able to be really quick,” Willis continued, “I think that's a testament to how strong a motor the Roush Yates is. This is a disappointing result, but if we step back, I think the weekend gives us a lot of confidence about the rest of the season.”