The Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team led the opening day of official practice for the Grand-Am Rolex Series' debut at New Jersey Motorsports Park, with Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand both running at the front of the field.
Hand set the fastest time in Friday morning's session on the 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway circuit, taking the #23 Porsche Riley to a lap of 1min 11.520secs, while Auberlen led the afternoon, despite running around a second slower than his co-driver. Hand is expected to qualify the car on Saturday afternoon in preparation for Sunday's Supercar Life 250.
"This track really superseded my expectations," Hand said, "Driving my car is a lot more fun than I expected, and the Ruby Tuesday team really worked hard and did a great job preparing for this race. For the first time with our new Riley, we're actually running strong coming right off the trailer."
Hand and Auberlen finished second in the second race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but the team's best finish since then was the fourth it took in the Crown Royal 200 at Watkins Glen International as it switched to an upgraded Crawford chassis before moving to the Riley.
"This is my kind of track," Auberlen admitted, "The flow is good, and I like the really, really fast turns. We've been P1 in every session, and that is where this team belongs. They work as hard as anyone in the paddock - sometimes harder."
Second fastest was Ricardo Zonta, who ran a lap of 1min 11.795secs in the #76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Lola.
"This track is very slippery and very challenging," said the Brazilian, who finished fifth with Nic Jonsson in the two most recent Rolex Series races, "Finding the right place for overtaking GT cars can be very difficult, but we've found the right direction to balance the car. There are still some issues where we can improve, but I think we can get a good position tomorrow."
Third fastest across the two sessions was Marc Goossens' #91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley, while Alex Gurney and Darren Law rounded out the top five with the #99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley and #58 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley respectively.
Points leader Memo Rojas, meanwhile, practiced in the #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus Riley while his regular TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing team worked back in Indianapolis to prepare a back-up car to replace the primary #01 machine destroyed in a testing accident by veteran Scott Pruett on Thursday. Pruett was cleared to drive on Friday, but sat out the opening sessions.
"Those few laps really helped," said Rojas, who shared the #3 with Shane Lewis and Bill Lester, "It would be really tough to race here without knowing the track. The car was familiar, and I got to learn the braking references and how to get around here."