Derek Johnston got his first taste of Daytona International Speedway during this week's two-day Rolex 24 At Daytona test session.
Joined by more than 20 other GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series teams, Johnston, the inaugural winner of the Rolex 24 At Daytona Driver Challenge, tested the twist and turns of Daytona's 3.56-mile road course with the #09 Spirit of Daytona Porsche Coyote as he prepares for the 48th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 30-31.
In addition to winning the Radical Series championship in his native United Kingdom, Johnston turned in a higher average score (based on finishing position, pole positions and fastest race laps) than 97 other contestants in four British championships to capture the Rolex 24 At Daytona Driver Challenge.
Johnston's prize is a funded seat in a Daytona Prototype in the 2010 Rolex 24 At Daytona as well as participation in this week's test session and the January 8-10 Roar Before The Rolex 24 test session.
The team that Johnston will race with in the Rolex 24 has not been determined. During this week's test, he is turning laps in a Daytona Prototype with the Holly Hill-based Spirit of Daytona and getting plenty of instruction from sports car veteran Guy Cosmo.
“He's been very helpful,” Johnston said after receiving the Rolex 24 At Daytona Driver Challenge plaque from DIS President Robin Braig during Tuesday's lunch break. “He's a very good instructor. He makes you feel calm. He doesn't get excited. He makes you work on bits that give you big improvement quickly. It's been pretty good.”
Last month, Johnston was able to take a few laps around Daytona's road course in a passenger car with another sports car veteran Terry Borcheller - the leading winner of Rolex Series history with 24 class victories - and then tested a Daytona Prototype with Spirit of Daytona at Virginia International Raceway.
This week, he is at full speed on Daytona's daunting 31-degree high banks and Johnston admits he is still awed by the entire experience of being the inaugural Rolex 24 At Daytona Driver Challenge winner.
“I still haven't gotten over the shock of it to be honest,” Johnston said. “It's still only my third season of racing cars. To come out here is massive. To be at Daytona for two days and have a car and team and everybody has been really helpful, it's just overwhelming. It really is.”
Daytona International Speedway is a storied motorsports facility and the 47-year-old Johnston said that his fellow competitors in the Radical Series are very envious of his experience.
“I think everybody in the world knows this track,” said Johnston, who is also a successful businessman in the England and managing director of MSW UK Ltd. “It is a world famous race circuit without a doubt. I don't think everybody knows what it looks like or appreciates the size of the place. I've known about Daytona all of my life.”