The recently-expanded Mazda RX-8 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series GT programme from Dempsey Racing got its 2010 campaign off to an outstanding start with an impressive performance throughout the three-day "Roar Before the Rolex 24" test session at a cold and blustery Daytona International Speedway last weekend.

Defending Rolex Series GT champion Leh Keen posted the quickest GT lap of the weekend with a time of 1 minute 49.214 seconds (117.348 mph) in the #41 Team Seattle/Global Diving & Salvage Mazda RX-8 GT.

The test marked Keen's first time in the Mazda RX-8 GT, which was recently built and delivered to the team by SpeedSource, Inc. Keen is sharing the car with co-drivers Don Kitch Jr. and Dave Lacey for the Rolex 24 At Daytona in three weeks, as well as his full-time 2010 co-driver James Gu?.

"I would say the test went a little bit better than expected," Keen said. "Any time you have new people, a new team and a new car, you see a lot of things go wrong. Luckily, we have a car that's been tested for the last couple of years in Grand-Am.

"Even though it was newly built, the SpeedSource guys did a really good job on it. We have a lot of guys on the crew that have been around racing for a long time, so everything went really good. The car was pretty fast right out of the box. We're still learning a lot of things, but we're all optimistic about the race now. We feel like we got what we came for here for the test days."

Both Dempsey Racing cars were inside the top five among the Mazda entries at the test, with Joe Foster posting the fourth-best time for a Mazda RX-8 and the 11th-best lap of the GT class in the team's #40 machine. That Mazda's Rolex 24 driver line-up also includes team principal Patrick Dempsey, Charles Espenlaub and Scott Maxwell.

"It's a really exciting test for us," Foster said. "This is the first time we've ever run two Rolex GT Mazdas together. We had a lot of logistical plans and logistical ideas to test and see how it worked with more people, more cars and more parts. All that for the most part has gone well. We have a few growing pains, but it's good to have growing pains instead of shrinking pains. The cars ran good. Obviously, we've gotten both cars at a very competitive pace.

"Patrick has done a great job. The big difference for us as a driver set in the 40 car is Patrick is well into the 52s (one-minute, 52-second range) on a regular basis now, which is a great race pace. He's made huge strides and we're pretty happy about that. Obviously, bringing new partners into the fold in terms of John and Jeri Graham of Global Diving & Salvage, is fantastic for us as a team and we welcome their support of the Seattle Children's Hospital. The big picture is good."

Dempsey Racing took a step forward during the 2009 Rolex Series season with consistent top-ten performances and a pair of top-five efforts for #40 teammates Foster and Dempsey at Barber and Montreal. Dempsey looks for the team to continue its progress in 2010.

"Hopefully we can build on what we ended up getting done last year," Dempsey said. "If we can be as consistent as we were, that's good. At the same time, it's a new year, so you've got to let go and just be present to where we are right now and build on what the car is like right now and where we're at. We'll see what happens.

"It was good to get back in the car at the test. I was certainly a little nervous because I've been out since Miami (in October), so you never know how you're going to feel in the car. Every time I come back I'm starting to improve my lap times. I'm getting quicker and making personal bests, so that's good.

"I'm really thrilled with how the team has come along in the offseason and the development of the car. (Race and design engineer) Kirt (Wightman)'s done great job, and all the guys in the shop. The expansion, having the 41 car now and Leh and James, it's a great addition to the team and we're glad to create a strong two-car effort for Mazda. The chemistry is starting to gel with the whole team."