Forty cars were on hand for the first of two days of Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series testing at Daytona International Speedway, as teams and drivers logged nearly eight-and-a-half hours of quality track time in preparation for the forthcoming 2009 season.

The test was the first time that teams had used the 2009-specification Pirelli PZero tyres, and saw 20 cars from each category participating, including the 'new' #4 Childress-Howard Motorsports Porsche Crawford, two Michael Shank Racing Ford Rileys and the SpeedSource Mazda RX-8s. Brian Frisselle made his debut with the SunTrust Racing team and the man he replaced, Michael Valiante, with MSR,

Several teams were involved in minor skirmishes and incidents, but no car was severely damaged and no driver seriously injured. No times were issued for the session, as will be the case throughout testing.

While the new Penske operation took time out of the day to change an engine in its entry, the Childress-Howard alliance enjoyed a successful session with Andy Wallace and Rob Finlay sharing the wheel of the #4 car in preparation for January's Rolex 24.

"I think it's come quite far," said Wallace of the effort, which had its lone outing in the Crown Royal 200 at Watkins Glen International in August, where the British veteran and co-driver Andy Lally finished 19th.

"The car is very well balanced," Wallace added, "I'm very happy with the engine we've got in. This is a new one from Watkins Glen. We've had a little bit of problem getting the car started, which is a shame, but, other than that, it feels really good. We've had a few people working very hard in Denver, North Carolina since Watkins Glen, trying to improve every part of the car, and I think we have.

"It's a big thrill to be driving Mr Childress' car. He wants to get serious about sportscar racing, and I've been the lucky recipient to get the car ready and, ultimately, try to win races. I think we'll be right up there where we need to be, and I'm really, really happy to be back here. I miss not doing to the whole season, and I'm looking forward to this.

"It's a bit of a sting in the toe to have the Rolex 24 as the first race of the season. If it was halfway through the season, you'd know the car a lot better by then. With a new car, you've got to find out exactly what it likes."

Finlay, having run his own DP outfit in the past, was also happy with the updated Crawford.

"They are two completely different cars," he said, comparing new and old, "This one is really good, but it's completely different. We're going through our first day trying to get everything working together but, overall, I'm really pleased."

Frisselle, meanwhile, was also sporting new colours, the bright blue of SunTrust Racing, as he shared time in the #10 Pontiac Dallara with Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor.

"I really like the new team," Frisselle said, "Wayne Taylor Racing has obviously been established in the series, the SunTrust team has one of the best cars, and it's an honour to race with them and with Max Angelelli. I can't wait to get the season started."

Frisselle was one of the hottest drivers in the Rolex Series paddock at the end of the 2008 season, sharing victories in Mexico City and Watkins Glen with Mark Wilkins in the #61 AIM Autosport Ford Riley. While AIM dominated the August race at The Glen, SunTrust captured the next event at Infineon Raceway with Angelelli and Valiante at the wheel, and Frisselle hopes to combine that synergy in 2009.

"We both finished with a bang," he said, "I hope I can continue the momentum that I developed for myself to this team, and the team can continue with the momentum that they developed.

"When I heard they were interested in me, I kept my fingers crossed. I knew it would be the dream of a lifetime to drive for this team. I got the call eventually and, when Wayne said he wanted to go forward with me, my heart jumped. It was an amazing moment, a special moment in my career that I'll remember forever.

"There is a lot of good potential for the Toshiba SunTrust car, and I hope we are going for a championship. This is my first chance to really interact with Max and, so far, I can see why he was a champion. I look forward to learning from him.

Having been replaced at SunTrust by Frisselle, Valiante didn't need much time to get up to speed in his new ride, quickly posting competitive laps in the #6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley that he will share with John Pew next season.

"I had a really great year last season," said Valiante, who won one race and three poles for SunTrust in 2008, "Several teams approached me towards the end of the season and I wasn't sure what SunTrust was going to be doing, so I took the opportunity to join Michael Shank Racing and, so far, it's been great.

"We were quickest for the first half of the day, and I really enjoy the new team, the new environment and the people within the team. I'm looking forward to the start of the season, and we're going to try to keep the momentum going from last year."

Over among the GT runners, Eric Lux admitted that he was excited to be back at Daytona, where he will drive the #86 and #87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3s during the two-day test.

"Any opportunity where we're allowed to test, we like to take advantage of it, especially when there are new cars, new bodywork and new tyres involved," he explained, "For a race as big as the 24 Hours, we'll definitely take advantage of any preparation we can. Farnbacher Loles always brings great cars but, with so many new things, this will be a very useful test. I'm looking forward to the 24."

Lux wasn't the only one from the Farnbacher Loles camp excited to be at the track, as JLowe Racing veterans Jim Lowe and Jim Pace drove the #64 Porsche GT3 throughout the day, along with Tim Sugden and Johannes van Overbeek, after agreeing to Farnbacher Loles Racing preparing the car.

"We started working on this race for '09 about 15 minutes after the chequered flag dropped for the last one," Lowe said, "First, we drove a lot, with the focus on longer stints, double stints, endurance at speed. The next component was deciding what we were going to do and who we were going to do it with. Then execute early. That's why we have our whole driving team and everybody we need to be involved with for the '09 effort already together. It's the only approach I know to apply to something..."

Ian James, meanwhile, was back in old colours, having spent several years with the Blackforest Motorsports stable and now returning to partner Tom Nastasi in the #15 Ford Mustang GT.

A regular on the Rolex Series circuit for several seasons, James moved to the Daytona Prototype class full-time in 2007 after showing speed in the GT class, but has returned to run and assist the Blackforest team in preparing the Mustang during the November test days.

"They're kind of like family and they needed a hand, so I came down to test the car," the ex-pat Briton said, "It's running pretty good - I think we were only off the fastest time this morning by about a tenth of a second - and has great potential. It just needs a bit of massaging."

James is unlikely to race the Mustang at Daytona next January, however, Having competed in the DP class with Michael Shank Racing - and taken his first overall race win at the season finale at Miller Motorsports Park - he is making his plans to run full-time in the series in 2009, and has his sights set on returning to a prototype at the Rolex 24.

The first incident of the test befell Atlantic Series graduate Mike Forest, whose first laps at Daytona in the #32 PR1 Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R were among those he'd rather forget.

Just 13 minutes into the opening session, the Canadian hit a bump in the chicane and spun. Although he kept the car from hitting the wall, it suffered slight right front damage, which the crew repairs when the car returned to the garage area.

"Not the way to start the day," Forest admitted, as he watched co-drivers Thomas Merrill, Al Salvo and Jeff Westphal wait for their chance to drive the car.

The team got back on track later in the day, albeit with a few other slight setbacks, as Merrill spun in turn one and backed the car lightly into the wall, and the #32 was also responsible for a full course caution later in the day as it shed debris around the track.



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