Darren Manning Tests DP

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The interest of the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 in general has lured several top name drivers from the United Kingdom to compete in the series' Daytona Prototype and GT classes.

IndyCar Series veteran Darren Manning, who competed with Foyt Racing in 2008, has competed several times at Daytona International Speedway in the 24-hour classic. He was back at the track this week for the series' October Test Days, which gave participants the opportunity to use up the 2008 Pirelli P Zero tires and gain some track time as well.

Manning was one of the fastest drivers during the three-day test, which started Monday and ended Wednesday. He drove the No. 45 Orbit Racing InterMedia BMW Riley with three other drivers, including NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Kyle Petty, the son of legendary racer and seven-time Daytona 500 winner Richard Petty. Kyle Petty said Tuesday he would enjoy running a full season of Rolex Series competition as early as next season.

A native of Knaresborough now living in Indianapolis, Ind., Manning finished second in the Rolex 24 in 2007 with SAMAX and drivers Patrick Carpentier, Milka Duno and fellow U.K. driver Ryan Dalziel.

"I always love coming here for the Rolex 24," Manning said. "It's always a great race, and all of the drivers that love to do it are here. The time of the year is perfect for every different championship to allow drivers to do it. It's perfect. I've been fortunate to drive in a couple of good cars, and I'm glad to be back with some of the guys that I've done it with before."

Manning's runner-up finish last year was not the only time he had been close to winning the Rolex 24.

"We were up there, we were leading for a long time and finished only 30 seconds behind the Ganassi car," Manning said. "We thought we had it, but it will be a good chance to get one back on them. In 2004 or 2005 with Ganassi, we were leading with Casey Mears, Scott Dixon and myself through the night, and we had a fuel problem that dropped us back to sixth. So, sixth and a second - not too bad!"

Manning did not compete in the 2008 Rolex 24, so being back at the track this week was a chance to reacquaint himself with the 3.56-mile, 14-turn stadium road course. He said he expects to be back for the 2009 race, which will be contested Jan. 24-25, with Orbit Racing.

"It's going to be interesting," said Manning, whose best IndyCar Series finish this season was second at Watkins Glen International. "The test is going very well, and it's good to be back in the car. I tested this time last year at end of ‘07 for SAMAX, so it's been awhile since I've been in the car, so I'm blowing the cobwebs off. These cars are fun to drive, and it's going alright."

The chance to compete against drivers from a variety of racing disciplines - from regulars in the IndyCar Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to Formula 1 veterans to European sports car and open-wheel champions - is just one reason so many big name drivers race in the Rolex 24. Others include racing in a prestigious endurance race that started in 1962 as a three-hour campaign, and in some of the most competitive, closest racing in the world.

In 2008 alone, eight cars found victory lane in the 14 Daytona Prototype races. Eleven of the 14 races were decided by five seconds or less, including six races under one second. Four of the six closest finishes in Daytona Prototype history occurred during the 2008 season, including the race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. There, the margin of victory was 0.064 seconds, and the top three cars were separated by only 0.654 seconds.

In Manning's runner-up finish in the Rolex 24, three cars were fighting for the lead as late as the final hour-and-a-half. In the 2008 race, six cars were on the lead lap 18 hours into the race.

"That's why you see so many guys from the IRL, NASCAR, Champ Car, all the guys that come over to do the 24, it's because they can get into any car, up and down pit lane and have a chance of winning," Manning said. "It's perfect. That's what they've really tried to do with all the different cars out there, engine packages and things, and it's great. It gives the drivers and engineer a little bit of leeway on engineering the cars, but at the end of the day, everybody goes out and does the same sort of speed, so it's really good fun."

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