Papis Team Wins Rolex 24

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - In the days leading up to the Rolex 24 at Daytona, much of the pre-race attention focused on the handful of NASCAR drivers who were moonlighting in the event.

But when the checkered flag fell at the end of 24 hours, however, it was a team of veteran sportscar racers and road-course warriors that took center stage. The Doran Racing team took overall honors with an international driver line up of Mauro Baldi (Italy), Max Papis (Italy), Didier Theys (Belgium) and Fredy Lienhard (Switzerland).

But few, if any, enjoyed the experience as much as those who crossed over from the high-profile world of stock-car racing to run the 3.56-mile Daytona road course.

“It’s a blast,” Tony Stewart said after his first driving stint Saturday night.

Racers in all forms of motorsports always pass credit to the “team” – reminding all that auto racing is very much a group effort. But in sportscar endurance racing, even the driving is a team effort. And whenever a driver from a different form of racing gives it a go, they seem to love the practice of turning over driving duties to a teammate – and eventually taking over again.

Stewart shared the wheel of an open-cockpit prototype with Jan Lammers and Johnny Mowlem, but only for half of the prescribed 24 hours. The team was done after 12 hours due to mechanical death, and finished 46th in the 74-car
field.

Robby Gordon, who has four class victories in past Daytona endurance races, nearly got the big prize this weekend. He was part of the Mathews Racing
entry that finished second overall – six laps back. Gordon’s co-drivers were Jim Mathews, Guy Smith and Indy-car racer Scott Sharp.

Kyle Petty, running the race for the second straight year, was part of the Orbit Racing team that finished 15th overall, seventh in GT class, driving a Porsche.

Wally Dallenbach Jr. teamed with road-racing veterans Jack Baldwin, Mark Simo and George Robinson in a prototype that ended up 65th due to mechanical failures.

Kevin Harvick joined a Corvette team based in his new hometown of Daytona Beach, but a dead engine netted him what's certainly the worst finish of his career – 69th.

Derrike Cope, the lone former Daytona 500 winner in the field, finished 25th overall, 14th in class, driving a GT Ferrari with Cort Wagner, Constantino Bertuzzi and Bill Auberlen.

Heading into the event, Stewart spoke glowingly about his initial venture into the world of sportscars. But his actual racing adventure got off to a flying stop a little more than 90 minutes into the race.

At 2:37 p.m. on Saturday, Stewart replaced co-driver Johnny Mowlem, but the car stalled as he tried to dart from the pits.

“They changed the clutch last night and that’s the first time I got a chance to drive it,” said Stewart. “It was driver error. It’s my fault.”

When the car wouldn’t start, a quick check under the skin found a dead battery inside the Judd motor, and the 14-minute delay to replace the battery dropped the team from third to 25th place.

Once Stewart got on the course, he turned a double shift. When he finally turned the wheel over to the team's lead driver, Jan Lammers, at 4:29, Stewart had returned the car to seventh place. Stewart pulled another double from 8:40 to 10:20 Saturday night -- starting and finishing his duty in
fourth place overall.

Stewart never returned to the seat, because near the end of Mowlem’s double shift after 1 a.m. – just past the halfway point – the car was retired
with a dropped valve.

Harvick’s first endurance test required little endurance at all. He opened the race in the cockpit and turned a two-hour stint in the Corvette for the
Daytona Beach-based Flis Motorsports. He never got back in, because the car’s motor gave up soon after the four-hour mark (“Something came apart in the valve train and it grenaded the whole thing,” said crew chief Troy Flis). But the dip into endurance racing gave Harvick a rare lesson in patience.

“I learned to pace myself,” he said. “Learning a new style of racing was all pretty cool.”

Dallenbach’s chances to race have been rather rare over the past year. His Winston Cup possibilities fell apart during the preseason in 2001, and he ended up in the broadcast booth with NBC. He enjoyed the mere 170 laps his team turned before retiring very early with overheating and gearbox problems.

“I had a blast,” said Dallenbach. “I tell you what, it’s been eight or nine years since I had been in a sportscar. I guarantee you it won't be another
eight before I get back in one of these cars.”

Cope has also been a stranger to the track for much of the past year or more. He enjoyed his time in uniform.

“I got two hours sleep,” he said. “I was so excited all night, I could hardly sleep.”

Scott Pruett, who ran the 2000 season for Winston Cup owner Cal Wells, was part of a fifth-place team that won the GTS class. His co-drivers in the Jaguar were Paul Gentilozzi, Brian Simo and Michael Lauer.

“You love to (win) overall, but if you can do it in class, it’s the next best thing,” said Pruett.

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