Rock Hill race team prepares for Rolex 24 at Daytona

dworthington@heraldonline.comJanuary 24, 2014 

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It’s a new series with new race tracks and even a new set of rules.

There is even a new number on the CORE Autosport car. But the Rock Hill-based team still has the same goal this weekend – winning.

The CORE team, three-time team champion in the American Le Mans Series, makes its debut Saturday at the Rolex 24 at the Daytona International Speedway, the granddaddy event of U.S. sports car endurance racing. This is the 52nd running of the race.

Racing starts with a 67-car field in four different classes of cars. A total of 416 drivers are set to compete. Racing ends about 2 p.m. Sunday after about 2,800 miles of driving.

On the pole for the Prototype Challenge division is CORE’s orange and white Oreca. Driver Colin Braun covered the 3.56-mile, 12-turn road course in 1:41.777, for an average speed of 125.9 mph.

Braun shares the CORE car with Jon Bennett, owner of both the CORE team Composite Resources; James Gue; and Mark Wilkins.

The prototype challenge cars, capable of top speeds of 175 mph on the banks at Daytona, are expected to be the second-fastest cars on the track.

The overall pole position went to Alex Gurney, who ran a 1:38.270 or 130.416 mph in a Chevrolet Corvette DP. He is the son of race car legend Dan Gurney, who won his first Daytona sports car race in 1962.

This year’s Daytona race is under the auspices of the Tudor United Sports Car Championship, created by a merger of the two sports car racing association, the former Grand Am and the American LeMans series.

Combining the two associations means a large variety of cars on the track. Some, such as the CORE Oreca, have open cockpits. The Delta Wing racers are distinctive, looking like something out of the “Stars Wars” movie.

There are two prototype classes and a pair of production-based GT classes, which have familiar sports cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette, Mazda, BMW, Audi, Porsche 911, Ferrari, Dodge Viper and Aston Martin.

The list of drivers includes Indianapolis 500 winners Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray, Daytona 24-hour winners such as Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, A.J. Allmendinger, Justin Wilson and Oswaldo Negri, and television star Patrick Dempsey.

Be it name drivers or those who have the requisite skills and money to purchase some ride time, the key to winning at Daytona is finding the right balance, Bennett said.

“This is about risk management; it’s not a speed event,” Bennett said.

It’s also about endurance for the car and the drivers. This is the first time the CORE’s Oreca has tried to race round the clock. The longest previous race for the team was the 12 hours of Sebring.

Bennett said getting a driver “in the groove” is also essential. Typically drivers will do two stints before handing off to a teammate. A stint is a tank of gas, or about 45 minutes of driving time.

But if a driver is in the groove, Bennett said he or she may drive triple or quadruple stints. Having fewer driver changes reduces the chances for errors, he said.

While Bennett’s attention will be focused on the Oreca, CORE Autosport also has two more cars to manage during the race. CORE is preparing and maintaining the Porsche North American team. Porsche is providing the professional drivers, and CORE is responsible for the cars.

Porsche has a long history of success in road racing, but this marks the first time it has fielded a factory-based team in several years. Race observers are expecting big things from two 911 cars. Race numbers for the Porsche-CORE cars are 911 and 912.

Bennett’s Oreca has a new number this year, changing from 05 to 54.

He hopes it a sign of good luck as 54 was the number he had on many of the cars he drove early in his career as well as the number used by Ray Stone, one of his mentors in the sport.

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