Having been one of the strongest teams at the Roar Before the 24 – albeit after a troubling end to 2013 – Spirit of Daytona Racing started the running for the 52nd Rolex 24 at Daytona on top, driver Richard Westbrook setting the fastest time of the opening practice session for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
Westbrook moved to the top of the times with just five minutes to go in the hour long session, the #90 team having sat second fastest behind Christian Fittipaldi’s early lap for Action Express Racing.
The Brazilian was quickest after the very first flying laps and kept his position as times started to come down towards the expected pace in the chilled Florida morning air. Westbrook’s final time of 1:39.462 remained eight tenths slower than the lap which Fittipaldi led the Roar test with earlier this month.
Westbrook will share the VisitFlorida.com backed Corvette DP with Michael Valiante and 2010 race winner Mike Rockenfeller .
Daytona Prototypes again dominated their LMP2 rivals, though the Corvette DP was less evident than in previous running at Daytona. Though Fittipaldi was second fastest in the ‘#5 Corvette DP the rest of the top five was filled with Riley chassis, the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates example third and Michael Shank Racing fifth as Ford Ecoboost powered cars sandwiched the BMW engined #78 Starworks Motorsport car.
The best LMP2 car was Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s Oreca-Nissan, eighth fastest, 1.6 seconds slower than Westbrook’s best. Wayne Taylor Racing, their opposite number as Rolex Series champions were tenth fastest overall.
Fittipaldi’s tenure at the top of the times included a pair of red flags in the first half hour of the session. The second, longer, halt to proceedings coming when both Alex Riberas and Bill Auberlen spun on oil dropped through the infield kink. Both cars – Riberas’ GT Daytona Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing Porsche and Auberlen’s GTLM BMW Z4 – hit the wall, doing significant damage, leaving their teams scrambling for not only the second practice session, but likely for the qualifying sessions scheduled for 3:45pm local time (8:45pm UK).
At the time of the second red flag the GTLM class was led by Darren Turner and Aston Martin Racing – the team starting a year that will see them enter the four North American Endurance Championship (NAEC) races, of which the Rolex 24 is the first. However the Briton was surpassed late in the session, ALMS class champion Antonio Garcia set the best time in class (1:46.036) in the #3 Corvette Racing C7.R he co-drives with Jan Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe, before Marc Goossens pushed Turner back another spot in the very final seconds of the test, putting the #91 SRT Motorsports Viper second fastest with a best time of 1:46.090, fractionally faster than the Aston’s 46.101.
The second of the Vipers was fourth fastest in class, with Risi Competizione’s Ferrari fifth fastest.
Oliver Jarvis started his personal quest for back-to-back Rolex 24 class wins in fine style, ensuring the Fall-Line Motorsport Audi R8 he shares with Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub and James Walker led the GTD class in the session.
Damien Faulker was second fastest in class in the GB Autosport Porsche, TRG-AMR’s James Davison third fastest in the better of the team’s pair of Vantages, despite David Block’s issues in the car being the cause of the first red flag.
Colin Braun was comfortably the best man in the PC class for CORE Autosport, nearly 1.5 seconds faster than Sean Rayhall, who led the class early on in the BAR1 Motorsports entry.
A further half hour of practice is planned for 1:15pm local time (6:15pm UK) before qualifying later in the afternoon. The day for the TUDOR Championship concludes with a 90 minute night practice session starting at 6:30pm local time (11:30pm UK).