NASCAR, USRRC: Ernie Irvan Enters Rolex 24 At Daytona
29 December 1998
Irvan, the 1991 winner of the Daytona 500 at the "World Center of Racing," has been entered in a Prototype Technology Group BMW M3, along with his fellow NASCAR team owner Mark Simo, their driver Boris Said and Simo's twin brother Brian Simo.
Irvan has a historic precedent for success in the event as a NASCAR competitor. NASCAR team owner Jack Roush fielded class winning cars in 10 straight years that he competed in the event between 1985 and 1995. Current NASCAR veterans Mark Martin, Bill Elliott and Wally Dallenbach were among Rolex 24 class winning drivers in Roush cars.
Said, 36, and Mark Simo, 34, are the defending champions in their class, GT3, in the BMW fielded by team owner Tom Milner in the twice-around-the-clock marathon.
A total of 51 cars met the first entry deadline for the USRRC-sanctioned race, with an additional 20 cars reserving numbers for the event. Less than 50 entries were received last year at this point, but 74 cars started the race. Irvan was among the initial entries a year ago, but he ultimately did not appear in Daytona for the kickoff event of Speedweeks.
This time around he has reportedly already tested the BMW, I conjunction with Said, at the Road Atlanta road course near Gainesville, Ga. Sports cars will test at Daytona from January 9-11.
"This really came about from Boris," Irvan said of his truck driver, who will broaden his experience for Irvan-Simo Racing this season by also running NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division and NASCAR Winston Cup Series races for the Federated Auto Parts-backed team. "He told me we need to team up and run the Rolex 24, and I thought this might be a fun thing to do."
Said has always indicated he picked Irvan's brain almost daily in hopes of absorbing some of his owner and mentor's oval racing experience. Now, he has an opportunity to put the shoe on the other foot, so to speak.
"I have no sports car experience," Irvan said, disallowing his test time. "Basically the only road course experience I have is on the Winston Cup tour."
However, Irvan has excelled there, with two victories at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and another at Watkins Glen International. Even though there has been talk by DIS officials of using some portion of the Musco Lighting system to light the entire race track during the Rolex 24 -- although not at 100 percent strength -- Irvan said more than likely he would limit his seat time to daylight hours and let the three road racing veterans perform after dark.
"I won't be doing any of the night driving," Irvan said. "Boris is very good at night, and our other drivers are also experienced in night driving. There's really no need for me to do that."
While Irvan has reportedly been following his doctor's orders strictly while he recovers from various injuries incurred in an accident in the Winston 500 on October 11 at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, he's looking forward to his competitive return, which will follow at least one test excursion in his NASCAR Winston Cup M&Ms Pontiac -- more than likely in General Motors cars' second test at the 2.5-mile superspeedway late in January.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Irvan of the 24-hour event. "I think it's going to be fun."
Irvan started the Pepsi 400 -- the inaugural race under the lights at Daytona on October 17 -- before being relieved by Ricky Craven. However, Craven took Irvan's place for the Dura Lube/Kmart 500 the following weekend at Phoenix International Raceway and drove that race, as well as the final two events of the season at Rockingham, N.C., and Atlanta.
Among the 72 teams entered for the Rolex 24 at this point are 23 open-cockpit Can-Am sports cars, 15 GT2 class cars, 29 GT3 class cars and five entries in the new GTT tube-frame category.
Among some of the other noted drivers who have entered early are five-time Rolex 24 At Daytona champion Hurley Haywood, who will team with Dale and Don Whittington; and Rob Dyson, the 1997 winner of the Rolex 24, who is entered with James Weaver, Elliott Forbes-Robinson and Dorsey Schroeder.
Corvette is scheduled to make its return to endurance racing in the Rolex 24. Two entries already have been filed in the GT2 class, and Canadian Ron Fellows, who plans to broaden his NASCAR experience this season in conjunction with Joe Nemechek, is among the team's drivers.
An open test session for the Rolex 24 is scheduled for January 9-11, with the cars returning to the track for their first official practice January 28.
Testing for Speedweeks 1999 gets underway January 3-4 with the NASCAR Winston Cup Ford teams, followed by the General Motors teams January 6-7. The Ford teams return Jan. 12-13, while the Goody's Dash Series, NASCAR Touring teams test at the 2.5-mile track Jauary 15-16, followed by the NASCAR Busch Series teams January 17-18. The NASCAR Winston Cup General Motors teams finish winter testing January 19-20.
For ticket information on the Rolex 24 At Daytona or any Speedweeks 1999 event, call (904) 253-7223 or visit www.daytonausa.com.