January. 17, 2007 – Torrance, CA – With five 2006 Daytona Prototype race winners, four recently crowned auto racing All-Americans and four Indianapolis 500 winners, Lexus will sport a powerful line-up when six Lexus-powered Daytona Prototypes take the track for the 2007 Rolex 24 at Daytona in the season opener for the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series.
Last year’s race winners include series regulars Scott Pruett, Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson, along with defending Rolex 24 champions Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon. Yet, the talent extends far past Grand-Am success. In fact, the Lexus line-up alone might have the greatest line-up of open-wheel drivers seen in America in years with Sam Hornish Jr. (2006), Dan Wheldon (2005), Helio Castroneves (2001 and 2002) and Juan Montoya (2000) having combined to win five of the last seven Indianapolis 500s. They’re joined by fellow open-wheel stars A.J. Allmendinger, who registered five Champ Car wins a year ago, former Champ Car title-winner Paul Tracy, rising young stars Graham Rahal and Salvador Duran.
Leading the way will be a pair of established Lexus teams in Chip Ganassi Racing and Michael Shank Racing. Each will field a two-car team capable of winning the twice-around-the-clock extravaganza. They’ll be joined by two squads that will be new to the Lexus camp in 2007 in Southard Racing and AIM Autosport.
Chip Ganassi Racing is not only the winningest team in Daytona Prototype history, but also the defending champion at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. This year’s two-car entry may be even stronger with the addition of former F1 and CART star Juan Montoya, who will team with Scott Pruett and Salvador Duran in the #01 Telmex/Target Lexus-Riley. Pruett was a first-team All-America selection after winning five races a year ago on his way to second-place overall in the series. After six seasons racing in Formula One that included a win at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, Montoya returns to the U.S. where he last dominated the CART series in 2000 while racing with the Ganassi Toyota. Duran is one of Mexico’s top young open-wheel racers and was victorious twice in A1GP competition last season.
The defending champion #02 Ganassi Lexus will feature Indy Racing League stars Wheldon and Dixon, along with Mexican open-wheeler Memo Rojas. Wheldon and Dixon helped give Lexus its first-ever Rolex 24 victory a year ago. Both are former IRL champions as Wheldon won the title in 2005, while Dixon drove his Target Toyota to the 2003 title.
Negri and Patterson hold the distinction of winning the most recent Rolex Series event when they co-drove to victory in last year’s season finale in Salt Lake City to clinch the Manufacturer’s Championship for Lexus. They also were part of the entry that finished second in last year’s 24-hour race. They will co-drive the #60 Flight Options Lexus-Riley for MSR along with reigning Indianapolis 500 champ Hornish Jr. and his Penske Racing teammate Castroneves, a two-time ‘500’ winner. Hornish is a first-team All-American and was a finalist for the Jerry Titus Award as “Driver of the Year.” Both drivers will be making their first start for MSR in Daytona Prototype competition, but it’s a homecoming of sorts for Hornish, who campaigned for the team in Toyota Atlantic competition.
The #6 Michael Shank Racing Lexus-Riley is no less impressive with full-time drivers Ian James and Henri Zogaib being joined by Allmendinger, who was recently named a second-team All-American after winning five Champ Car events this past season and was in the MSR entry that finished second a year ago, as well as Tracy, who drove a number of Daytona Prototype events with the team last season.
While the Ganassi and Shank teams have been with Lexus since the manufacturer entered Grand-American competition in 2004, Southard Racing and AIM Autosport will be entering their first full seasons of competition with Lexus power.
After a pair of podium finishes in 2006, Southard Racing will be looking for its first Daytona Prototype victory this season. Shane Lewis and Randy Ruhlman are scheduled to drive the full season in the #3 Preformed Line Products Lexus-Riley. They will be joined by rising teen star Rahal, son of racing legend Bobby Rahal. The younger Rahal will move into the Champ Car ranks this season at just 18 years of age after winning a series-high five races in Atlantic competition last year.
AIM Autosport made one Grand-Am start in 2006, placing 21st at Daytona in their #61 Lexus-Riley. The Toronto-based team is back for the full season this year. Full-time pilot Mark Wilkins will lead the charge along with Burt and Brian Frisselle, both who have run with Lexus over the past two seasons, and two-time former Toyota Atlantic champion David Empringham. Wilkins has consistently run upfront in the open-wheel ladder series, while the Frisselle brothers, who will share the second seat in the car opposite Wilkins throughout the full 2007 campaign, earned a podium finish at last year’s season finale in an MSR Lexus-Riley.
Lexus earned seven victories including last season’s Rolex 24 on the way to its first-ever Manufacturer’s Championship in 2006. Overall, the luxury automaker has registered 15 wins and 21 pole positions in 40 Grand American Daytona Prototype events over the past three seasons. Lexus will focus its motorsports efforts exclusively on the Rolex Sports Car Series in 2007.
Credit: Lexus Motorsports
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