The motor racing “off season” is officially over as of this weekend. The first two Grand Am Series races of 2011 will get waved off at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR, Formula One, IndyCar, the ALMS and all the rest are all just around the corner.
The Grand Am Continental Tire 200 will be held Friday at Daytona — a sprint race of two and a half hours starting at 1:30 p.m. — while the Rolex 24 at Daytona — the first 24-hour race of the year — will be waved off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Rolex race, of course, is the glamour-puss event with just about every car containing a big name driver.
Favoured is the powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing team, starring defending champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas.
But joining that team for the weekend will be (get ready for this): sports car star Joey Hand, Graham Rahal (who will drive for Ganassi’s B team in the IZOD IndyCar Series this year), Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray, two-time Rolex 24 winner Juan Pablo Montoya (he’s also done a little F1 and Indy car driving, too . . .) and two double Indy car champions, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti, who’s also won the Indianapolis 500 twice.
Can anybody spell on-two finish?
Of course, the delightful thing about this particular weekend is the number of Canadians (or Canadian-borns) who will see action in one or both races.
Old friend Sylvia Proudfoot looked through the entry list of both Grand Am events and came up with this definitive list of Canadians:
Rolex Sports Car Series, Daytona Prototype
5 — Action Express Darren Law (born Toronto)
8 — Starworks Mike Forest, Edmonton
55 — Level 5 Motorsports Mark Wilkins, Toronto
60 — Michael Shank Racing Michael Valiente, Vancouver
Rolex Sports Car Series, GT
11 — TPN Racing/Blackforest David Empringham, Toronto
Scott Maxwell, Toronto
18 — Mühlner Motorsport Mark Thomas (born St Stephen, NB)
22 — Bullet Racing Darryl O'Young, Vancouver (born China)
36 — Yellow Dragon Motorsports Chris Cumming, Vancouver
Taylor Hacquard, Vancouver
41 — Dempsey Racing Dave Lacey, Toronto (born South Africa)
56 — Bennett Racing Jean-Francois Dumoulin, Trois-Rivières
70 — SpeedSource Sylvain Tremblay (born Montréal)
94 — Turner Motorsport Paul Dalla Lana, Toronto
Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, GS
00 — CKS Autosport Ashley McCalmont, Ancaster
15 — Multimatic Motorsports Scott Maxwell, Toronto
78 — BimmerWorld Racing Ken Wilden, Oakville
88 — Ranger Sports Racing Fraser Wellon, Mississauga
89 — Ranger Sports Racing Frank Rossi, Kleinburg
96 — Turner Motorsport Paul Dalla Lana, Toronto
Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, ST
32 — i-MOTO Taylor Hacquard, Vancouver
75 — Compass360 Racing Benoit Theetge, Boischatel, Qué
76 — Compass360 Racing Carlos Tesler-Mabe, Vancouver
77 — Compass360 Racing Donald Theetge, Boischatel, Qué
98 — 89 Racing Team Jocelyn Hébert, Bécancour, Qué
Réjean Vincent, Trois-Rivières
Wow — what a lineup, eh?
Scott Maxwell is doing double duty this January, running in both races, as is Paul Dalla Lana and Taylor Hacquard.
I’m sure Maxwell’s Rolex race will be memorable because one of his partners will be his best friend (and long-time rival) David Empringham.
Mark Wilkins of Toronto is making his eighth straight appearance at the Rolex 24, where he recorded podium finishes in 2004 (3rd - SGS) and 2005 (3rd - GT). He switched to Daytona Prototypes in 2007 and is on the hunt for his first podium in that class. Wilkins will be driving the Level 5 Motorsports No. 55 BMW Riley in this year's race.
Wilkins is best-known for piloting the AIM Autosport of Woodbridege’s No. 61 Ford-Riley in the Rolex Series but AIM is skipping the Daytona 24 again and is scouting for drivers to race the car starting with the Grand Prix of Miami in March.
Meantime, Karl Thomson’s Toronto-based Compass360 Racing team returns to the Continental Tire Series Daytona race, hot on the heels of their second straight Grand-Am driver, team and manufacturer's championships, which they clinched at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah last September.
The team also returns as defending race winners at the famed Florida track. In fact, a C360R car has been on the Daytona podium the last four years.
Sports car racing isn’t the only auto racing on tap this weekend.
The NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown will be run at Irwindale Speedway in California and two Canadians will be in that race — the 2010 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas and two-time Canadian Tire champion (and former Atlantic and Champ Car star) Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que.
Of the 119 drivers to have started a NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown — which is billed as the Daytona 500 of short-track racing — 68 have gone on to make a start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
The main event is broken up into three sections: two 100-lap segments preceding a 25-lap dash to the finish.
LIVE TELEVISION COVERAGE ON SPEED
Rolex 24 at Daytona — Sat. 3 p.m. till 10 p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m. till 4 p.m.
NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown — Sat. 10 p.m. till it’s over . . . (and NASCAR has green-white-checkered finishes!)