The 50th anniversary Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race will kick off the 2012 auto racing season this weekend and, as usual, Canada has supplied a number of competitors for the headline event at Daytona International Raceway.
Although there is an exciting new team in the mix, the AIM Autosport of Woodbridge partnership with Ferrari (and more about that later), there are not as many Canadian drivers entered this year as there were a year ago and you wonder why, considering that the Canadian economy is doing much better than that of the U.S.
In 2011, four Canadians (f you count Darren Law, who was born in Toronto) were entered in the Daytona Prototype class, compared with just one this year, and 10 Canucks did battle in the GT class compared with nine this year. In all, it’s a significant drop – from a total of 14 in 2011 to 10 in 2012.
(There are more Canadian drivers and teams entered in the supporting Continental Tire race that goes to the post on Friday, but we’re talking the main event here, the Rolex 24, a race in which Canadians have not only contested but won.)
There’s a suggestion that because it’s the 50th anniversary event, organizers have worked to put former champions and well-known competitors in cars, thus cutting down on the number of seats available. On the other hand, maybe it’s just one of those things — but it’s worth noting.
The lone Canadian entered in the glamour-puss class, the Daytona Prototype division, is Paul Tracy of Scarborough, who’s still out there fighting to find a full-time ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series but also laying the groundwork for another of his ambitions, to close out his glorious career with some success in long-distance races like the Rolex, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Tracy has signed to drive Doran Racing's No. 77 Combos/Circle-K Ford-Dallara with brothers Brian and Burt Frisselle and Dr. Jim Lowe.
In a release, Tracy said he was exciting about the opportunity to take another crack at Daytona with a team he drove for in the race back in 2005.
"I'm very excited to make my return to Daytona for the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24, and especially with Doran Racing," Tracy said. "I drove my first Rolex 24 in a Doran JE4 design back in 2005 and it was a great experience. I'm grateful that (the team has) put his trust in me as a driver and paired me with the Frisselle brothers and Jim Lowe."
As well as the 2005 race, in which the team failed to finish, Tracy also raced at Daytona with Michael Shank Racing in 2006 and 2007. He’s no stranger to the Frisselle family, either.
"One of my first big race wins as a driver (at Mosport in 1986, in a car owned by Horst Kroll, when Tracy was only 17) came in a Frisbee Can-Am car that Brian and Burt’s father (Brad Frisselle) built, so I’m thrilled to now be able to race with the next generations of Frisselles," Tracy said.
In addition to Tracy in Daytona Protytpe, other Canadians lined up for the Rolex 24 in the GT class include:
— Toronto drivers Scott Maxwell, driving a Mazda RX-8 for Dempsey Racing, Mark Wilkins aboard a Paul Miller Racing Porsche GT3 and Paul Dalla Lana driving for Turner Motorsports in a BMW M3;
— Oakville IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe racing a Speed Source Mazda RX-8;
— Vancouver drivers Chris Cumming (Porsche GT3), Darryl O’Young (Porsche GT3), Brett Van Blankers (Porsche GT3) and Taylor Hacquard (Mazda RX-8).
Meantime, AIM Autosport, which for years was an entrant in the Rolex Daytona Prototype division (a Riley-Ford, with primary driver Mark Wilkins of Toronto), has announced a full-year program in GT with 2010 GT champions Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal in a new, factory-built, Ferrari 458 Italia GT Grand Am and will kick off the program at the Rolex 24.
Assentato, of Locust Valley, N.Y. and Segal of Miami will co-drive the new Ferrari in their fifth full season as teammates. They will be joined at Daytona by Anthony Lazzaro of Canton, Ga., and Nick Longhi, of Nyack, N.Y.
Title sponsor is FXDD, an online currency trading service that is also a partner of the F1 Red Bull Racing team.
"FXDD is excited to announce our title sponsorship of AIM Autosport Team FXDD and our commitment to the Ferrari 458 Italia GT Grand Am racing program in the Rolex Sports Car Series," said John Corbett, FXDD director of marketing, when the new team was formed in late 2011. "We are very proud to partner with a team that exemplifies the precision and dedication we provide to our clients every day."
The AIM team began as a partnership between Andrew Bordin, Ian Willis and Keith Willis and made headlines in the 2008 Rolex season when drivers Brian Frisselle and Wilkins scored back-to-back Daytona Prototype race wins at Watkins Glen and Montreal. The Canadian victory remains the closest finish in Daytona Prototype history.
"I'm invigorated by this program," said Bordin, AIM Autosport Sporting Director and Team Principal. "I have been a Ferrari fan since I was little and it's tremendously exciting to now be involved with a Ferrari racing program."
Said AIM Autosport race engineer and Team Principal Ian Willis: "I have been involved in racing all my life and one name personifies racing cars like none other: Ferrari. As a boy growing up, I watched Ferrari Formula One, Can-Am and sports cars at Mosport, so to be campaigning a Ferrari in the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24, and chasing the 2012 Rolex Series GT championship, is like a dream come true."
It is kind of exciting, isn’t it?