- Auto Racing - Dyson team happy when it rains

Friday, February 2
Dyson team happy when it rains

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The only disappointment for pole winner James Weaver heading into the Rolex 24-Hours sports car endurance race is that the weather is drying up. The speedy Brit just loves the rain.

"I wouldn't mind racing in the wet," Weaver said Friday. "In fact, I think that would be just fine."

A day earlier, he took the top qualifying spot in the 80-car field on the rain-soaked Daytona International Speedway road circuit.

"Being from England, most of the races you do in the rain, so it's nothing new to worry about," Weaver said.

Unfortunately for Weaver, though, the forecast for Saturday -- the twice-around-the-clock race begins at 1 p.m. EST -- is for nothing more than partly cloudy skies.

"A dry track probably evens things out a little," said Jack Baldwin, who drove a Judd-powered Riley & Scott prototype to the outside spot on the front row, alongside Weaver's Ford-powered Riley & Scott. "But, on the other hand, James and his guys are veteran road racers who are good in any weather."

Weaver's team, owned by two-time Daytona winner Rob Dyson, should be rated the favorite simply on experience.

Co-driving with the 1997 race winner are three-time Daytona champions Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace, both of whom were part of the 1997 and 1999 Dyson wins.

"There's no real secret to this race," said Wallace, also a former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner. "You have to keep up your pace, stay out of trouble, be a little lucky as far as parts and pieces are concerned and hang around until Sunday morning. Then you can go for it."

A year ago, thanks to attrition and a variety of problems among the Sports Racing Prototypes, a GTO Class -- now GTS -- Dodge Viper won the overall race and GTO cars beat the fourth-place Riley & Scott of Weaver, Max Papis, Elliott Forbes-Robinson and Dyson across the finish line.

"Our car was dominant in that race until we had an engine problem late in the race," Dyson said. "I thought that salvaging the win in the Sports Racer class was a pretty good deal. We pay a lot of attention to detail.

"The biggest thing we've got is continuity. We've been working together for years -- driver, engineers and mechanics interacting with each other to make the car better."

But, having said all that, Dyson shook his head and said that in a 24-hour race so much can go wrong.

With mostly dry weather on Friday, qualifying speeds in the second round were considerably faster.

Although Weaver and Baldwin -- who will co-drive with George Robinson, Irv Hoerr and Indy Racing League champion Buddy Lazier -- will still start from the front row, the fastest cars in the big field will be lined up right behind them.

A Ferrari 333SP prototype driven by Ralf Kelleners of Germany led Friday's speeds on the 3.56-mile course at 126.743 mph -- considerably faster than Weaver's rainy-day 119.351.

Close behind were three more SRP Class cars -- the Judd Lola of John Field at 126.021, the Ford Riley & Scott of Forbes-Robinson at 124.525 and the Porsche Lola of Dorsey Schroeder at 123.893.

In fact, prototypes took the top 11 positions in the lineup.

The top GTS qualifier, and 10th overall, was a Porsche GT1 driven by Canadian Scott Maxwell to a lap of 119.946. Second in that class, 12th overall, was the Chevrolet Corvette of countryman Ron Fellows.

The much-touted GTS Corvette entry of Andy Pilgrim, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kerry Collins -- which Pilgrim qualified at 117.671 -- was good for third in class and 18th overall.

Weaver, taking it easy as he set up the pole-winning car for the start of the grueling race, was 13th Friday at 119.351. Baldwin was 19th at 117.362.

Paul Newman, by far the oldest driver in the field at 76, qualified his team's Porsche GT1 27th at 116.508.


Rolex 24 notebook: Earnhardt enjoying sports car experience

Celebrities steal attention from Rolex pole winners

Rolex 24-hour at Daytona lineup