Daytona test begins

Over 50 cars took to the track for the first day of official testing for the Daytona 24 Hours yesterday (Friday), with the Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac-Crawford of Tony Stewart, Andy Wallace and Jan Lammers emerging narrowly fastest

Daytona test begins

A vast number of American motorsport stars have secured Daytona Prototype drives for the event - including past and present champions from NASCAR, Indy Cars and Champ Cars.

Reigning Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch and his predecessor Matt Kenseth both sampled sportscar machinery for the first time at the test, but it was the car of 2002 NASCAR king Stewart that set the pace with a lap of 1m48.770s. Stewart came within twenty minutes of winning last year's Daytona marathon only to lose a wheel and crash. He returns to the Howard-Boss team to try and make amends this season, joined by Wallace again but with sportscar veteran Jan Lammers replacing NASCAR hero Dale Earnhardt Jr as the team's third driver.

Jim Matthews, Marc Goossens, Guy Smith and Scott Sharp's Orbit Racing Pontiac-Riley was second fastest but only fractions slower than the Howard-Boss car, lapping in 1m48.857s. The Krohn Racing/TRG Pontiac-Riley of Max Papis, Jorg Bergmeister and Oliver Gavin was third on a time of 1m48.998s.

Papis won the 2004 Grand-Am title alongside Scott Pruett in a Chip Ganassi Racing entry, but has switched allegiance to the Krohn/TRG squad this season. He was pleased with his first day with the new team.

"We have a lot of work to do, but we're very pleased with the progress we've been doing up to now," he said.

The star-studded race entry has definitely inspired last year's Daytona pole-winner.

"I think it's going to definitely be one of the most exciting 24 hours of Daytona," said Papis. "Tell me which other series in the world you can have a NASCAR champion competing against the Grand-Am champion, the IRL champion, the Indy 500 champion and the Champ Car guys? It doesn't happen very often. The only one missing would be my friend Alex Zanardi. That would complete the series."

GT class pacesetters were John Littlechild, Randy Pobst, Mike Fitzgerald, Manuel Matos and Spencer Pumpelly in TPC Racing's Porsche GT3. Testing continues throughout the weekend, with the endurance race taking place on 5-6 February.

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