DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A Daytona Prototype entry driven by
endurance aces Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor and Emanuel Collard held
a narrow lead halfway through the Rolex 24 sports car race.
In one of the closest races in the 43 years that the
twice-around-the-clock event has been run at Daytona International
Speedway, four cars were on the same lap at the halfway point, with
two more only a lap behind.
The top four cars were separated by less than 20 seconds -- an
unusually close margin so late into an endurance race.
The Pontiac Crawford driven by NASCAR's Tony Stewart, three-time
Daytona winner Andy Wallace and two-time winner Jan Lammers led
several times and was just about 7 seconds behind the leading
Pontiac Riley after 12 hours.
Stewart made his sports car debut here last year, co-driving
with fellow Nextel Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr. The 2002 Cup
champion lost the lead and the race because of a broken suspension
20 minutes from the end.
"Our car may not be the fastest, but it's good," Angelelli
said. "It's a 24-hour race, so pace and luck are more important
"I think there's seven or eight cars that can shoot for the
win. It's going to be very challenging and we'll see who is still
there in the morning."
NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson combined with former winners Butch
Leitzinger and Elliott Forbes-Robinson in a Pontiac Crawford to
hold the third spot halfway through the 24-hour race, while the
last car on the lead lap was the Lexus Riley shared by IRL stars
Scott Dixon and Darren Manning and Casey Mears, another of the nine
NASCAR regulars in the all-star lineup.
Each of the top four cars led at times during the first half of
the grueling event.
"There's just a lot of work to do out there," Leitzinger said.
"You're just battling and battling. It's never been like that
One lap behind were the Pontiac Riley co-driven by Max Papis,
Jorg Bergmeister and Oliver Gavin, followed by the Lexus Riley of
Stefan Johansson, Cort Wagner and NASCAR's Jamie McMurray.
The top 13 cars in the race were all in the Daytona Prototype
Scott Pruett, who shared the Grand American Rolex Series title
last year with Papis, held the early lead. He appeared to have the
fastest car on the track for a while, but mechanical problems
slowed the car and left him and co-drivers Luis Diaz and Ryan
Briscoe 17th, 24 laps behind.
Defending champion Terry Borcheller needed a brake adjustment
even before the race began, pitting his Pontiac-powered Doran
moments before the green flag waved.
Borcheller, who is sharing the cockpit this year with Paul
Tracy, Christian Fittipaldi, Forest Barber and Ralf Kelleners, was
able to leave the pits before the rest of the 62-car field made its
way to the end of the first lap. He fell to last place, but the car
was 15th, also 24 laps down, after 12 hours.
A Ford Crawford shared by Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais,
Cristiano da Matta, actor Paul Newman and Michael Brockman ran into
trouble in the first hour when Bourdais slid off course and killed
the engine, bringing out the first of several full course cautions.
The car had to be towed back to the pits to be restarted, but
the engine died again with former CART champion da Matta at the
wheel and had to be taken to the garage for repairs.
The struggles continued when 80-year-old Newman, the oldest
driver in the race, drove a brief stint in the car and drove
briefly off course, necessitating a tire change. The team continued
to run as Sunday began, but was well behind the leaders.
Another entry far off the pace was the Ford Multimatic shared by
NASCAR stars Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle and Canadian
sports car specialist Scott Maxwell. The car wound up in the garage
after an axle broke with Kenseth at the wheel.
"I was going to come in the lap before and it was my fault,"
the 2003 Cup champion said. "I didn't slow down enough to get past
traffic, so I had to run one more lap and the half shaft in the
back just broke. Hopefully, we can recover from it."
The 62-car field included only two divisions this year, with 29
of the 3-year-old Daytona Prototypes and 33 of the less powerful GT