All-star field highlights grueling race


Published: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
DAYTONA BEACH - The team of open-wheel veterans Eddie Cheever, Patrick Carpentier and Christian Fittipaldi were out front after nine hours Saturday in the Rolex 24 sports car endurance race.
In the early hours of darkness at Daytona International Speedway, attrition took a heavy toll on the 66-car field and the leaders began to spread out around the 3.56-mile, 14-turn road circuit.
The team headed by former Indianapolis 500 winner Cheever held a lead of about 11 seconds on the only other car on the lead lap - a Lexus Riley driven by Champ Car teammates A.J. Allmendinger, Justin Wilson and Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson.
"We haven't even warmed up yet," Cheever said. "We've got a long way to go. But the car is running well. Our Lexus engine is doing great and the crew's done a good job. We've just got to keep plowing away.
"We have to stay on our pace and not get carried away with anything else, and we'll be fine."
The top 12 cars, separated by 11 laps at nine hours, were 500-horsepower Daytona Prototypes, with the top 400-horsepower GT entry in 13th.
Two laps behind them were a pair of Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Rileys. IRL and Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, former IRL champ Scott Dixon and NASCAR's Casey Mears were fourth, followed by the entry of former Grand American Series champion Scott Pruett, Max Papis and Luis Diaz.
The Pontiac Crawford shared by recently retired NASCAR star Rusty Wallace, Indy Racing League sensation Danica Patrick and former Formula One drivers Allan McNish and Jan Lammers fell from third to fifth near the end of the ninth hour when Wallace made contact with another car and spun.
Wallace and Patrick, both newcomers to sports car racing, were having a great time.
"This is all new to me and we had a problem with the radio," Wallace said. "Our gearing wasn't right either, but the most aggravating thing was not being able to communicate with the pits.
"Still, it went pretty well and it was pretty much fun."
Patrick, the only female driver to lead the Indy 500, was wowed by the intensity of the racing.
"It's awesome, but that traffic is incredible," she said. "You're just passing cars all the time."
Defending champions Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor and Emmanuel Collard were out of the race after crashing during the fifth hour. Collard was at the wheel of the Pontiac Riley when one of the GT cars spun in front of him and collected the contender. Neither driver was injured, but the damage to the car was too extensive to repair.
"It's a bad start to the season," Collard said. "But we just had really bad luck."
Early leaders Paul Tracy, Mike Borkowski and Paul Mears Jr., driving a Lexus Riley, were well off the pace in 51st after having several mechanical failures.

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