Rolex Series New Jersey Friday DP Preview
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© Andrew S. Hartwell

Despite the protests of those who still wish the Daytona Prototypes were faster race cars, we are surely moving into the fastest part of the Grand Am schedule for 2009 with this weekend's running of round three at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Verizon Wireless 250 brings the Daytona Prototypes and GT class cars back to Thunderbolt Raceway for the second year. This time grass and rain drops have replaced the sunshine and dirt that made for such a bright dust storm at the inaugural run at this still very new circuit.

The Thunderbolt Raceway circuit has been slightly modified from last year's configuration so for most drivers there are new challenges ahead. The primary changes made include a new chicane at turn three that is designed to slow the DPs after several became nearly airborne along the back straight last year. There is also improved runoff at the end of the high-speed straights plus the new grass alongside the edges of the track that should keep the dust down. If that grass is wet however, cars going off track may actually pick up speed with little the drivers can do to bring their sliding mobiles back under control.

The 2009 season schedule calls for 7 races in the next 14 weeks, with stops in California, New York, Ohio, Florida, Alabama and New York again. That will make it interesting as the season progresses for not only do the teams have to beat each other, they have to fight the travails of travel with seemingly little time off for rest and relaxation.

As their arduous trek begins it appears Mother Nature is showing no empathy for the teams or the fans as it is very wet in Millville and her prognostic proponent (aka the weatherman) indicates that she plans to bring the rain to bear on the task of feeding the new grass that now surrounds the racing surface throughout the weekend.

Good news for things green but not so for fans and race cars.

Sportscars may not prefer rain to dry conditions, but they are not hindered enough by the pelting of water to keep them under cover. No, it might be wet but it will not stop the racing, though it may be wise to postpone practice until the skies clear. That was the case for Alex Gurney in the No 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac-Riley. The team skipped the first practice session in the wet and went for a dry run once the drops stopped falling.

"We started late just avoiding the rain a little bit, but it was OK," Gurney said. "We just keep chipping away at it. We had a lot of problems with traffic but we got a lot of work done today. We tried a lot of things and I think we ended the day with some improvements. We are probably a little better than the time shows and we still have some work to do, for sure."

Gurney and his co-driver Jon Fogarty are in the hunt for the 2009 Team and Driver Championships, running just one point behind third place VIR finishers and Rolex 24 winners David Donohue and Darren Law of Brumos Porsche Racing. The Brumos squad has 60 points to lead both championships but GAINSCO, Gurney and Fogarty follow closely with 59 points on the strength of a win at VIR last weekend and a 7th place finish at the Rolex 24.

At last year's round at NJMP, Mark Wilkins took the pole in the AIM Autosport No. 61 Ford Riley. He welcomes the opportunity to chase that goal again.

"Our goal is to repeat on the pole and have a better finish this year. Sixth last year was OK but we had a podium car. A late race incident with another car caused some damage to the steering and on a tight course like NJMP you don't want to have to fight a problem like that. The focus is squarely on getting to the podium on Sunday and both Burt (Frisselle) and I know we have the car to do it."

Frisselle is running at NJMP for the first time this year. "I heard a lot about the track from Mark and Brian (Frisselle) after last year's race and I have had t