DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Italy’s Ivan Bellarosa, the Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge winner, got his first look at the twists and turns of Daytona Int’l Speedway’s road course on Monday afternoon, a day prior to the two-day November Rolex 24 At Daytona test session.
Bellarosa, a competitor in the SPEED EuroSeries, won the Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge this year and has secured a coveted driver’s seat with a to-be-determined Daytona Prototype team in the 51st Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 26-27.
The Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge is a competition between racers in selected Sunoco-fueled championships in Europe. The driver who accumulates the most points wins a fully-funded race seat in a Daytona Prototype in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the prestigious season-opening event for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series.
On Monday, as he prepares for his first laps around Daytona, Bellarosa found the perfect tour guide of the “World Center of Racing” – fellow countryman and 2002 Rolex 24 champion Max Papis.
Bellarosa took a tour of the legendary racing facility, met with Daytona Int’l Speedway President Joie Chitwood III and rode in a passenger car with Papis around the road course.
“I think it’s a very impressive circuit,” said the 37-year-old Bellarosa. “This is a dream opportunity to race in the Rolex 24. Max is experienced in this race and this circuit. His presence for me is very important.”
Papis and Bellarosa will share the driving duties on the No. 58 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley during the test. The duo tested together recently at Virginia Int’l Raceway and this week’s test is another step in the process of preparing Bellarosa for the grueling Rolex 24.
“My job with him is giving him a good baseline for the car and make sure it works good,” Papis said. “He’s going to be in the car and I’m planning on getting in two or three times during the day and assess his feedback on the car.”
Papis says the opportunity being presented to Bellarosa through the Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge is something that he wished he had when he was a young aspiring driver in Europe.
“It’s a dream come true for anyone,” Papis said. “I remember when I was in Europe, I always dreamt about having a chance to come over here and drive at Daytona. What Sunoco is doing is something really special and remarkable.
“This is the place where my dreams started. Having my name on the trophy in the (Rolex 24) is something unique and to be able to share that feeling with a fellow Italian is pretty special. My goal is for him is to bring home a piece of America with him and a piece of history.”
Approximately 20 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series cars will be testing the 3.56-mile road course on Tuesday and Wednesday. A section of the Oldfield Grandstands will be open free to the public with access available through the lobby of the Daytona International Speedway ticket office.