Actor Newman runs off course
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 than speed.
"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 before."
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 class.
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 entries.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press