At this weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona
Mark Wilkins to join No. 69 AIM/FXDD Ferrari lineup with Assentato, Lazzaro, Longhi and Cosmo; No. 61 AIM/R.Ferri Ferrari debuts with Segal, Papis, Fisichella and Vilander. The No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD and No. 61 R.Ferri AIM Motorsport Racing with Ferrari F458s will make their race debut as an expanded two-car team at this weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona. The 51st annual running of North America’s premier 24-hour race begins Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EST with live coverage on SPEED beginning at 3 p.m. EST/12 p.m. PST.
The No. 69 AIM/FXDD Ferrari will officially begin its title defense after the team and drivers Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato captured the 2012 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT championship. Assentato is back behind the wheel of the No. 69 this year along with new fullseason teammate Anthony Lazzaro. Joining the team for the Rolex 24 opener is Nick Longhi, Guy Cosmo and recently announced addition Mark Wilkins, a former Daytona Prototype race winner with AIM.
Segal has moved to the new No. 61 AIM/R.Ferri Ferrari and will contest the full season with fellow GRAND-AM Rolex Series Champion Max Papis. Joining the team for this weekend’s day-long race at Daytona is the all-star duo of Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander, winning pro-division GT drivers at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Wilkins returns to AIM where he both raced and worked for the majority of the last decade. The highlights were a pair of Daytona Prototype victories with then teammate Brian Frisselle in 2008, including a win at Montreal that is considered by many to be the best race finish in GRAND-AM Road Racing history.
“I’m elated to have the opportunity to join AIM Autosport for this year’s Rolex 24,” Wilkins said. “It is not often that you get the chance to join a championship winning team and campaign for the victory in one of toughest endurance races in the world. The opportunity to drive for AIM after they came off of a championship winning season is incredible. Having worked with the team for over 10 years, it is a natural fit and I’m looking forward to getting acquainted with the Ferrari F458.”
Wilkins, who will be making his first race start in a Ferrari, was a late addition to the roster when Longhi was called to Europe to do some race car testing over the weekend. Wilkins was pressed into service as a precaution in case Longhi encounters any delays or related international travel issues.
“Mark is a great addition to our driver line up in the AIM/FXDD Ferrari,” Longhi said. “With Mark on board we have a proven race winner, and if it comes down to a shoot-out toward the end of the race, we hope to have a couple of drivers on deck, ready to go at 100% since they will have had more of an opportunity to get some rest. Mark has a reputation of jumping in and winning the big races, and that’s what he’s here to help us do.”
Other drivers in both the No. 69 AIM/FXDD and No. 61 AIM/R.Ferri Ferraris also have experience winning big races and championships. Segal, Assentato and AIM won three races last year as the driving duo took their second GRAND-AM Rolex Series GT title in three years. “We have an accomplished cast of drivers in the car for the 51st running of the Rolex,” Assentato said. “If we keep the car clean and out of the pits, we should be around to fight for the win Sunday afternoon. The whole team is very excited about this coming season and we will be bringing our best game to Daytona and the rest of the season with the No. 69 AIM/FXDD Ferrari.”
This year marks the first time in the last six seasons that Assentato and Segal will not drive together as teammates.
“It will be a little strange not driving with Emil, but my excitement level this year is still probably higher going into the Rolex 24 than it ever has been before,” said Segal, who qualified on the outside pole in the No. 69 Ferrari’s debut in last year’s Rolex 24. “It isn’t easy to start the season with what is by far our most difficult race event, but this year I think I’m with the strongest team that I could possibly be with. To win the championship with AIM and Ferrari last year, and then return for 2013 with the assistance of R.Ferri Motorsport and the driver lineup that we have assembled is a dream come true.”
Papis co-drove to the 2004 Daytona Prototype championship two years after winning the Rolex 24 overall. He is making his fulltime return to the GRAND-AM Rolex Series this season. “I am super, super excited about being there in Daytona for Ferrari, and joining Remo Ferri and AIM, which I have known for many, many years,” Papis said. “I think the lineup is stellar and we’ll be ready to compete with anyone out there.”
Fisichella and Vilander bring a world-class punch to the No. 61 AIM/R.Ferri Ferrari. Fisichella raced many years in Formula 1 but now is a regular and winning competitor for Ferrari in international sports car competition. Vilander is another top Ferrari pilot and most recently joined Fisichella and their teammate Gianmaria “Gimmi” Bruni for the pro GT victory in a Ferrari last June at Le Mans. Vilander also drove a Ferrari in last year’s Rolex 24.
“This is my second Rolex 24, I believe we finished fifth last year, so I am looking forward to improving on that,” said Vilander, a native of Finland. “It’s quite different from any other race track we are used to, top speed is really important, but I think we have quite a good race car. The driver line up in the 61 car is also good and we just need to stay out of trouble. It was a pleasure to work with the team at the test and hopefully we will have a strong run at the race.” The Rolex 24 At Daytona gets underway with opening practice, qualifying and night practice this Thursday. Final practice is Friday with the 51st annual Rolex 24 At Daytona scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. EST local time this Saturday.