Staff Report

NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

Last year, with the merger of the American Le Mans Series and the GRAND-AM Rolex Series in process, GRAND-AM Road Racing founder Jim France was accorded the honor of waving the starting flag for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, via an invitation from the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), which organizes the famed endurance event.

Immediately, France set the wheels in motion for a reciprocal invitation to ACO president Pierre Fillon to wave the green flag for the 52nd Rolex 24 at Daytona, which starts Saturday at 2:10 p.m. ET at Daytona International Speedway.

Fillon accepted the invitation and will be in the starter's stand when 67 cars roll by to begin the first race in the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, which is sanctioned by the International Motor Sports Association. The TUDOR Championship is the result of the merged series. France now serves as chairman of the IMSA board of Directors.

France's trip to Le Mans was especially historic. His brother, Bill France, waved the starting flag at Le Mans in 1976.

The twin flag-waving appearances serve to underscore the partnership between IMSA and ACO. That partnership facilitates two types of cars (P2 prototypes and GT Le Mans) from the TUDOR Championship to participate at Le Mans, per ACO rules.

"By offering me this prestigious role, the organizers of this event and the promoters of the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship highlight the role played by (the ACO) in the organization of endurance races all over the world," Fillon said.

"Not so long ago, the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Daytona 24 Hours were the season's two biggest rendezvous in world endurance racing, with the battle starting here in Florida at the beginning of the year before reaching its climax at Le Mans in June. Thanks to this unified series and thanks to the excellent relations that we now enjoy on both sides of the Atlantic … we've laid the foundations for the revival of that golden age of endurance racing."

DEMPSEY BACK AT DAYTONA

Three years ago at the Rolex 24, actor-racer Patrick Dempsey truly looked more like the latter in co-driving to a third-place finish in the production-based GT class -- arguably the best result of his racing career.

Dempsey led the GT class for 28 laps; it was considered a watershed performance for a man who wants to be known as much for his racing as his Hollywood achievements.

His post-race interview after coming off the podium celebration was an emotional, almost cathartic display where he talked openly about his long-time dreams of being a race car driver and what it meant to realize those dreams.

This weekend, Dempsey will co-drive the No. 27 Porsche 911 in the GT Daytona class, with longtime cohort Joe Foster plus Andrew Davis and Mark Lieb.

"It's exciting to be back," Dempsey said. "GTD is a very competitive, huge (29 cars) field this year. The key to win here is you can't make any mistakes. Not come into the pits. (For me) I have to keep a pace I'm comfortable with. But we have a great driver lineup. We have a team that can do it."

ON THE POLE...

Friday, as the lead-in to the Rolex 24, the BMW Performance 200 will be held, a 2-hour, 30-minute season-opening event for IMSA's Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSCC). The 200 starts at 6 p.m. ET and is televised on FOX Sports 2.

The CTSCC is a production-based series with two ultra-competitive classes -- Grand Sport and Street Tuner -- and typically chaotic competition that has become increasingly popular among fans of sports car racing. One reason for the chaos: large fields. Take Friday for example. A total of 68 cars will roll off the grid.

Qualifying on Thursday resulted in two pole winners on the 3.56-mile DIS road course:

In GS, Jade Buford, in the No. 15 Ford Mustang Boss (1 minute, 55.824 seconds/110.651 mph); he will co-drive with Scott Maxwell;

In ST, Jeff Mosing, in the No. 56 BMW 328i (2:04.769/102.718); he'll co-drive with Eric Foss.