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In 24-Hour Race, First Hours Are Key

January 30, 1999|From Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Winning the Rolex 24 is the ultimate goal. Surviving is the first priority.

The premier 24-hour sports car race in the United States begins today with about 80 cars taking the green flag for the twice-around-the-clock classic at Daytona International Speedway.

"Just getting through the early hours is so important," said Didier Theys, who was part of the winning MOMO Ferrari team last year and will start another Ferrari from the outside of the front row today.

"Speed, of course, is important," the Belgian said. "The pace of this race gets faster almost every year as the equipment gets better and more reliable. But, still, you must save something for the final hours--if you are still running."

Theys will co-drive the open-cockpit Ferrari 333SP with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, Mauri Baldi of Italy and team-owner Fredy Lienhart of Switzerland. All but Lienhart were part of the winning team last year.

"We fit together very well," Theys said. "We respect each other's driving [ability] and there is not a lot of ego. This can be a very hard race, but we have a good time."

Last January, their Ferrari won by eight laps on the 3.56-mile, 11-turn road circuit that uses about three-quarters of the 2.5-mile, high-banked NASCAR oval and a serpentine infield section.

Also among the contenders this weekend will be the team's other Ferrari, co-piloted by CART stars Jimmy Vasser and Max Papis, former Indy-car and Formula One regular Stefan Johansson and Jim Matthews.

Should either or both of the Ferraris get to the final hours Sunday, their most likely competition will come from the two Dyson Racing Riley & Scott Fords.

James Weaver of England put one of those cars on the pole Thursday with a lap of 127.05 mph.

Weaver, who will share the car with team owner Rob Dyson, Dorsey Schroeder and Stuart Hayner, said, "It's going to be a very fast race and you have to be very aware of what's going on every minute."

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