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Allmendinger excited to take part in 'prestigious' Rolex 24

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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DAYTONA BEACH, FLA

AJ Allmendinger hopes to recapture the magic he experienced in 2012, when he won his first Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Driving in IMSA’s Prototype class is an escape from his day job – competing full-time for JTG/Daugherty Racing in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

But he relishes the opportunity to race in one of the most “prestigious” events in motorsports.

“I’d put it second to (the 24 Hours of) Le Mans,” Allmendinger said. “It allows you to come in here as a stock car guy and just kick off the season. To me, this is the start in a way of Speedweeks, already. I just love competing against the best in the world and this is what this race is starting to produce whether you have the guys from Cup or IndyCar drivers, some ex-F1 guys, some of the best sports car drivers in the world. It’s just a cool event.

“From the 50th anniversary of the event – when we won the race – you could just see the growth of the crowd. Even this year, you’ve seen so many people on Thursday and Friday walking around. Even if you’re not a huge fan of racing, there’s plenty of stuff to do in the infield. It’s like a party going on for 24 hours straight. If you’re just a car enthusiast, there’s so many different types of beautiful race cars now that they bring to this race. There’s something for everybody that has any kind of interest in motorsports or just cars in general.”

While his No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford looks fairly similar to the car Allmendinger drove to victory lane, under the hood the car is now powered by the EcoBoost twin turbo V6 engine developed by Roush Yates in an effort to race production-related technology. Shank says “the blocks and the cylinder heads are directly off the assembly line by union workers in Detroit.” Although the teams “massage” the components slightly, Ford worked diligently to maintain the integrity of the parts which is distinctly different from NASCAR.

Although Shank has been the dominant Ford entry in the Prototype class, the addition of Chip Ganassi Racing to the Ford fold this season changed the dynamic. But Allmendinger insists it’s a friendly competition that has actually expedited the learning curve of the new engine.

“They’ve had to put a lot of work in it in a short amount of time,” Allmendinger said. “With the series just coming together and with the new rules packages that they keep coming out with both teams have really worked well to help each other get better.

“Obviously, Ganassi has a ton of resources and a lot of avenues of testing but Mike (team owner Shank) brings such a hard working group to the team and over the last few years here we’ve shown we can do a lot with a little. It shows the talent of Mike and what he brings to a race team. Chip sees that and because of that both teams want to work together to be better. So far, it seems like both teams are working well together.”

Still, Allmendinger, who will roll off ninth in the 52nd running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, is “struggling” to find more speed. Unlike some teams that were accused of playing possum with the time sheet, Dinger insists that is not the case with the Fords.

“We’ve been a little bit behind,” Allmendinger said. “If the other teams are sandbagging, we’re in trouble cause they’re really fast – the Chevys and the BMWs. We’re so used to being here and have the outright speed to go out and win the race but we don’t have that right now.

“Something that’s hurt us a little bit is with learning this new motor – and some of those little gremlins that pop up -- getting everything working motor-wise, the car hasn’t had a lot of track time. We’re just behind on getting the car where we want it to be and we’re out of time now. So it’s going to take a lot of hard work and some strategy to try to get there. Anything can happen in this race and a lot can change over a 24 hour period.”
 

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