Written by JJ O’Malley
Kyle Petty took another big step towards racing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and a possible full season in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Sunday, testing the No. 45 Orbit Racing InterMedia BMW Riley at the new Palm Beach International Raceway, Jupiter, Florida.
Petty, who tested with the team at Daytona during Pirelli tire testing in October, ran more than 50 laps as he continues to make the adjustment from racing a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car to a Grand-Am Daytona Prototype. IndyCar Series veteran Darren Manning performed the initial adjustments on the car, with co-drivers Mike Riolo and Leo Hindery Jr. also sharing time at the wheel.
Going fast has not been a problem for Petty, an eight-time winner in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition. Slowing down has been difficult, though. “Braking has been hard for me,” Petty said. “Darren tried teaching me at Daytona until I ran into the tire wall. That was pretty exciting. When I ran a few laps here I told him, first I’m not brave enough, then I get stupid, so I have to back it up and figure out where I need to be, somewhere between ‘stupid’ and ‘not brave enough.’ Learning the braking is hard.”
The car was not damaged when Petty slid into an infield tire barrier during his October test session.
Manning has been very impressed with Petty’s progress. Manning recorded a 1:11.9 while testing the car Sunday morning at the 2.034-mile Palm Beach International layout. Petty ran a lap of 1:12.5 on his first test session, and progressed to a best lap of 1:12.1. “He’s getting far too quick, too quickly!” Manning said. “He listens to exactly what he’s told, asks the right questions, goes out and does bloody well, and I like it. He worked hard on his braking technique. From the Cup car to this car is a very different discipline for him. He understood what I was doing with my braking at Daytona, and he came here and repeated it right away. He’s fast!”
Now, Petty is working on the final details for a move to Grand-Am. “We’re still working on it and drawing closer to an agreement,” Petty said. “Hopefully, we’ll have something together before long that will introduce new opportunities for next year, and we can win some races. I’m here at Orbit because of Rodger Hawley, let’s be clear about that. I ran a car with Orbit and Leo Hindery two or three times at Daytona. We didn’t have the greatest success in the world but we had a lot of fun. I told Rodger back then that if it ever comes to the point when I don’t have a Cup ride and I can go and do something different, I want to come here. I think this is the top road racing series in the United States, so I’m stepping from the top stock car series to the top road racing series, the Grand-Am. I’m looking at it as a lateral move to another series where there’s a ton of great drivers.”
Petty’s last victory was in the Rolex Series, when he joined John Andretti in winning the 2001 Crown Royal 200 at Watkins Glen International in an Orbit Porsche GT3R. “That’s hard to believe, isn’t it?” Petty said. “My last crash was in Grand-Am, when I ran in into the tire barrier during testing a couple of weeks ago. My last win and my last crash have all been Grand-Am now.”