Empire Racing grabs 3 fastest spots in Daytona ARCA test

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ARCA wrapped up its two-day test at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday and Empire Racing and its drivers were the big stories.

The test, in preparation for the season-opening and 52nd Lucas Oil 200 on February 14, was dominated by Empire, which took the three fastest spots on the speed chart.

Sean Corr (pictured) had the fastest speed (188.509 mph) and elapsed time (47.743 seconds) of the 49-driver field around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, with his No. 48 Ford Fusion powered by a new ARCA Ilmor 396 motor.

“It’s an amazing powerplant,” Corr said in an ARCA media release. “The pull off the corners is incredible; it just wants to go. I’d fall behind them down the backstretch just to see what would happen and they’d pull away in (turn) three, but coming off four it’d power right back up to the pack.

“It’s an amazing motor. This is also my first time with fuel injection. … Everything I’ve ever raced before was with a carburetor, but this entire package is making a believer out of me.”

Even though he was not originally scheduled to take part in the test, teammate Patrick Staropoli made a last-minute beeline to Daytona and ultimately recorded both the second- (188.478 mph) and third-fastest (188.344) speeds, first in his own No. 8 Ford Fusion, and then in Corr’s No. 48 Fusion.

“This wasn’t exactly supposed to happen,” said Staropoli, a Harvard graduate and aspiring doctor. “One of Empire’s drivers got really sick so we got a call Thursday night to see if I’d be interested.

“So l left Charlotte right away, drove all night and got here at four in the morning, slept for about an hour, and came out to the track.

“It’s more than I could have hoped for. I still can’t believe it. I just want to thank Richard Hardin of American RF. … He found out that Sean Corr was looking for a driver, and got in touch with me. This is amazing. The biggest track I had ever been on before was Iowa.”

But Staropoli took to Daytona like a duck to water, surpassing every driver in the field except teammate Corr.

“I had no idea what to expect,” Staropoli said. “The only race I’ve ever run here was on the backstretch in a K&N car so I had no idea what I was getting into.

“I’ve never drafted before, but it’s the coolest thing. … To feel how the wind moves and shoves the car around. Hopefully I’ve turned some heads and opened some doors. I’m so hoping I get to come back here and race. This place is amazing.”

Austin Cindric, son of Penske Racing president Tim Cindric, had the fourth-fastest speed (187.758 mph) in his first appearance as a racer at Daytona.

“I learned a lot this weekend,” Cindric said. “This is the first time I have been in a stock car. I went from knowing nothing to knowing something. I certainly can’t say that I know a lot, but I sure did learn a ton this weekend.

“From crew chief Paul Andrews to teammate Tom Hessert and spotter Richard Coleman … all of them worked with me and taught me a lot. This was the first time that I have ever drafted. Lots of credit goes to Richard for talking me through all of the specifics that go into drafting.

“We probably ran five draft sessions today with, at most, six cars in the draft. This was a great weekend, a great first experience with Cunningham Motorsports.”

Tom Hessert, Cindric’s Cunningham Motorsports teammate, recorded the fifth-fastest lap. Eight-time Daytona winner Bobby Gerhart was sixth-fastest, while Leilani Munter was seventh-fastest.

“I’ve never had a car this good before,” Munter said. “It took me 14 years of driving to get in a car this fast. I want so bad to win this race for the Venturini’s (team owners). … They believe in me. Now it’s time for me to do my job and win the race. I want to be the first female driver to get to Victory Lane in ARCA, and I know I’ve got the car to do it.”

Cody Coughlin was eighth-fastest, followed by ARCA rookie David Levine and 2014 Rookie of the Year Austin Wayne Self.

ARCA returns to DIS on January 16 for a single-day open test.

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Wickens undergoes successful surgery

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Just days after successfully piloting an Acura NSX around Toronto’s Exhibition Palace street course, Robert Wickens has undergone a successful surgery operation to remove hardware from his leg after a previous infection had returned, the 30-year-old Canadian revealed on social media Wednesday.

“Spinal Cord injury has such highs and lows,” Wickens said in an Instagram post prior to surgery. “One day I’m in the NSX driving the hand controlled car, and the next day I’m getting ready for surgery. Life is so unpredictable!”

Fortunately, the surgery went well for Wickens, as he later announced that his surgery had no complications. Wickens will now start six weeks of IV antibiotics before he returns to a full rehab program.

“One piece (there’s a lot) of the hardware had an infected screw,” Wickens wrote. “All hardware in my leg was removed.”

Wickens is currently recovering from spinal fracture sustained in an IndyCar crash at Pocono Raceway last August. Since his crash and diagnosis, Wickens has openly documented his recovery process through social media.

Wickens returned to the INDYCAR paddock for the first time since his accident at the season-opener in St. Petersburg in March, and his laps behind the wheel in Toronto last weekend marked the first time he had driven in public since his accident.

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