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Reigning Rolex Series GT Co-Champion Segal Ready for Rolex 24

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DAYTONA BEACH, January 26, 2011: Jeff Segal’s first race as the reigning GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT class co-champion with teammate Emil Assentato will be this weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 27 – 30, but last year’s laurels are already a distant memory for the 25-year-old driver from Miami. The 49th annual running of America’s premier endurance race starts at 3:30 p.m. ET this Saturday, January 29, with live coverage on SPEED beginning 30 minutes earlier at 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT. A total of 14 hours of live race coverage will air on SPEED.

“As far as I'm concerned, last year’s championship is history and the only thing that matters now is 2011,” said Segal, who co-drove with Assentato to the 2010 GT title. “It’s nice to have that accomplishment in the bag, but we're here to do it again, so we start from scratch. The goal right now is success in the Rolex 24. Obviously, a good run at the Rolex 24 is the best way to start off a championship effort. So that's all that’s on my mind right now. One good race at a time.”

Segal and Assentato are returning for the full Rolex Series season and will be joined this weekend by Nick Ham, Nick Longhi and Anthony Lazzaro as one of Mazda’s top hopes for the GT victory in the day-long race. Segal and the No. 69 were the fastest Mazda RX-8 GT in testing earlier this month at Daytona but likely will have to rely on strong strategy and good-old fashion race smarts to keep up with the competition that appeared to have the edge at the test.

“Hopefully we're closer to the lead pace by this weekend,” Segal said. “I know we've been working tirelessly to make every improvement possible, so I'm optimistic. The other teams and manufacturers haven't just been sitting still though, so we've got a tough fight ahead to close the gap with our RX-8. For our part, our team plans on playing the consistency card. We know what we need to do and we've planned and discussed it for quite a while. Now we've got to execute. If we ignore the other cars, don't get caught up battling early in the race, and just keep the car healthy, I'm confident we'll be at the front by the end. Easier said than done of course, but that’s the plan.”

From traffic, to weather and badly timed failures of relatively minor race car parts, an endurance race like the Rolex 24 can catch a team and driver out with not even a moment’s notice.

“My least favorite aspect of the race is the uncertainty,” Segal said. “It’s such a long race and so many things can go wrong and derail your effort. Each year you learn and try to cover yourself to avoid the previous mistakes, but inevitably something new or different will catch you. The effort that goes into the race is just heartbreaking when things go wrong, so that has to be the potential low of the event.”

The undeniable upside is a victory against some of the best drivers from around the globe, many of whom consider Daytona the toughest 24-hour race in the world.

“My favorite thing about the Rolex 24 is to compete against so many of the world’s top drivers,” Segal said. “Every driver wants to win the Rolex, so success in the 24 really stands at the top of the list of goals. The prestige that comes with success in this race makes it one of the events that I most look forward to each year.”

That drive to succeed requires an across-the-board commitment.

“I am definitely ready,” Segal said. “I've been spending time with the team and watching the car progress in its preparations, so its nice to see things finally start to wrap up and make that final push for the race. There is only so much pit stop practice and data analysis that you can do before you just can't take it anymore. Fortunately I've been doing a good bit of karting with my teammates, so that keeps me busy and focused. Right now I'm focused squarely on Daytona and doing everything possible to put us in a position to win. After this race, I'll focus more on the rest of the season.”