The No. 01 Ganassi Racing BMW Riley shared by Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Charlie Kimball won the 51st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona in convincing fashion Sunday, starting from the pole, leading 421 of 709 laps, and experiencing no major issues in the first and most prestigious race of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season.
The win was Ganassi’s fifth in the last eight years and the fifth for Pruett, tying him with Hurley Haywood for the most overall wins in the Rolex 24.
Last year, the Ganassi team was not as fast as its Ford and Chevrolet powered rivals on the high banks at Daytona and failed to finish on the podium. This year Ganassi’s BMW engine was consistently faster in a straight line than the top Chevrolet and Ford powered cars fielded by Wayne Taylor Racing, Michael Shank Racing, Starworks Motorsports, Action Express Racing, and Bob Stallings Racing. Some of those teams were able to match Ganassi’s lap times at various points in the race, but none was able to consistently stay with the BMW Riley on the high banks that encircle Daytona’s twisty infield road course.
It was a lot of pressure (at the end)
With this speed advantage, it looked like the Ganassi team would win easily once Sunday afternoon arrived. But a series of cautions near the end of the race bunched up the three other cars still on the lead lap (the Corvette DPs of Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express Racing and a Ford Riley fielded by Michael Shank Racing) and forced Montoya to fend off challenges from both Max Angelelli and AJ Allmendinger to seal the win.
“It was a lot of pressure (at the end),” admitted Montoya, who drove the final two and a half hours. “I thought we had a decent lead and that we were just going to go out there and ride around for two a half hours or whatever was left. (But then) we were kind of concerned about the (Michael Shank) car and what they were going to do with fuel because (the team) told me that (the Shank car) could make it until the end and that we were going to have to push, and we pushed like crazy and opened up a hell of a gap.”
Montoya crossed the finish line 21.92 seconds ahead of Angelelli’s Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP. “We’re not rookies,” said Angelelli, who was visibly frustrated by Ganassi’s perceived advantage in straight line speed. “What else can I do? It’s so obvious and so unfair. Everybody could see it. I don’t understand. This makes no sense. This is not competition. I am competing against myself.”
Many teams and drivers commented on Ganassi’s perceived advantage in straight line speed over the course of the race weekend. But after the race team owner Chip Ganassi attributed the advantage to improvements in mechanical grip and aerodynamics and not the performance of its engine. “We knew we had good cars,” said Ganassi. “When you see the speed at the end of the straightaway that our cars has it’s because we have less wing in the car. And we have worked very, very hard on the mechanical side of this car. The less wing you can run here, the faster you’re going to be down the straightaway. And that’s where you saw we did most of our passing.”
The Starworks team worked on the No. 2 Ford Riley throughout the event, changing everything from the car’s ride height to its aerodynamic and rear wing settings. These changes kept them on the lead lap until Sunday afternoon, when a broken steering linkage combined with a ruptured brake line sent them to the garage with about two hours to go in the race. They ended up sixth, 13 laps back.
Electrical problems relegated the Gainsco/Bob Stallings Corvette DP to seventh, followed by the second Action Express car.
The second Ganassi entry led 116 laps but did not finish after it encountered driveline issues late Sunday morning with Dario Franchitti at the wheel. At the time of its demise, Franchitti had almost regained all of the laps the car had lost early Sunday morning, when Jamie McMurray hit the wall exiting the pit road and damaged the right side of the car.
“We were not really dreaming about victory because we were one lap down and two and a half hours to the end, so it would be really hard to win,” admitted Albuquerque, who finished the race for the Alex Job team. “I was just pushing (at the end) and took some risks. It was perfect. I can’t believe it.”
This was the first win in any class for Audi in the Rolex 24.
“It’s obviously a pretty special way to start,” explained car owner Alex Job, who also fielded a Porsche in the race. “I am a bit overwhelmed. Audi’s had an incredible history at Sebring. But now it’s the first one for Audi at Daytona and I’m a little overwhelmed at the moment.”
The No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Michelotto Ferrari and the No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche – last year’s winner – rounded out the top-five in GT.
The top-six GT cars all finished on the same lap.
The race featured 16 caution periods for a total of 121 laps, including a one hour and forty-five minute caution early Sunday morning for fog.
The Rolex Series will race again on March 2nd at the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX.