The 2009 Rolex Sports Car Series ended under caution Saturday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the Brumos Porsche Riley of Joao Barbosa and Hurley Haywood taking an improbable victory and Gainsco Racing's Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty winning the drivers' championship for the second time in three years.
"This feels so great," explained Haywood, who was driving for the suspended J.C. France. "It's wonderful to be in victory lane again. To end the season with a win gives us momentum going into 2010."
The win was Haywood's first since 2003 and Barbosa's first in the Daytona Prototype class. Haywood competed in two other Rolex Series events this year but he retired from full-time Rolex Series competition at the end of 2007. And he did not know he would be driving in this race until Thursday, when he was in Wisconsin doing a press introduction for the new Porsche Panamera sedan.
A Brumos Racing entry won the 24 Hours of Daytona at the beginning of the season but the team had recorded only one podium finish since then. "Brumos has been struggling this year," admitted Haywood. "We started out well but it's just kind of been downhill from that point. This was a nice way to recover for us. We're looking forward to the start of next year and hopefully we can do more of this."
Fogarty and Gurney had to finish at least fourth to win the championship and they did just that, coming home fourth after leading the first 45 laps. "There's such a sense of relief right now and there's always a let down because you've had so much built-up anxiety about the championship," explained Fogarty. "It feels good. This is the fruit of intense labor and a lot of hard work by a great group of guys. It's fantastic. This shows that 2007 wasn't a flash in the pan."
In winning the championship in 2007, the Gainsco team won seven of 14 races and qualified on the pole 10 times. This year Gurney and Fogarty won four races but they were not nearly as dominant as in 2007, partly due to increased competition. "This one feels different (than 2007)," said Gurney. "I think we extracted more out of all of us and the car than we did in 2007. It was harder for us this year. There were a couple of races in 2007 where we had everyone covered. The wins came a little bit easier. I thought we fought harder this year. So maybe this one means a little more."
Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, sharing the Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley, ended up second in the race and the championship, finishing six points behind the Gainsco duo. "Second in the championship again," said Pruett, referring to two previous second-place finishes in the Daytona Prototype driver's championship. "It's nice to be in the running like that and it says a lot about the Ganassi organization. We gave it all we had. It was a pretty brutal day with the way the tires fell off and the heat, which was pretty ugly by itself."
The heat was ugly, with temperatures in the mid 90s.
The Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley of Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri rounded out the top-three, giving the team its first podium finish of the year.
The second Brumos entry finished fifth, followed by the No. 55 Supercar Life Racing BMW Riley and the SunTrust Dallara Ford. SunTrust drivers Max Angelelli and Brian Frisselle entered the race eight points behind the Gainsco team but a late race pit stop cost them any chance they may have had at winning the championship. They finished the season third in the championship, 12 points down to Gurney and Fogarty.
Farnbacher Loles teammates Dirk Werner and Leh Keen won the GT championship, finishing third in class, behind the winning Pontiac GXP.R driven by Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards and the Stevenson Pontiac GXP.R shared by Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis.