Daytona 24: Race report

Pruett, Montoya and Duran Take 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona Victory in Third-Closest Finish DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 28, 2007) -- In one of the most spectacular finishes in the 45-race history of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the No. 01...

Pruett, Montoya and Duran Take 45th Rolex 24 At Daytona Victory in Third-Closest Finish

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 28, 2007) -- In one of the most spectacular finishes in the 45-race history of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the No. 01 TELMEX/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley trio of Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya and Salvador Duran emerged on top in a three-car battle over the final hours of the race to win the season-opening event of the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve.

While the No. 01 team never fell out of the top-three overall positions in the final 21 hours of the race, the battle came to a head late in the 20th hour with Ryan Dalziel in the No. 11 CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley leading Montoya in the No. 01 and Max Angelelli in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley in a nose-to-tail fight for the overall lead. Dalziel managed to keep both vaunted road racers behind him, although Montoya and Angelelli did exchange second place a handful of times.

The battle continued for nearly an hour before Dalziel surrendered the lead to Angelelli when he pitted for fuel and tires. Angelelli led one lap before Montoya claimed the lead for good in Turn 4 with slightly less than two hours and 45 minutes remaining. At the conclusion of that lap--Lap 578--Angelelli pulled onto pit lane and Montoya moved out into the lead.

The Colombian got customary stellar service from the TELMEX/Target crew when he pitted two laps later and managed to maintain the lead of the race. He was pressured from behind by both Dalziel and Angelelli for the better part of another hour before both Angelelli and Dalziel pitted before him to turn their cars over to co-drivers Jan Magnussen and Patrick Carpentier, respectively.

Montoya gave control of the No. 01 machine--and the race lead--to Pruett with slightly more than 90 minutes remaining and the 2004 Rolex Series Daytona Prototype co-champion steadily pulled away over the remainder of the race, crossing the stripe 1:15.842 ahead of Carpentier to secure the victory. It was the third-closest finish in Rolex 24 At Daytona history.

It was Pruett's second overall victory and seventh class triumph in the Rolex 24, moving Pruett into sole possession of first place on the all-time Rolex 24 class winners list. He entered the race tied with Hurley Haywood and Peter Gregg with six class victories.

"We got three cars going for it on the lead lap with a couple of hours to go with very talented drivers putting on a fantastic show," Pruett said. "That's what this is all about. When you get down to the very last stages of the race and be doing that, it says a lot about the series and the teams with the way they prep the cars and race them. This is no small feat getting everything going for this race between the people and the cars and all the preparation. It's just fantastic. I can't say enough for all the participants and everybody that came and saw it."

For Montoya, the Rolex 24 triumph made him the first driver in history to win a 24-hour race at Daytona, the Indianapolis 500, a Formula 1 race and a Champ Car or IndyCar championship. The legendary Mario Andretti also owns a sports car victory in addition to winning at Indy, in Formula 1 and open-wheel championships, but his Daytona sports car win came in the 1972 six-hour event. It was Montoya's first appearance in the Rolex 24, and Montoya also won the Indianapolis 500 in his first and only appearance in 2000, as well as the 1999 Champ Car World Series title as a rookie.

"It was pretty tough," Montoya said. "My last stint running with Angelelli and Dalziel, they were going at it really hard. It made my life pretty miserable. It got to a point when I would run behind them, I was third in the group, and I was like, 'I'm not going to hop into that.' We led 18 or 20 hours up to that point. I managed to catch up to them. I knew our fuel mileage was better than them. You want to try to get ahead of them but at the same time you don't want to screw up the race. There was a fine line. It was a good way to start the year with Chip."

The No. 01 team combined to lead a race-high 468 of the 668 laps run. Montoya led 170 laps, while Pruett spent 161 orbits at the head of the field and Duran led 137 laps in his Rolex 24 At Daytona debut. It was the second-consecutive Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victory for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, making Ganassi and Sabates the first team owners since Al Holbert in 1986 and 1987 to take back-to-back wins in the Rolex 24.

"For a rookie in this event, I felt really good going in with a team like this behind me and the great drivers I was fortunate enough to have been paired with," Duran said. "I think I learned that this race is all about consistency and confidence. Scott and Juan played their cards right, while at the same time giving me the confidence to drive to the best of my ability. I think I was able to make the right moves at the right times, and that ultimately led to this team getting through the race nearly incident free."

The No. 11 CITGO/SAMAX team of Dalziel, Carpentier, Darren Manning and Milka Duno had an outstanding run to finish second. Dalziel acquitted himself well by keeping world-renowned road racers Montoya and Angelelli in his mirrors for more than 45 minutes, and was rewarded for his efforts with a second-place result, which matches the Scotsman's Rolex Series career-best performance. He led a total of 37 laps.

"It's kind of funny, because earlier on today two of my biggest heroes are Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmie Johnson, and I got to race both of them one time," Dalziel said. "That's what's good about Daytona. The CITGO/SAMAX car ran strong all day. This was my second time doing the Rolex 24. I had less success last year. This was a fun race, a hard race. Everybody was giving it 100 percent. To come down that close among the three cars was pretty amazing. It was a really good event."

Manning and Carpentier led 51 and 17 laps, respectively, en route to their career-best results in the Rolex Series. Manning's previous best performance was a third-place run in the 2004 Rolex Series season finale at California Speedway, while Carpentier's previous best result in the Rolex Series was seventh at Infineon Raceway last year.

"I'm very happy," Manning said "It was great; I think everyone said everything about how great it is to have so many competitive cars out there. It was a bit of a shame, really, that there was only three of us left out there at the end. There were so many other fast cars out there. It was really good and I just can't believe how flat-out we were going. Max said he was pushing 100 percent and we were as well. It was just amazing. My foot still hurts from braking."

Having already made history by becoming the first woman to win overall in a major North American auto race when she and then-co-driver Andy Wallace won at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2004, Duno put another entry into the record books today by taking the best overall result for a woman in Rolex 24 history. She owns a total of three Rolex Series victories.

While the No. 01 never went to its garage and the No. 11 ran a relatively trouble-free race as well, the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley team of Angelelli, Magnussen, Wayne Taylor and Jeff Gordon clawed their way back from five laps down to play a major role in the outcome of the Rolex 24 before finishing third. After leading 29 laps during the first hour of the race, the No. 10 machine went to the garage to replace the engine control unit and lost five laps.

"We had an early issue that put us five laps down and it was a true testament to the team that we were able to overcome those problems," said Taylor. "Jan, Jeff and Max did a wonderful job throughout the race and it shows what we can do as a brand new team."

Shortly after daybreak, the No. 10 machine returned to the lead lap and Angelelli took the lead on Lap 577, some 546 laps and 20 hours after his first stint in the lead. Angelelli and Magnussen kept the pressure on throughout the closing stages, but with 40 minutes remaining, Magnussen encountered brake problems in Turn 1 and slid off-course. He limped the car back to the pits and the team repaired the braking system, but the No. 10 wound up two laps down to the winners.

"It was a really fun race," said Angelelli. "I was pushing and everybody was pushing from the beginning. It was nice to see all the drivers come from all these series to this race. Hopefully we can come back next year and win it."

A four-time NASCAR Cup champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner, Gordon competed in his first Rolex 24 At Daytona. He commented after the race, however, that it certainly would not be his last.

"I had a great experience with Wayne and his whole group," said Gordon. "I worked a lot with Max during the tests and him and Jan were so helpful to get me up to speed. I had a blast out there, but I made some mistakes so I'm going to have to come back because I don't like to make mistakes. I want to come back and fix those and give it another try and just be more of an asset to the team. All in all, it was a really great experience for me. All the hard work these guys put in is unbelievable. It's a very challenging race."

Five-time Rolex 24 At Daytona overall winner Haywood and co-drivers Roberto Moreno, Joao Barbosa and JC France combined to turn in a stellar fourth-place result aboard the No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley. The quartet came home six laps behind the winners, but was a fixture in the top five for much of the race.

Another solid performance came from the No. 61 Exchange Traded Gold/AIM Autosport Lexus Riley team of Mark Wilkins, David Empringham and Burt and Brian Frisselle. The foursome--co-driving the same car that Scott Pruett qualified on the pole position for the 2004 Rolex 24 At Daytona--wound up fifth, nine laps back.

Chris Festa, Tomas Enge, Christian Montanari, Roger Yasukawa and Kris Szekeres finished sixth in the No. 7 SAMAX Pontiac Riley, followed by Memo Gidley, Fabrizio Gollin, Michel Jourdain Jr. and Oriol Servia who finished seventh in the No. 77 Kodak/Doran Racing Ford Doran. Timo Bernhard, BJ Zacharias and Rob and Charles Morgan were eighth in the No. 47 TruSpeed Motorsports Porsche Riley, followed by Mark Patterson, Oswaldo Negri Jr., Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 60 Fresh From Florida/Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley in ninth. Rob Finlay, Michael Valiante, Bobby Labonte and Michael McDowell completed the top 10 in the No. 19 Z-Line Designs/Make-A-Wish/Mission Residential/Menards/Uniden Ford Crawford.

The No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley of A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Tracy, Ian James and Henri Zogaib led 29 laps before a myriad of mechanical issues dropped them back in the field. The quartet wound up 26th overall and 16th in the Daytona Prototype class.

Marc Goossens led six early laps in the No. 91 Lowe's Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley he was sharing with Jim Matthews, Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion and the car was a front-runner in the early stages before Matthews made contact with the No. 20 Jackson Hewitt/Subway Pontiac Crawford of Andy Wallace. The contact was followed by a series of mechanical problems, relegating the No. 91 team to 36th place overall and 19th in the Daytona Prototype class.

For much of the first half, the No. 58 Red Bull/Brumos Racing Porsche Riley of Scott Sharp, Buddy Rice, David Donohue and Darren Law was a top contender, with Sharp and Rice combining to lead 18 laps. While running second overall in the 10th hour, Sharp was hit by Tom Malloy in the No. 41 Team Sahlen Porsche GT3, doing heavy damage to the No. 58 machine, which wound up 40th overall and 20th in class.

One year after claiming the overall Rolex 24 At Daytona victory, IndyCar champions Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon, as well as No. 02 Target/TELMEX Lexus Riley co-driver Memo Rojas, were front-runners through the 20-hour mark and Dixon led seven laps. Unfortunately for the team, Rojas slid off-course in Turn 1 just four minutes into the 21st hour and made hard contact with the tire barrier. The team was forced to retire as a result of the damage and was credited with 41st overall and 21st in the Daytona Prototype class.

After starting from the pole position in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley, Alex Gurney led the first three laps of the race in the car he was sharing with Jon Fogarty, Jimmy Vasser and Bob Stallings. Disaster struck for the team just 10 minutes into the race, however, as Gurney collected the No. 42 Team Sahlen Porsche GT3 of Michael Auriemma when the hood flew up on the Porsche in NASCAR Turn 4. The resulting damage and subsequent other mechanical issues left the No. 99 team 46th overall and 22nd in the Daytona Prototype class.

The No. 20 machine, which Wallace shared with Butch Leitzinger and two-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart, was battling mechanical problems even before the contact with the No. 91 and wound up 48th overall and 24th in the Daytona Prototype class. Bill Auberlen led two laps in the No. 05 Luggage Express/Team Sigalsport BMW Riley he shared with Karl Wendlinger, Matthew Alhadeff and Gene Sigal and the No. 05 machine was also an early front-runner that succumbed to mechanical problems. The No. 05 was credited with 52nd overall and 25th in the Daytona Prototype class.

The race was slowed 13 times by full-course caution for a total of 82 laps and also included the first red-flag stoppage since 2004. As the race approached the halfway point, Chris Pallis in the No. 82 Synergy Racing Team Seattle Porsche GT3 damaged the guardrail on the inside of Turn 1. Pallis escaped injury, but the guardrail repairs required a 78-minute stoppage.

One day after SunTrust Banks announced the doubling of award money for the SunTrust "Improve Your Position" Awards in the Daytona Prototype and GT categories, the No. 7 SAMAX Pontiac Riley and No. 67 TRG Porsche GT3 were the first teams to be awarded with the extra bonus. The No. 7 machine finished sixth after starting at the back of the Daytona Prototype grid (an improvement of 22 positions) when the No. 67 car logged a respectable 12th place GT finish after starting 33rd, an improvement of 21 positions.

ALEGRA MOTORSPORTS/FIORANO RACING CLAIMS ROLEX 24 GT CLASS VICTORY

In a 24-hour battle of speed, weather, fatigue and the largest single class to compete in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Scooter Gabel, Jean-Francois Dumoulin, Carlos de Quesada and Marc Basseng overcame them all, claiming the GT victory in the 45th anniversary of North America's premier endurance race in the No. 22 Alegra Motorsports/Fiorano Racing Porsche GT3.

Overcoming an early race incident that saw the Gabel's No. 22 machine slide off-course and make heavy contact with the tire barrier in Turn 1 and capitalizing on misfortune from the race-leading No. 85 Farnbacher Loles Porsche GT3 in the race's 23rd hour, the Florida-based team won by a slim, 7.072-second margin.

The decisive moment of the race came with a little more than 90 minutes remaining, when Dirk Werner was forced to pull his No. 85 Porsche down pit road with a lingering oil leak, opening the door for the Alegra/Fiorano team, as Dumoulin crossed the stripe just ahead of Paul Edwards, who debuted the new No. 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R.

"There were so many good cars out there," said Dumoulin, a 2004 Rolex 24 SGS class winner. "We needed to be quick without doing too much harm to the car. We were able to keep our head down and stay ahead of them. It was a lot of fun."

The No. 22 car only led the final 48 laps in the of the race, but fast and efficient pit crew members, coupled with persistent and consistent drivers, completed the "underdog" story.

"You always have to believe you can win in racing," said Gabel. "I thought the odds were stacked heavily against us, with the problems we had in testing. We didn't have a solid set of data to get a good setup with. The GT class was huge and they were all good cars, and for us to come out on top, it's a huge honor."

Battling the proven Porsche fleets of TRG, Tafel Racing and Farnbacher Loles, the No. 22 machine flew under the radar heading into Daytona. And with 41 GT machines taking the green flag--the single-most class entries to start the Rolex 24 in the race's 45-year history--it was easy to get lost in the shuffle.

"This is the biggest success of my career," said Basseng. "This is a great series, and for us German guys, we love coming here because we all want this watch. The win definitely feels good."

"This team has been working so hard this off-season and I couldn't be happier for them," said de Quesada. "We had a little incident early in the race that put us five laps down, but we knew that if we continued to focus on what we could control and kept turning out good laps, we'd have a pretty good chance."

Edwards finished second in the No. 07 machine, co-driving with Kelly Collins, Andy Pilgrim and Johnny O'Connell. Banner Racing fielded a pair of Pontiac GXP.Rs in the Rolex 24, and although lacking the straight-line speed of the Porsches, handled remarkably through Daytona's infield road course.

Jim Lowe, Jim Pace, Johannes van Overbeek and Ralf Kelleners finished third in the No. 64 TRG Porsche GT3, followed by Banner Racing's second entry, the No. 06 Pontiac GXP.R, driven by Leighton Reese and Tim Lewis Jr., with help from Edwards and O'Connell. The No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 rounded out the top five, with drivers Sylvain Tremblay, Nick Ham, David Haskell and Randy Pobst.

Germany's Wolf Henzler took the lead from polesitter Patrick Huisman in Turn 1 of the opening lap, and led the first 29 circuits aboard the No. 74 Tafel Racing Porsche GT3. Alongside co-drivers Jim Tafel, Eric Lux and Dominick Farnbacher (113 laps led), Henzler and the No. 74 machine looked like a strong bet in the early going. The 2006 GT class runner-up led 83 of the first 88 laps.

Mechanical issues during the night hours, however, forced the machine into the garage for extensive repairs, seemingly dashing the team's hopes at a victory. Much of the damage was caused when Lux locked the brakes in Turn 1 and was forced to limp the car around the track with front-left damage.

Tafel Racing's misfortune handed the class lead to the No. 85 machine, which led throughout most of the night hours. It looked as though the Farnbacher driver lineup of Werner, Jorg Hardt, Pierre Ehret and Leh Keen, would run away with the race until the late oil leak problems. Hardt led a race-high 208 laps and Werner, who did the majority of the driving for the team, spent 56 laps on the point position.

The Banner Racing and Alegra/Fiorano entries used mid-race caution periods to make up time lost to the faster No. 85 car.

A total of 13 drivers exchanged the lead 25 times and the winning team covered more than 2,228 miles in the 626 laps around the 3.56-mile, 14 turn speedway road course.

The machines of the Rolex Series enjoy a little more than a month before Round 2 of the 2007 championship, when the Daytona Prototypes and GT machines travel south of the border to contest a 400 km race at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

-credit: garra

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