Daytona 24: Race report

Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates Wins Third Straight Rolex 24 At Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 27, 2008) -- The Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates racing program became the first team to capture a Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victory in...

Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates Wins Third Straight Rolex 24 At Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 27, 2008) -- The Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates racing program became the first team to capture a Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victory in three straight years when Rolex Series stars Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti captured the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 season opener in the No. 01 TELMEX/Target Lexus Riley. The record breaking race was the 46th running of the classic endurance race.

In a race that featured Grand-Am Rolex Series and Rolex 24 records for car leaders (15), driver leaders (25) and lead changes (60), the Ganassi team stayed out of trouble to complete 695 laps and march to a two-lap victory over defending series champions No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Lowe's Pontiac Riley of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, joined by back-to-back NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and former Champ Car champion Jimmy Vasser.

The wins were the second straight for Montoya and Pruett, the first time drivers earned repeat victories in the race since Derek Bell, Al Unser, Jr. and Al Hulbert accomplished the feat in 1986 and 1987.

"We pushed very hard," Montoya said. "Every stint I was in the car, I pushed really hard. It's a good way to start the year. We all worked; we all did what we need to do."

The No. 9 Penske-Taylor Racing Toshiba Pontiac Riley of Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Kurt Busch scored a third-place finish in Roger Penske's first Rolex 24 effort since 1973, rounding out the podium.

While the No. 01 team led 252 laps, it was clear a race win would have to be earned surviving the rain and slippery track prevalent throughout the night stages of the race. When the checkered flag waved, the Ganassi quartet executed their strategy to perfection and went without the mechanical problems that plagued many of their counterparts.

During the final quarter of the race, a string of bad luck hit many of those front-running machines. The least catastrophic of the bunch came when the No. 99 machine was pulled behind the wall with gearbox problems. But strong pit strategy and speed allowed the team to rally throughout the remainder of the race, making up four of the six laps they lost in the garage area.

"My guess is that if we would have changed the gearbox under yellow instead of green, we probably would have won, but you make your best decisions and run with it," team owner Bob Stallings said. "It was a little bit chaotic. We were all arguing for about 15 minutes on if we should stay out because Jon was in the car and was gaining on Rojas. We left him out there but then the problems started to get worse and we made the decision to switch."

Disaster struck others. With less than five hours left, a broken suspension piece on the No. 59 Brumos Porsche Riley caused Joao Barbosa to spin from the lead in the final turn. The curse hit No. 23 Alex Job Racing Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Porsche Crawford driver Joey Hand moments later as the No. 23 began smoking while running third. What was originally thought to be tire rub turned out to be a blown engine, erasing the team's efforts that included 59 laps led.

Less than an hour later, Burt Frisselle -- hoping to give Michael Shank Racing its biggest win to date -- saw the No. 6 Ford Riley suffer suspension damage while running in the lead. Despite leading 118 laps, Frisselle and co-drivers Allmendinger, John Pew and Ian James fell to 14th overall and ninth in class.

Frisselle's suspension failures left Montoya alone on the lead lap, and from there he and the TELMEX/Target team held on for a victory.

The victory added to Pruett's already all-time best eight class victories at the Rolex 24 and record 15th overall Rolex Series wins. It was his third overall in the Rolex 24.

"Your last one is always your best. This was tough," Pruett said when asked to pick the favorite of his Rolex 24 wins. "The conditions were pretty treacherous because it was rain, then it was dry, then it was a little bit of wet again. That makes for a really tough race. I can't say enough for all of the Ganassi guys."

For Fogarty and Gurney, the race was the first step in their Daytona Prototype title defense.

"This is the Rolex 24," Gurney said. "This is a big race. It's a bit of a bummer that we could not pull out a win. We were watching the board all the time to see the No. 01 up there knowing that any little thing could go wrong and put us up front. We were hoping but it didn't work out. We're now in good shape for the championship."

Even as a NASCAR champion, Johnson felt the pressure of joining the Rolex Series champions for the Rolex 24.

"In some ways, coming to the Rolex Series in the past, it's really been a release of sorts and something to have fun with," Johnson said. "But coming in, having the honor for these guys to invite me to the team and come drive for them, I'm thinking championship. That pressure was on my mind just like it would be for a Sprint Cup Series race. I would hate to be the one that kept them from winning a championship this year."

Unlike the early favorites who ran into trouble at the end, the No. 9 Penske-Taylor team's troubles started early. The advantage of an early fumble was the ability to recover.

"I had a cut right front tire early in the race, and I just managed to bring it in without much damage," said Castroneves. "Unfortunately, that put us a lap down. This type of race is all about not having trouble. As you can see, the winner had no trouble. To put this project together in four to six weeks with Wayne Taylor, it was an incredible result, and we are extremely happy to finish third."

Busch, a former NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, also had an idea of what to expect having competed in a prior Rolex 24.

"It was an incredible effort," Busch said. "I don't know what the expectation was coming in, but when you're teamed up with the Captain, Roger Penske, you're only shooting for the best. To be able to have a podium finish is incredible. It was a great effort by Tim Cindric (Penske Racing President); he's a leader on top of the pit box. That allowed us to do our job."

The decision of Krohn Racing to put the development of the Lola chassis on hold to run the tried-and-true Riley chassis from past seasons paid off as Nic Jonsson, Ricardo Zonta and Darren Turner finished fourth overall in the No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley.

Wayne Taylor teamed with 18-year-old son Ricky and No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley full-season drivers Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante for a scrappy fifth-place finish, eight laps behind the champions.

SpeedSource Captures GT Class Victory in Rolex 24 At Daytona

Rolex Series GT class Rolex 24 At Daytona polesitter Sylvain Tremblay finished what he started Sunday by taking the checkered flag with his SpeedSource co-drivers Nick Ham, David Haskell and Raphael Matos in the No. 70 Mazdaspeed Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8 at Daytona International Speedway. The quartet also finished ninth overall in the race.

With the exception of an off-track excursion and a few near misses, the team put together an almost flawless effort. The four combined to lead 323 of the overall 664 GT laps contested (48.6 percent), including the race's final quarter. Each driver led at least 40 laps in Mazda's first victory in any Rolex 24 At Daytona class since winning in SRP in 2001.

"Our biggest mechanical problem is my ears," Tremblay said. "I had fluid in my ear yesterday and couldn't hear anything. We also lost the driver's side mirror, which is a problem, especially here, but our spotters did a great job. The car was flawless."

Tremblay set a record qualifying time Friday with a time of 1:50.758 (115.712 mph). The victory was the fourth for the operation in Rolex Series GT, which is in its second full season of GT racing with the Mazda. The team also won the two-hour, 45-minute sprint at Daytona in July 2007.

"It was pretty special," Tremblay said of winning the Rolex 24. "I've dreamt of this since I've started racing. To win at Daytona has been a dream of mine for a long, long time. When I first talked of getting a Mazda running against the Porsches, it seemed like a joke back then. There was so much that had to happen, so many pieces we had to build. Then we had to convince other people to believe in our dream, and pull on from there."

The victory by the SpeedSource Mazda -- combined with a Lexus-powered Daytona Prototype taking the overall win -- broke a 14-year streak of Porsches in the Rolex 24 Victory Lane.

"Today is really the culmination of a lot of work from a lot of different people who all had a dream -- to come here and race against the best," Tremblay continued. "I must say, in all the years I've been racing, the GT field was by far the stiffest, strongest field I've ever seen in any GT race anywhere in the world. I'm proud of the accomplishment of my teammates. It's a dream come true."

Ham felt a win in the series' biggest race was not only rewarding but would carry over in the season-long points chase.

"It was a reasonably uneventful race," said Ham, who led nine times for 93 laps. "We all had our moments, but the key thing was that everyone on the team did their job, and did it to the best of their ability. That in the end is why we won. This victory is definitely going to give us a good place to start. It's nice having the lead going into Homestead. Hopefully, we can maintain it."

While SpeedSource celebrated its win, TRG went full force for the other top-five positions. Running a strong seven-car effort for the Rolex 24, TRG Porsches garnered second, third and fourth in the 24-hour classic that saw five of the seven cars take the checkered flag.

Plagued by overheating problems before the race was half over, team principal Kevin Buckler instilled patience throughout his roster, which helped claim the final two podium positions.

Andy Lally finished the 24-hour race in the No. 66 TRG Marquis Jet/Mitchell Rubber Porsche GT3, just seconds ahead of No. 67 TRG Monster Cable/Need For Speed Porsche GT3 teammate Emmanuel Collard. The two cars, which each finished two laps behind the GT winners' pace, swapped the lead during the middle and late stages of the race and consistently ran among the top five.

"It was a long day," Lally said. "It was one of these deals where there were 41 cars in the class and we came home second. It's my third second-place finish in the Rolex 24 and we won it once. Second stings a little bit, to tell you the truth, but it's a great way to start a season for the points. Ted (Ballou) and Bryce (Miller) are now P2 in the points and have a real good start to their year for the championship. We're on the podium in Daytona, and there is no better place to be on the podium. This is pretty cool."

Added Pumpelly: "It was a relief. We fought until the very end. I was sick. We had to nurse it home for hours and hours. We came to win, and we weren't able to, but at the same time, there were a lot of positives. We started the season higher in the points. We had a really good effort. The team worked very well, so my enthusiasm and optimism are very high. I'm truly honored to be a part of an effort like this. There's nothing else like it."

Lally shared the No. 66 with Bryce Miller, Ted Ballou and Richard Westbrook, while Collard, Romain Dumas, Spencer Pumpelly, Tim George Jr. and Bryan Sellers piloted the No. 67.

For the second straight season, the No. 64 TRG/J-Lowe Racing Porsche GT3 finished in the top five in the Rolex 24 in GT competition, as co-drivers Jim Lowe, Jim Pace, Johannes van Overbeek, Tim Sugden and RJ Valentine.

SpeedSource also rounded out the top five with Emil Assentato, Nick Longhi, Jeff Segal and Lonnie Pechnik, who drove the No. 69 SpeedSource FXDD Mazda RX-8.

Defending race winners Alegra Motorsports/Fiorano Racing ran into the night with both of its Porsche GT3s, but neither car finished. Team owner Carlos de Quesada, who along with Scooter Gabel, Jean-Francois Dumoulin and Marc Basseng won last year in GT, bowed out with the No. 22 machine late Saturday night with electrical problems. The team's No. 29 machine ran late into Sunday morning before a flat tire forced the car into the Turn 14 outside wall.

Reigning Rolex Series GT champion Dirk Werner also struggled at Daytona for the second straight season, but rebounded with an eighth-place finish after early mechanical woes. Werner led early, but a damaged control arm put him and co-drivers Dominik Farnbacher, Timo Bernhard and Pierre Ehret behind shortly after. However, their efforts in the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Porsche GT3 were rewarded with the team's highest finish of seven cars.

-credit: garra

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Team Penske , Krohn Racing , SpeedSource