One Year Later: Pontiac GTO.Rs On Top In Rolex Series With 15 Consecutive Podiums, TRG GTO.Rs Return to Daytona, Site of 2005 Debut; Pontiac DP Teams Coming off Strong Finishes at Mid-Ohio DETROIT - Exactly a year has passed since Pontiac's ...
One Year Later: Pontiac GTO.Rs On Top In Rolex Series
With 15 Consecutive Podiums, TRG GTO.Rs Return to Daytona, Site of 2005 Debut; Pontiac DP Teams Coming off Strong Finishes at Mid-Ohio
DETROIT - Exactly a year has passed since Pontiac's GTO.R ran its first Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series race, the Brumos Porsche 250, at Daytona International Speedway. With the #64 TRG Pontiac GTO.R of Paul Edwards and Jan Magnussen not entering that race due to a cracked bellhousing, it was up to Marc Bunting and Andy Lally of the #65 TRG GTO.R to give Pontiac the good start in GT-class racing it had spent months preparing for. It was not to be, at least for that race. Lally was forced into the wall by an errant Daytona Prototype late in the race, ending the team's strong run. But as time would tell (in only a very short while) the end to that race proved to be happily uncharacteristic of how the two production-based race cars performed over the following year.
Last year, the #65 car won the GT team championship. Pontiac also finished third in the GT manufacturers point standings - after only eight races - with four victories, two second- and one third-place finish and the #65 car's co-drivers finished just one point shy of driver championships.
"We've had a terrific year and it's fitting that we're coming back to Daytona for the 'anniversary'," said Lally. "Although we didn't have an ideal debut race here, the last time we came here we finished second - at the Rolex 24. That alone is a huge achievement, not to mention the other successes these cars have had. To be honest, I'm not surprised that we've done so well. After testing the GTO.R, I knew we were going to have a contender and the cars haven't let us down."
This season, Pontiac leads the GT manufacturers points battle, a position they have enjoyed for most of the season, and the #65 car with Andy Lally and Marc Bunting are again in the lead in team and driver points. The two GTO.Rs (with part-time assistance from the #98 Pacific Coast Motorsports Pontiac GTO.R) have this season racked up an impressive five wins, nine additional podium finishes (14 including the wins) and a podium sweep. That's a total of nine wins, 12 additional podium finishes (21 total) and one podium sweep - impressive statistics for any race car, much less one with only a year of racing under its belt.
As recently as last weekend, the two GTO.Rs took second and third at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with the #64 TRG/iRise GTO.R of Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins (Collins having taken over for Magnussen at the beginning of the season) and the #65 TRG/F1 Air GTO.R of Lally and Bunting coming in third. Those podium finishes have made it the 15th race in a row that at least one of the two TRG machines have finished on the podium since the CompUSA 200 at Watkins Glen International last August.
"When it was decided that Pontiac would enter the Rolex Series and, specifically, the GT class, it was obvious which car would be the model on which to build our race car," said Steve Sitek, brand promotional manager for Pontiac. "A car with the power and road capabilities as the GTO was bound to find success in such a production-based class and we've proven that this car is the one to beat."
Going into the 3.56-mile tri-oval/road course at Daytona, Grand American officials have again required that the restrictor the cars use change from a 62 mm opening back down to 58 mm (what the car originally started with last June). On a track like Daytona, that restricted inlet will be enough give the competition an advantage on the straightaways.
"At Daytona even with the 62 mm restrictor, the Porsches were pulling away from us on the straights going all-out," said Collins. "We made up for it on the road course section, but it wasn't easy. I didn't get a chance to drive the car with the smaller restrictor last year but I know what it's going to be like and I'm not looking forward to it."
Pontiac's Daytona Prototype teams keep bettering their performances with each race. Pontiac's DP effort at Mid-Ohio yielded a win by the Adrian Fernandez and Mario Haberfeld in the #12 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Pontiac Riley with an additional four cars in the top ten (finishing positions three through six). Pontiac is slowly encroaching on Lexus' lead in DP manufacturer points and while the lead is still 14 points away, five races still remain. With the competition so close in DP racing (Lexus, Pontiac, Ford and Porsche are all within 29 points of each other), it's anyone's guess as to who will finish with the most points.
Defending Daytona Prototype driver co-champion Max Angelelli (who won last year's team championship for SunTrust with Wayne Taylor, also driver co-champion) has had much success at Daytona. He won the Rolex 24 At Daytona here in 2005 (also with Wayne Taylor and Frenchman Emmanuel Collard) and after taking a shot at the Brumos Porsche 250 on Thursday, will suit up immediately afterwards to race in the International Race of Champions (IROC) series' first road race in 14 years. Angelelli will race against drivers from different disciplines of racing including open-wheel and stock car.
"I tested the (IROC) car and it felt really comfortable," said Angelelli. "The car was real good. They did an unbelievable job in setting up the car for the road courses. Some of the things are similar on the IROC car to the Cadillac CTS.V and this is why I felt very comfortable right away."
The Brumos Porsche 250 takes place on Thursday, June 29 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the IROC race following immediately afterwards. The Rolex Series race will be televised live on SPEED TV, as will the IROC race (10:00 p.m. EDT.)