Daytona24: PR1 Motorsports race report

PR1 Motorsports Beats The Clock, Earns Impressive Finish in Rolex 24 At Daytona Debut Daytona Beach, Fla. (January 25, 2009) -- For Fresno-based PR1 Motorsports, the initial trip to the Rolex 24 At Daytona on the 3.56-mile road course at...

PR1 Motorsports Beats The Clock, Earns Impressive Finish in Rolex 24 At Daytona Debut

Daytona Beach, Fla. (January 25, 2009) -- For Fresno-based PR1 Motorsports, the initial trip to the Rolex 24 At Daytona on the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway was bittersweet. Ultimately, the team's 11-place Grand-Am Rolex Series GT class finish and 21st overall (out of 49 cars) was a successful first attempt at the legendary 24-hour race. With a couple of breaks, the end result could have been even better.

With a combination of great preparation by the PR1 crew on the No. 32 Miracle Sealants Pontiac GXP.R and smart driving by pilots Mike Forest (Edmonton, Alberta), Thomas Merrill (Salinas, Calif.), Al Salvo (Arcadia, Calif.) and Jeff Westphal (San Carlos, Calif.), the PR1 Motorsports team completed 656 laps for a total of 2,335 miles.

The finish was a result of a steady climb from a 21st starting position that was slowed by contact from a Daytona Prototype early in the third hour of the race. That meant just over 40 minutes in the garage to repair the right rear wishbone, probably costing at least 25 of the 39 laps the team finished behind the GT class winning No. 66 TRG Porsche. Brumos Porsche captured the overall race win in the No. 58 Porsche Riley Daytona Prototype, by a record setting 0.167-seconds after 735 laps (2,616 miles).

Forest negotiated the final stint to the checkers, avoiding not only the battle of the leaders but running without second gear. The gear issue plagued all of the drivers throughout Sunday after failing early in the morning.

"I'm completely exhausted," Forest said. "It was so tough to keep focus during those last few laps. It's a great feeling, though. The crew guys did a tremendous job before the weekend to put together such a solid car. We were able to have a few scrapes and keep the car running. Had our incident with the DP not happened, we would have met our goals this weekend. Given that was out of our control, we have to be satisfied with the race."

It was a satisfying feeling for all of the drivers, none of whom had competed at Daytona before the Rolex 24.

"It feels so good to be able to finish in our first Rolex 24," Merrill said. "Just being able to finish this race is an accomplishment; to do it in a respectable position is incredible. The crew did a flawless job putting the car together. For a team that's never done this before, its just a great feeling."

Not only did Westphal enter his first Rolex 24 this weekend, but it was the first sports car race for the young driver, who has only been racing cars for three years. Westphal qualified the Miracle Sealants Pontiac for PR1 in his debut with the Rolex Series.

"There's no way to describe it," Westphal said. "I had no idea it was going to be this hard. The team did a fantastic job. For being here for the first time, being able to finish, and even making up some spots -- it was exactly what we wanted to do. Our crew was on point every time. Even when it was our fault, or another car's fault, the got us back out on track and that's what gave us our success today. They were ready for what ever happened."

Salvo ran a number of solid stints throughout the night and through Sunday. His most important stint may have come following the hour three incident. Staying calm, the team regained its momentum with Salvo's hour-long stint.

"I don't think you can put this weekend into words," Salvo said. "It exceeded all of my expectations. To finish 11th in our first attempt here is incredible. This is a fantastic team, and we did it. PR1 as an organization is wonderful, and the crew really out did themselves. They repaired the car when it needed it, and I can't put into words my feelings for these guys."

Completing the Rolex 24 at Daytona was a step forward for the sports car program at PR1 Motorsports after capturing championships and race wins in open-wheel series from the Formula Atlantic Championship to the Formula Ford Zetec Series.

"This weekend definitely met expectations, and in a lot of ways exceeded them," said PR1 owner and team manager Bobby Oergel. "Our drivers were concerned with speed, and it just shows -- we lost probably 25 laps after our incident with the prototype, and had we not done that we'd probably be fifth. Everyone said you race the clock, and that's true. Everyone of these crew guys is a family member in some way -- if they're not blood, they've been my friend for 20 years. Its just amazing, we put our heart and soul in this and it shows."

PR1 Motorsports will return to the track with the Grand-Am Rolex Series at Virginia International Raceway on April 25th.

-credit: pr1m

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Series GRANDAM