Donohue on Laguna Seca pole, da Matta marks return

Cristiano Da Matta made a successful return to auto racing on Friday, joining long time friend Jimmy Vasser, driving for Bob Stallings' team in a Pontiac Riley in the Rolex Sports Car's Rum Bum 250 at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. Their qualifying...

Cristiano Da Matta made a successful return to auto racing on Friday, joining long time friend Jimmy Vasser, driving for Bob Stallings' team in a Pontiac Riley in the Rolex Sports Car's Rum Bum 250 at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. Their qualifying time of 1.20.679 was nearly a second slower than their full time Stallings stable mates Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty's second place time of 1.19.951.

But, because both racers are making a return to sports car racing this weekend, they've got to be happy with that fourth. Or, they would be happy with that 4th place qualifying if they weren't race car drivers.

Vasser, a current Indy Car Series team owner and former CART champion, recently embarked on an aggressive training program to compete in the Long Beach Grand Prix for Champ Car's finale race.

More dramatically, Cristiano Da Matta was at one time not expected to race again after a horrific testing crash at Road America in 2006. Excellent medical care has made possible the return to racing for the former F1 driver, who also was 2002 CART champion. "Shorty" as he is affectionately known to the racing community, is such a welcome sight in the Rolex paddock.

Leading the Rolex Daytona Prototype class in qualifying Friday was David Donohue and teammate Darren Law, driving a Porsche Riley for Brumos Porsche with a time of 1.19.841. Donohue, flashing a grin so reminiscent of his father, legendary driver Mark Donohue, was a popular pole sitter in the Media Center.

Commenting on the value of the pole position, Donohue remarked, "When you win the race, everybody packs up and leaves," he said. "Winning the pole is real important for the team, because it gives them an extra day of glory. They get a great deal of pride and prestige in front of all of the other people in the paddock."

Nick Ham and Sylvain Tremblay did Mazda proud at their home track, piloting their Mazda RX-8 for SpeedSource with a pole time of 1.27.014 in the GT class. "We ran a fast lap in the afternoon practice, so I knew we had a shot at the pole," said Ham.

"But I knew it would be close, because the Farnbacher and Banner cars had also been very fast. I laid down a fast lap that I thought might be good for the pole, but then Kaffer ran two-tenths faster. Fortunately, I was able to get another clean lap and win the pole," added Ham.

Plus being the top qualifier at a challenging road course such as Laguna Seca gives the competitors a strong strategic advantage. The Grand-Am Rolex Series race takes place Saturday afternoon.

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Series GRANDAM