Butch Leitzinger and Elliott Forbes Robinson mastered intermittent rain and a slippery track to win their first Rolex Sports Car Series race of the year Sunday in the Porsche 250 presented by Bradley Arant at the Barber Motorsports Park. In doing so, the Howard Boss Motorsports duo became the sixth different combination to win a race in 2004, besting the old record of four set in 2000. It was also the third win for the Crawford chassis and the seventh for Pontiac.
"It's a huge lift for the team," Leitzinger said after his 10th career overall Rolex Sports Car Series victory. "As a first year team we knew it was going to be tough, that we would be up against a lot of competition, and that we would have to learn a lot of stuff. But we've come close quite a few times, so before we came in you could have said, 'Well you know, I hope we get a couple of podiums.' But as soon as you know you have the potential to win you want wins -- and nothing else will satisfy anyone. So it's a big reward for the team because they have been working so hard. We've made so many adjustments and modifications to the cars throughout the year, and they just haven't stopped working. So it's a real bonus for them. And with one more race to go, hopefully we can extend the success that we've had now."
"This is great," Forbes-Robinson added. "We've been racing in this series all year and have been disappointed several times, but it's so great to get this win. It's so great to turn the car over to Butch knowing the conditions and having a guy that so good to finish up is a great thing to have. Everybody drove is some really tough conditions today, and I'm surprised there weren't more cautions. But, we got through it and it was a heck of a race."
Indeed, with the leaders rarely separated by more than several seconds, it was yet another hotly contested race. Pole sitter Max Papis, driving the No. 01 Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley, led the race until he pitted on Lap 23 under the second of six yellow flags. This enabled Forbes-Robinson, who opted not to follow the leaders -- Papis, Terry Borcheller, and Wayne Taylor - to pit road, to assume the lead for the first time. Forbes-Robinson then held the lead until Lap 51, when he, Borcheller, and Papis headed for the pits during the third caution.
Quick pit work by the Ganassi Racing team allowed Scott Pruett, who had taken over for Papis, to beat Leitzinger and Borcheller's co-driver, Christian Fittipaldi, out of the pits. However, on the subsequent restart, Leitzinger blew past Pruett as the two raced side-by-side into Turn 1. But while Leitzinger managed to open up a four-second gap on Pruett, it did not take long for Max Angelelli, now driving the SunTrust Racing Pontiac for Taylor and turning some of the fastest laps of the race, to pass both Pruett and Fittipaldi and close to within a second of Leitzinger. But just as Angelelli was within striking distance of Leitzinger, Fittipaldi slammed into the Turn 10 tire barriers, bringing out the race's final caution and ending Angelelli's chances of victory. In the end, Angelelli had to settle for second, one spot ahead of Pruett. Taylor is now three points behind Papis and Pruett in the Daytona Prototype drivers' championship with one race remaining.
"During the course of the race, the positioning of the championship was sort of changing with every lap," said Taylor. "But I'm trying not to get caught up in this too much. Max and I have basically been ahead of the Ganassi car for the last four races. And we have to keep doing that. We have to go to Fontana and try and win the race. And then we will see."
"I think this is exciting," said Pruett. "I mean, this is what it's all about. I think it's great for the championship -- it shows how close everybody is. For us as a team, we have to work together as a team. Now looking at the race in that last stint when the conditions were as horrible as they were, I just tried to be conservative. It's up to Angelelli and Wayne to beat us heads up. And they were in a position where they could take more chances than I wanted to take. I was being more conservative and they were being more aggressive."
The second Ganassi Racing entry of Luis Diaz and Jimmy Morales and the Doran Racing Pontiac Doran of Didier Theys and Andrea Montermini rounded out the top-five.
In the GT class, Bill Auberlen took his eighth win of the year in the No. 21 Team PTG BMW M3. Auberlen, who shared his Tom Milner-prepared M3 with Justin Marks, now has a seven-point lead over teammate Boris Said in the GT drivers' championship. Said and co-driver Joey Hand finished second, 1.603 seconds behind the winning M3.
"We led this thing from the get go," said Auberlen. "We made the right tire choices by starting on dries. The track accepted the dries immediately and we ran right away in the front. But we didn't get enough of a gap to go a lap up. Then we stopped, and that bunched it back up, but we went back out in the lead again. Then we pitted under yellow but went from the front to dead last. But we came up through the field and And Justin was a trooper in these conditions. For him to go from rain to dry from rain to dry and just stick it out was perfect."
The No. 77 G&W Motorsports Porsche, driven by Mark Greenberg and Spencer Pumpelly, finished third.
By winning the SGS class for the second time this season, Andy Lally and Marc Bunting secured the GT team championship for TPC Racing. "It was a great race," said Bunting. "Andy is a great driver in the rain. We're just real happy because we secured the team championship. But we still have one race to go to lock up the drivers' championship."
Another TPC Racing Porsche, driven by Michael Levitas and Randy Pobst, came home second in SGS, followed by the No. 14 Autometrics Motorsports Porsche shared by Cory Friedman and Leh Keen.
The Rolex Sports Car Series will race for the final time this year on October 31, 2004, at the California Speedway.