Pat Jennings, Grand-Am Road Racing Correspondent
Ganassi Racing gunning for third Rolex Series title in four years
By completing 30 minutes in Saturday’s two hour and 45-minute Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series finale at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas can claim their third Daytona Prototype drivers’ championship in four years. Another title would give Pruett a total of four, including the one he shared with Max Papis in 2004.
Pruett and Rojas did not win as many races as in 2010, but the Ganassi duo won the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona and then four more races (Homestead-Miami Speedway, Barber Motorsports Park, Road America, and New Jersey Motorsports Park) on their way to amassing a 20-point lead over SunTrust Racing’s Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor in the drivers’ standings. The SunTrust drivers won three races this season (Lime Rock Park and both Watkins Glen races), finished on the podium eight times, and scored six poles. The SunTrust squad has not finished outside of the top-three since April at the Virginia International Raceway, but a Ganassi title seems assured as Pruett and Rojas have two consecutive wins at Mid-Ohio. To steal the title from Ganassi, Angelelli and Taylor would each need to complete 30 minutes of the race and the Ganassi BMW Riley would have to drop out of the race prior to the 30-minute mark.
Darren Law and David Donohue, who have shared one of the two Action Express Porsche entries this year, lie third in the drivers’ championship, 61 points behind Pruett and Rojas and mathematically out of contention for the title. Their stable mates, Joao Barbosa and JC France, are fourth in the standings, followed by Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty of Gainsco Bob Stallings Racing. The latter won twice in 2011 (Laguna Seca and Montreal), but finished outside of the top-five three times in 10 races and failed to score any points at the second Watkins Glen race in August. Failing to finish at the Glen dropped them from third to sixth in the drivers’ standings.
This year saw 11 different drivers from four teams score wins in the Daytona Prototype class, and seven different Daytona Prototype teams claimed at least one podium finish this season. Although they did not win a race, the Spirit of Daytona and Starworks teams both ran well in a number of races.
In the GT class, three teams are separated by five points in the drivers’ championship. Bill Lester and Jordan Taylor, with one win (Virginia International Raceway) and four podium finishes in the Autohaus Chevrolet Camaro, have a three-point lead over Brumos Porsche drivers Leh Keen and Andrew Davis, who have two wins (Watkins Glen and Laguna Seca) and three podiums in 2011. Lester could become the first African American to win a title in a major US auto racing series.
The SpeedSource tandem of Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito sit third in the standings on the strength of one win (New Jersey Motorsports Park) and four podium finishes. The two Mazda drivers trail Lester and Taylor by five points. And Turner Racing’s Paul Dalla Lana is 15 points behind Lester and Taylor. He drove to victory twice this season with Bill Auberlen (Homestead-Miami and Barber Motorsports Park).
Seven GT teams won races in 2011 and 14 different teams finished on the podium.
Saturday’s race will begin at 11 a.m. ET and be broadcast live on Speed.
Next season will see the debut of a new generation of slimmed-down Daytona Prototypes. Rolex Series officials released the first image of the Riley MK XXVI, the first car built to the new “DPG3” regulations for the third generation of Daytona Prototypes, in early September. Featuring a smaller greenhouse than the current Riley, the new car will feature a more upright nose and a taller tail. Teams will have chances to test the new car at the Daytona International Speedway in November, December, and early January. The new Riley should race for the first time in next year’s Rolex 24.
Grand-Am has assembled a special series of video tributes to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The tribute is available for viewing on the grand-am.com Web site and the Grand-Am Road Racing Facebook page.
In 2012, the Rolex Series will race for the first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be held on Friday, July 27 in conjunction with the Brickyard 400 NASCAR weekend. Early in September, two Daytona Prototype teams (SunTrust and Gainsco) and two GT teams (Stevenson and Magnus) tested the series’ new Continental tires at IMS in preparation for the event. The rest of next season’s schedule has not yet been announced.
Also in September, Audi announced that it would build a version of the R8 LMS race car for the Rolex Series’ GT class. The car will feature a 5.0-liter, V10 engine and a production-based aluminum chassis. Grand-Am officials will test Audi’s engine shortly and cars may be delivered to customers as early as this fall. Audi’s announcement comes on the heels of the first test of the new Ferrari F458 built to Grand-Am specifications.
Next year’s Rolex 24 will mark the 50th anniversary of the event and Grand-Am is trying to have as many race-winning cars on hand as possible.