Ferrari gets third GT class victory
Honestly, one can’t really describe a race win by a defending and five-time series champion and current points leader as an upset.
But Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas had yet to win in 2012 and watched the new Corvette Daytona Prototypes reel off a five-race win streak as the Grand-Am Rolex Series came to Road America.
Which made the win Saturday by Pruett and Rojas in the Rolex 250 perhaps a little sweeter, as Pruett steamed away from the field on a late restart to in by 3.74 seconds over the Ryan Dalziel/Enzo Potolicchio pairing.
“Oh yeah,” Pruett said when asked if it was important to remind his competitors what he and Rojas are capable of. “Especially with our competition knowing we’ve been working things out with the car. We’ve been knocking on the door.”
The GT class saw Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal pick up their third win of the season in the AIM Motorsport Ferrari 458, holding off the Turner BMW of Bill Auberlen/Paul Dalla Lana by about three seconds.
Pruett and Rojas, in the Chip Ganassi Racing/Telmex BMW-Riley, earned their 37th and 24th wins in the DP class and extended their points lead to five, 205-200, over Dalziel/Potolicchio in the Starworks Motorsport Ford-Riley.
Although the Corvette DPs had the aforementioned run of five straight wins coming into Road America – the only other engine-chassis combination to win this year was the Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley in the season-opening 24 Hours of Daytona – the top two teams said they felt their Riley chassis gave them an edge this weekend. Dalziel/Potolicchio and Pruett/Rojas set the two quickest times in practice.
“I think the track fits the Riley chassis,” Rojas said. “It’s definitely been a tough season since Daytona, but the Riley’s getting better,”
Dalziel said. “I always thought this was a good Riley track.”
The podium finishers in DP – the Shank Ford-Riley was third with John Pew and Ozz Negri aboard – also benefited from increased rpm allowed to them by Grand-Am before the weekend. The Ford engines were granted another 300 revs, while the BMW got an extra 100. But while the added rpm certainly didn’t hurt those cars, Dalziel said that wasn’t a huge factor in their performances.
“We’re not even where we were last year (on power), and neither are those guys (the BMW),” Dalziel said. “We’re creeping up on it. But also know that straightline speed and power is not all there is.”
Even with Rileys sweeping the podium, the Corvettes had their chances during the two-hour race. The Spirit of Daytona ‘Vette of Antonio Garcia and co-driver Richard Westbrook held second place behind polesitter Rojas at the start and took the lead when Rojas pitted under a yellow flag on the fourth lap.
Garcia maintained the lead for about a half-hour, but on the 14th lap, he made contact with the GT-class Mazda of Charles Espenlaub while lapping it, damaging the car. Garcia pitted to repair the damage but exceeded the pit-lane speed limit, getting a drive-through penalty.
After Garcia’s issues, Max Angelelli took the lead in the SunTrust Corvette he shared with Ricky Taylor. The SunTrust, Starworks and Ganassi teams swapped the lead during pit stops and driver changes, and Taylor held a 13-second lead with about 26 minutes remaining when Andy Lally’s GT-class Porsche erupted in flames, bringing out a full-course yellow.
As the field was on its last lap before the green flag came back out, Taylor was warming his tires when he lost control and hit the wall coming into Turn 5, putting the car out with suspension damage. That left Pruett in the lead with 12 minutes to go, and he steadily pulled away from Dalziel in the last six laps after the restart.
Negri and Pew took third after a late battle with the Action Express Corvette of Joao Barbosa/Darren Law/JC France which saw the cars get into each other coming up the front stretch for the white flag. Barbosa spun backwards into the inside wall while Negri continued on to the podium.
“(Barbosa) chose to take my piece of road, so …” Negri said.
While Assentato and Segal cruised along in front of the GT field after the last restart, a fierce battle was taking place for second among the Brumos Porsche of Leh Keen/Andrew Davis, Auberlen/Dalla Lana, the SpeedSource Mazda of Sylvain Tremblay/Jon Bomarito and the Sahlen Mazda of Dane Cameron/Wayne Nonnamker. Bomarito passed Keen for third place with two laps to go.
Assentato/Segal took a 220-199 lead in the GT points over Robin Liddell, who was sixth in class with co-driver John Edwards.
NOTE: The race’s most serious incident occurred on Lap 2 when Jim Norman’s GT Audi got into the back of the Porsche driven by Steven Bertheau, sending Norman slightly into the air. A few turns later, entering the high-speed Kink, Bertheau went straight on and pounded the wall. He was transported to Froedert Hospital in Milwaukee and reported in stable condition, with no serious injuries.