In each race there is usually a dominant car, but luck doesn't always fall its way. However, this was not the case Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway, as Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz were a cut above the rest of the field and took home...
In each race there is usually a dominant car, but luck doesn't always fall its way. However, this was not the case Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway, as Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz were a cut above the rest of the field and took home their third victory of this young Rolex Series season. Diaz maneuvered his Lexus Riley through traffic well early and Pruett put an exclamation point on the proceedings by pulling away from all comers once he took over. Some of his rivals suffered bad luck while in contention, but as they say, that's racing.
There was cause for concern that this race would be a calamity of cautions, with 37 cars on the 1.51 mile track, but cooler heads prevailed and after the 149 laps there were only three cautions. The first was on lap 32, when Antoine Bessette's MSR Lexus Riley came to a stop in the carousel with apparent mechanical troubles. There was a bevy of action on pit road, with all the leaders save for Jon Fogarty in the GAINSCO Pontiac Riley making an appearance in the pit boxes. Fogarty was able to hold off Diaz for about 15 laps, as he hit the traffic in just the right spots and used the slower cars as picks. But Diaz never gave up the charge, and passed Fogarty for the lead on lap 54. The ailing Portola Valley, CA native fell back to 6th by the time he made his first and only stop on lap 90. Diaz led Jan Magnussen, Adrian Fernandez, Jorg Bergmeister, and Guy Cosmo at the time.
The turning point of the race came on lap 91, when Leighton Reese looped his Banner Engineering Corvette just shy of the hairpin, turn nine. The GAINSCO team, now with Alex Gurney aboard, was trapped a lap down and forced out of contention. The SunTrust Pontiac Riley emerged from the pit stops as the leader, as Max Angelelli took over from Magnussen. The Dane had put in a dynamic first stint. But two laps later that car came back down pit lane, as Angelelli felt a vibration on the right side of the car. He subsequently dropped to 7th, last car on the lead lap, and out of the fight.
A final caution flew on lap 114 when Burt Frisselle's car came to a stop briefly after making contact with Doug Goad in his Pontiac Crawford. If it wasn't for bad fortune Frisselle would have none at all. This bunched up the field for a final time but Pruett still had Gurney in between himself and the battle for 2nd, and was able to get a flying final restart to pull away. "The 99 car kept us honest, even though they were a lap down," Pruett said. "We were just picking and choosing our way through traffic."
Behind Pruett was pole sitter Fernandez, who raced with Michael McDowell. These two had a tight battle on Phoenix's tight confines but eventually something had to give, and it did when McDowell got into the back of Fernandez when trying to pass him for 2nd. They dropped to 5th and 6th respectively. The beneficiaries of the incident were the Playboy/Palms Pacific Coast Motorsports Pontiac Riley of Ryan Dalziel and Alex Figge, and the Southard Motorsports BMW Riley of Craig Stanton and Shane Lewis. These two teams, victims of tough breaks in the past, enjoyed well-deserved podium finishes. The fact that they can compete this well on lesser budgets showcases the quality and depth of this Daytona Prototype field.
Angelelli recovered from the pit stop debacle under caution to finish 4th, with Fernandez and McDowell 5th and 6th. Bergmeister, the points leader coming into Phoenix, was 7th and the last car on the lead lap in the Krohn Ford Riley. Notably absent from the proceedings was MSR's Oswaldo Negri, who was suspended prior to the event after a controversial coming together with Christian Fittipaldi in Friday night's qualifying race which took out five cars. "I feel I am being made an example," Negri said about the situation. "There were three such incidents last week (at Monterey) and there was nothing done about it. When we got to turn eight, we touched, and he spun. Some people feel this was retaliation, but it was not. If he would have given me a little bit more room, we would have both made it and there would have been no accident." British driver Rod MacLeod filled in for Negri and finished 16th.
Pontiac GTO.Rs dominated the GT category, scoring a top three sweep. The TRG boys pulled off their 4th win of the year, with Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins tasting the spoils for a 3rd time. Andy Lally and Marc Bunting finished 2nd in class and the Pacific Coast Pontiac, driven by Boris Said and Ross Thompson, came home 3rd in just its second race. Bunting passed Thompson early in the first stint to take over the lead, and several laps later Edwards got around Bunting going into turn one, never looking back from there. The Tafel Porsche of Robin Liddell and Wolf Henzler, winners last week at Monterey, finished 4th with the Sigalsport BMW of Bill Auberlen, Matthew Alhadeff and Matt Plumb completing the top five.
SATURDAY NEWS AND NOTES The Grand-Am Cup staged a double header earlier in the day, as with the large car counts the decision was made to split the Grand Sport and Street Tuning classes into separate events. Ironically, neither event had a single caution flag because of this and in 100+ degree temperatures, this proved quite a test for all drivers and teams. Andy Lally and Spencer Pumpelly, who have scored several victories throughout their careers, finally scored their first as teammates, taking the #49 Marcus Motorsports Porsche 997 to Victory Lane in the GS race. The car took pole and never looked back from there. The Turner Motorsports BMW of Boris Said and Anders Hainer finished 2nd. In the ST race, the #144 Acura RSX-S of Michael Galati and Bob Endicott scored their first victory to end a two- race winning streak by the #01 Cobalt of Jamie Holtom and Eric Curran. Endicott got out ahead of prior leader Matt Plumb, in the #27 Acura RSX-S, on the round of pit stops. Plumb finished 2nd and the Holtom/Curran car finished 3rd.
Friday night's qualifying races were the last in the Rolex Series for the foreseeable future. Grand-Am President Roger Edmondson said he came to the decision after realizing that while this may have been entertaining for the fans, it was not in the teams' best advantages. "We introduced qualifying races in an effort to improve the entertainment qualities of our events and to provide all teams, including those who may not qualify for the main event, some head-to-head competition and points," Edmondson said. "I announced last year that select 2006 race weekends would include qualifying races. After seeing these races at three events, I have concluded that the critics of this plan were right and I was wrong. What sounded positive in theory did not meet expectations in reality." Edmondson accepted all responsibility for the decision to institute the races, honor the contracts to which these races were assigned, and then to cancel the process and return to the traditional method of qualifying. Suffice to say that the 5- car incident during the Daytona Prototype race was a contributing factor.