Pruett, Diaz take Long Beach win

The Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz started first and finished first Saturday, carrying the two drivers to their second win of the season in the Rolex Sports Car Series Grand American Challenge of Long Beach. Diaz, the...

The Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz started first and finished first Saturday, carrying the two drivers to their second win of the season in the Rolex Sports Car Series Grand American Challenge of Long Beach.

Diaz, the pole sitter, led from the start, but was passed by Patrick Long's Alex Job Racing/Emory Motorsports Porsche Crawford on Lap 6. Long's lead was short lived, however, as a savage wreck involving the cars of Eddie Cheever, Rocky Moran Jr., and Burt Frisselle brought out the race's first caution on Lap 10. Under the ensuing yellow, Pruett beat Long's teammate, Mike Rockenfeller, out of the pits and survived two more caution periods to win the 90-minute race. The Ganassi team led 39 of 52 laps.

"Our car ran good," said Pruett, whose last professional win at Long Beach came in 1987 in the Trans Am series. "Luis did a good job. It was just like qualifying. We had to drive as hard as we possibly could. It was teamwork. The guys did a great job in the pits and we were in and out in very quick time. Hoosier gave us good tires and Lexus worked on the engine. It seemed like we had a little more drivability, which is something we have been suffering with. The car was consistent and we were running quick times at the end.

"It's awesome to be in Victory Lane again here at Long Beach again.  It's
always a party at the beach.  It's always fun.  It's always exciting.  The
Alex Job car was real tough, though.  They kept me on my toes."

Rockenfeller kept the pressure on Pruett, but was never able to get close enough to mount a serious challenge. "I tried really hard," said Rockenfeller, who finished 3.989 seconds behind Pruett. "There was not much to do. At the last restart, I wanted to overtake Scott, but I had locked up the wheels pretty bad so I had like two or three flat spots and a big vibration at the end. So I was happy to just keep up the pace with him and hope that Scott would make a mistake. We really wanted to win here, but we didn't."

Despite a broken header and some trouble with the steering, Bill Auberlen held off Butch Leitzinger's Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford for third, the best-ever finish for the Southard Motorsports BMW Riley. "Shane (Lewis) was in the car at the start, and he ran over some debris that jammed the steering. So when I got in the car, the steering felt like it was kind of stuck. But the team told me not to worry and to keep going. As the race went on, I got into third and was holding my own. And then with five laps to go, a header broke and the thing sounded like a lawn mower. It was just quick enough to get down the straightaway ahead of Butch, who was really quick at that point. But I wasn't going to let Butch my easily. This is an unbelieveable for this team. This team is kind of unknown but it has a lot talent that no one knows about."

Leitzinger ended up fourth, followed by the No. 60 Michael Shank Lexus Riley of Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri. Series points' leader Jorg Bergmeister finished seventh.

As for the drivers involved in the big crash, Frisselle and Cheever were treated and released from the trackside medical center and Moran was transported to a local hospital with a suspected lower left leg fracture. Memo Gidley, who was injured in a pre-race practice session, sustained a compression to his L1 vertebra and a minimal compression of the T12 vertebra, according to a doctor at St. Mary's Medical Hospital in Long Beach. Alex Baron took Gidley's place in the No. 19 Ford Crawford for the race.

The Rolex Sports Car Series will return to the track Sunday, April 23 at Virginia International Raceway.

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , Memo Gidley , Scott Pruett , Bill Auberlen , Rocky Moran Jr. , Luis Diaz , Patrick Long , Burt Frisselle , Oswaldo Negri Jr. , Mike Rockenfeller , Mark Patterson , Alex Job , Michael Shank , Alex Baron
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Alex Job Racing