Going into Saturday's Rolex Sports Car Series Sonoma 250 at Infineon Raceway, all of the attention was focused on Jorg Bergmeister and Max Angelelli -- the top two drivers in the Daytona Prototype championship standings. But with their second win...
Going into Saturday's Rolex Sports Car Series Sonoma 250 at Infineon Raceway, all of the attention was focused on Jorg Bergmeister and Max Angelelli -- the top two drivers in the Daytona Prototype championship standings. But with their second win in as many races, Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz have re-emerged as championship contenders, closing to within 19 points of Bergmeister with just one race remaining. For Pruett, the win was doubly sweet as he is from nearby Auburn, California.
"There's nothing like winning on your home course," said Pruett, whose Lexus Riley has won five times this year. "We dug deep to pull out everything we have learned over the years in Indy Car racing, NASCAR racing, and everything to try to develop a strategy that we felt put us in the best position to win. We ran very, very lean through the mid stages of the race. We gave up lap time because of it. But we thought the tradeoff would be good because we were looking for the shortest amount of time to be in the pits on that last stop.
"Towards the end, I actually went to full rich to try to make up some time. And I think our car started pretty tight and as we used the tires up our car actually got neutral and I think some of the other cars were getting loose on the longer runs. Our car just kept going faster and faster and faster. So it all played into our hands. At the end, I wasn't sure what Andy (Wallace) was going to have for us, but we just started walking away from them so it was a great day."
Though he could not catch Pruett, Wallace and his teammate, Butch Leitzinger, managed to hang on for second -- their best finish of the year -- in the No. 4 Howard Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford. "We were pretty confident that we had a pretty good strategy and Butch did a great job avoiding all of the slow cars," said Wallace. "But what we didn't realize was the (Ganassi) car had a better strategy. I was driving as fast as I could, but they were just slowly pulling away."
Indeed, after taking the lead on Lap 74, Pruett pulled away from everyone, including Wallace, third-place finisher Adrian Fernandez, and fourth-place finisher Angelelli, who seemed to fade in the race's closing laps after his teammate, Jan Magnussen, led 60 of the first 72 laps. Angelelli is now 23 points behind Bergmeister.
For his part, Bergmeister was lucky to still be leading the championship after finishing ninth. He was second fastest in qualifying, but he had to start from the pit lane due a pre-race engine change. Then he was assessed a stop-and-go penalty on Lap 36 for avoidable contact with the No. 19 Lexus Riley. That penalty cost him a lap and any chance he and teammate Nic Jonsson had of winning the race. The two Krohn Racing drivers ended up ninth.
In the GT class, the No. 72 Tafel Racing Porsche beat the No. 65 TRG Pontiac GTO.R of Andy Lally and Marc Bunting to the checkered flag by 8.507 seconds, giving Robin Liddell and Wolf Henzler their fourth victory of the season and allowing them to close within eight points of the Pontiac duo in the drivers' championship. David Murry and Leh Keen finished third in class in the Synergy Racing Porsche.
"Today we went out to win," explained Liddell. "We were on the pole but we lost a lot of running time on Saturday due to an error which was my doing. We were concerned that we were not able to gather as much data as we would have liked. But as it turned out the car was really good in the race and we were able to fight with our competitors and here we are.
"We have to go with an aggressive strategy next weekend. From where we are it is perhaps more easy for the (No. 65 GTO.R) to lose the race by having a mechanical problem or having an incident or something. But from our point of view we want to go and be aggressive and try to win the race. Then we will see what happens and it will be down to arithmetic."
The final Rolex Series race of the season is September 2, 2006 at Miller Motorsports Park.