Joe Jennings, Grand-Am Correspondent
Dalziel and Luhr take the win, Bourdais and Popow close behind
Turner Motorsport BMW M3 with Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana win the GT class
Watkins Glen, N. Y. – In a hard-fought, crash-riddled race, the Starworks Motorsport Ford Riley team prevailed at Watkins Glen International on Saturday evening, as the two-car team finished first and second in the two-hour Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race, the Continental 200 presented by Dunn Tire.
The first-place car completed 91 laps around the 2.45-mile road course at an average speed of 111.356 miles per hour.
Finishing first was the talented duo of Ryan Dalziel and Lucas Luhr and seconds behind them was the team car of IndyCar star Sebastien Bourdais and Alex Popow.
I am a little bit relieved as on Sunday night both of us were fired and re-hired.
Their victory came days after the team nearly skipped the race due to their frustration with the outcome of the Brickyard Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I am a little bit relieved as on Sunday night both of us were fired and re-hired,” Dalziel said. “By Wednesday morning, Lucas and I knew what we were doing for this race. At Indy, we felt we could have had a one-two (finish) after a couple of seasons of knocking on the door of a double-podium. But this is not just a one-two finish but a dominating performance. The guys did an unbelievable job.”
Added Luhr, “It has been an exciting week for me. This is the first time we tried to match the set-ups on the two cars, and it worked. I have no chance for the championship, so I am here to help Ryan (Dalziel) and to help the team. To have a finish like this, we all can be happy. It is a victory for the whole Starworks team and it is well deserved.”
Dalziel had built up a commanding lead until a late-race caution wiped out his 10 second advantage. But when the green flag dropped with four minutes to go, Dalziel immediately pulled away with Bourdais tucked in behind him and holding off a charge by championship driver Scott Pruett.
Team owner Peter Baron was ecstatic with the outcome, calling it one of his team’s best races ever. “This victory is one of the most enjoyable ones because we came off something bad. The hardest thing about racing two cars often one car has a bad day and the other a good day, but both cars had a good day and we are back in the championship hunt. This one is probably the happiest emotionally for me. LeMans was very emotional, too, but this one is special.”
The runner-up Starworks Ford finished .817 seconds behind.
“It was a very exciting afternoon for me,” Popow said. “I am learning more every time I come to the track, and I am learning a lot from Sebastien. My race was a good one, and I enjoyed rubbing fenders with Memo (Rojas). And I got to put the car in first place. For me, the championship will be hard, but it will be a good fight.”
Added Bourdais, “My hat is off to Lucas and Ryan. It was a great team effort. Both cars were identical set-up wise and it really showed. This track is a tough place to pass, so every time you can you try to get to the front. And I am happy to salvage second place.”
Third place went to the Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates BMW Riley of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas.
Max Angelelli and young Ricky Taylor brought the SunTrust Racing Corvette DP home in fourth followed by the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Corvette DP of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty.
In GT action, the Turner Motorsport BMW M3 of Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana took the win, finishing less than a second ahead of the Marsh Racing Corvette of fast-qualifier Boris Said and Eric Curran.
Third went to the Brumos Racing Porsche GTE Cup entry of Leh Keen and Andrew Davis.
“It is a fantastic feeling, as we were one step away from the top of the podium,” Dalla Lana said. “The start was crazy with lots of spinning going on, which set our course for the day. My hat is off to the team.”
Stated Auberlen, the closer, “We had a great car in the rain but not in the dry, so our engineer made a number of changes. Today, our car was perfect and was better than it has ever been. And when the championship leader and second place take each other out on the first lap, my jaw dropped and we took advantage of it.”
Three caution flags slowed the race for 14 laps with two crashes being hard ones without injuries. Numerous other incidents dotted the fray and the intensity of the action was non-stop.
Scott Pruettt and Memo Rojas lead the DP points with 295. They are followed by Ryan Dalziel, 289; Darren Law, 275; Alex Popow, 274; David Donohue, 268.
In the GT class Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato lead 300 the points. Second through fifth are: Paul Dalla Lana, 284; Sylvain Tremblay/Jonathan Bomarito, 268; Robin Liddell, 267; Leh Keen/Andrew Davis, 260.
Prior to the race, Team Sahlen announced it would be transitioning to the Daytona Prototype class in 2013, fielding a pair of BMW-Riley’s for Dane Cameron and Wayne Nonnamaker and another for the threesome of Joe Sahlen and Joe and Will Nonnamaker. The cars will be housed in the team’s Canton, Ohio, shops and Katie Crawford will serve as the team engineer. The team will make its debut at the Rolex24 at Daytona in January.
The Rolex Series travels to Montreal for a race next weekend.