Max Angelelli nipped Scott Pruett by .870 seconds -- the closest finish in the five-year history of the Rolex Sports Car Series - to win his third race of the season in the VIR 400 presented by SunTrust at the Virginia International Raceway. Angelelli's SunTrust Racing teammate, Wayne Taylor, is now only five points behind Scott Pruett and Max Papis, who finished second in the No. 01 Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley, in the Daytona Prototype drivers' championship.
Though Angelelli may have wanted to be leading at the end of the race, it appeared at the outset as if Taylor may have been trying to win the race on the first lap. Indeed, after some jostling at the start with Papis, Taylor fell from second to fourth. As a result, Papis led until the race's first yellow, which flew on Lap 16. At that point, both Papis and Taylor pitted for tires and fuel, handing the lead to the Ford Multimatic of Scott Maxwell, which opted not to pit. Then, on the subsequent restart, Taylor dove underneath Papis at the start/finish line to assume second. And with fresh tires, it did not take him long to close up on the rear wing of Maxwell, who was obviously impeding the progress of both Taylor and Papis.
But, after pacing the field for eight laps, Maxwell's car slowed on course, enabling Taylor to take over the lead for the first time. At the same moment, a gaggle of lapped cars balked Papis. This allowed Taylor to open up a 10-second lead on the Italian, who narrowly avoided tagging a spinning GT car three laps later. As Papis was struggling to close the gap on Taylor, Andy Wallace, who found himself all the way back in 13th at one point in the race, had worked his way up to third. Thus, when Taylor and Papis pitted on Lap 42, Wallace took his turn at the front of the field. But when he pitted 10 laps later, Angelelli, who had taken over for Taylor during the previous stop, reassumed command of the race and opened up another sizable lead on Pruett, who had taken over for Papis.
However, the race's second yellow erased that lead, bringing Pruett and Wallace back into the fold. Then on the subsequent restart, Angelelli, Pruett, and Wallace ran in close formation until the race's final caution flew five laps later. This bunched the leaders once again and set up a hair-raising, 11-lap scramble to the checkered flag that saw Pruett and Wallace swap positions several times before Pruett put enough distance between himself and Wallace to secure second place.
"I was the meat in the Pontiac sandwich," said Pruett of his runner-up finish. "We were just going back and forth. The biggest challenge was trying to push as hard as you could under the given conditions because they were changing continually. As we drove around the track, different areas were becoming wet and different areas were becoming dry. And some of them got extremely wet at the end. That was biggest challenge."
In the end, Wallace and co-driver Milka Duno had to settle for third, 1.036 seconds behind the winning Pontiac Riley. However, Wallace was not pleased with some of Pruett's driving tactics near the end of the race. "Basically I passed Scott in Turn 1 and he was all over me again for the next couple of corners," Wallace said. "Then we came to the very slow corner and there wasn't enough room for him to come by, so he just drove straight into the side of me to pass me back, which I wasn't too pleased about. But, hey, it's motor racing and that happens. And then after that, I was just pushing as hard as I could to see if I could get past him again. But unfortunately, the rear of the car was damaged earlier in the race, so it made the car fast on the straight but a lot of understeer in the corners. And when Scott hit me, it made it even worse. So, I drove absolutely as fast as I could and I threw all caution to the wind. I just wanted to win. But I didn't."
The No. 4 Pontiac Crawford of Butch Leitzinger and Elliott-Forbes Robinson and the second Ganassi Racing Riley of Luis Diaz and Jimmy Morales rounded out the top-five in Daytona Prototypes.
"It's tough when you're racing a guy like Boris because he will fight you to the end for every little bit," Auberlen said. "But it went our way this weekend and it has gone our way a few weeks. We just need two more good clean weekends to collect every point we can and hopefully win this thing."
The No. 22 PTG BMW M3 of Said and Joey Hand finished second, one lap behind their teammates. Stephen Earle, Joao Barbosa, and Emil Assentato, driving the No. 33 Maserati Light GT, came home third.
Randy Pobst and Michael Levitas led a TPC Racing sweep of the top two spots in the SGS class, beating their teammates, Andy Lally and Marc Bunting, to the checkered flag by 5.726 seconds. Levitas now lies 13 points behind Lally and Bunting in the SGS drivers' championship.
"It was just too close to call," added Pobst. "I got blocked early in my first stint when the guy in front of me passed me and spun out. That just stopped me. Then I had to make up three seconds, and it took forever. Every lap had to be like qualifying, it was that kind of race. It was very satisfying, though. I'm really tired."
The No. 14 Autometrics Motorsports Porsche of Cory Friedman and Leh Keen finished third in SGS.
The Rolex Sports Car Series will return to the track on October 10, 2004 at Barber Motorsports Park.