VIR: DP, GT qualifying races report

McDowell Wins First-Ever Daytona Prototype Qualifying Race at VIR ALTON, Va. (April 22, 2006) -- In Saturday's inaugural Daytona Prototype qualifying race for the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve...

McDowell Wins First-Ever Daytona Prototype Qualifying Race at VIR

ALTON, Va. (April 22, 2006) -- In Saturday's inaugural Daytona Prototype qualifying race for the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve VIR 400 (SPEED, Live, 1 p.m. ET) No. 19 Playboy/Uniden/Palms Ford Crawford driver Michael McDowell took the lead from Mike Rockenfeller in the No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team Porsche Crawford on the final lap to earn the victory.

The 30-minute race was run under rainy conditions. As a result, the starting field was set based on team points and Daytona Prototype points co-leader Scott Pruett started from the pole position in the No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley. Pruett led the opening six laps before encountering ignition problems, handing the lead to Rockenfeller in Alex Job Racing's No. 23 machine.

Rockenfeller would lead the next six laps, but slowed on course just after he received the white flag--indicating that there was one more lap remaining--at the completion of Lap 12. McDowell pounced on the opportunity to take the lead heading into Turn 1 and pulled away from Rockenfeller to win by 3.411 seconds.

"There were a lot of firsts for the team today," McDowell said. "This was the first win for the No. 19 Playboy/Uniden/Palms car and the first win of the season for Ford. I'm just glad we were able to run a clean race and take the win for our sponsors. I was pushing hard during the last few laps of the race, and when I saw the 23 car lift a bit coming down the front straightaway, I saw an opportunity and took it. I really enjoyed the qualifying race format. I think it adds a level of excitement for the entire series."

As a result of McDowell's victory, new co-driver Guy Cosmo will start from the pole position for tomorrow's VIR 400, with Grand American rules requiring that the qualifying race driver cannot start the feature race. Cosmo is standing-in for Memo Gidley, who was injured during practice for the Crown Royal Grand American Challenge of Long Beach two weeks ago, and will be participating in his first Daytona Prototype race since 2003.

"This was the easiest race I've ever won," Cosmo said. "Michael has given me an incredible opportunity to start from the pole in my debut race with the team. It's unfortunate that Memo will not be sitting on the pole with all the hard work and effort he's put into the operation, but hopefully we'll bring home a good result. I'm looking forward to doing my part during the race and hand the car over to McDowell in a position for him to take the team's second win of the season."

The second-place performance by Rockenfeller ensured that the No. 23 machine will start from the front row for the fourth-consecutive race. Rockenfeller's co-driver, Patrick Long, will start the VIR 400 as the team looks for their fourth-straight podium result and their second victory of the season.

"The start was pretty good," Rockenfeller said "There was a lot of water still standing on the track but everyone behaved. The number 01 car had their problems and I was able to lead more than half of the race. Towards the end the number 11 car went off in Turn 1 and came back on the track in front of me dropping mud all over the track and onto my windshield. The wiper wasn't working so great and neither was the radio. The combination had me thinking it was the last lap when there was one more to go. I've seen this happen to other drivers and you ask yourself how that can happen. Now I know."

"Mike had some tough luck in the qualifying race, but he was able to run at the front in tough conditions and we have been really good in the dry, which it is supposed to be tomorrow," Long added. "Once again I will get to start on the front row, keeping our streak alive of having the car never start worse than second."

Starting third in the VIR 400 will be Rob Finlay in the No. 5 Make A Wish/Z-Line Designs/Finlay Motorsports Ford Crawford owing to co-driver Michael Valiante's third-place result in the qualifying race. It was the best qualifying performance of Valiante's Daytona Prototype career and will be Finlay's career-best starting spot.

Jorg Bergmeister finished fourth in the No. 76 Krohn Racing Ford Riley, meaning that 17-year-old Colin Braun will start fourth in Sunday's race. Pruett's mechanical failure--which left the No. 01 machine 22nd in the final rundown--allowed the German to move back atop the unofficial Daytona Prototype driver standings. Bergmeister now leads Rockenfeller by four points, 133-129, while McDowell moved into third place with 121 points and Pruett is fourth with 120. Drivers that did not compete in the qualifying races will earn the same number of points as their qualifying-race counterparts as soon as they drive under green-flag conditions in the VIR 400.

Christian Fittipaldi completed the top five in the No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve/Cheever Racing Porsche Crawford, putting Eddie Cheever Jr. on the inside of Row 3 for Sunday's feature race. Seven different engine and chassis combinations were represented in the top-10 positions.

HENZLER WINS GT QUALIFIER TO GIVE LIDDELL POLE POSITION

No. 72 NEC Porsche GT3 driver Wolf Henzler took the lead heading into Turn 1 on the opening lap of the 30-minute GT qualifying race and led throughout to give co-driver Robin Liddell the class pole position for Sunday's VIR 400.

The qualifying race victory by the Tafel Racing driver coupled with the fact that GT points co-leader Paul Edwards encountered mechanical problems in his No. 64 TRG Pontiac GTO.R moved Henzler into the class points lead by two, 118-116, over No. 65 TRG/F1 Air Pontiac GTO.R driver Andy Lally. Henzler will be joined atop the standings by Liddell as soon as Liddell drives under green flag conditions in the VIR 400.

"Conditions were very difficult," said Henzler. "We had barely any grip in the front and no grip in the back. I went off the track in Turn 1 early in the race, but came back on just in time. There were a few laps where I could only see white behind me and I didn't know where the Pontiacs were, so I just had to drive as fast as I could. The points are great for the team."

Lally finished second to give No. 65 co-driver Marc Bunting a starting spot on the outside of the class front row, while Robert Bell finished the qualifying race third in the No. 17 SAMAX Porsche GT3, putting co-driver Ian James on the inside of Row 2. James will start alongside Jeff Altenburg in the No. 21 BMW of Towson/Gleason Financial BMW M3 thanks to a fourth-place run in the qualifying race by co-driver Joey Hand. Chris Gleason is also scheduled to drive the No. 21 machine in the VIR 400.

Charles Espenlaub made it two Tafel Racing cars in the top five with a fifth-place performance in the No. 74 Rembrandt Charms Porsche GT3. Eric Lux will be the starting driver in the No. 74 machine on Sunday.

-garra-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Paul Edwards , Eddie Cheever , Memo Gidley , Christian Fittipaldi , Scott Pruett , Colin Braun , Robin Liddell , Michael Valiante , Guy Cosmo , Ian James , Andy Lally , Jörg Bergmeister , Michael McDowell , Patrick Long , Charles Espenlaub , Chris Gleason , Jeff Altenburg , Marc Bunting , Chip Ganassi , Mike Rockenfeller , Wolf Henzler , Rob Finlay , Alex Job
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Krohn Racing , Alex Job Racing