Daytona 24: SAMAX Motorsport race report

Second-place Finish for the CITGO/SAMAX Motorsport Pontiac Riley at Daytona Sunday January 28, 2007. - Las Vegas resident Patrick Carpentier, Milka Duno, from Caracas, Venezuela, English driver Darren Manning and Scotland's Ryan Dalziel raced...

Second-place Finish for the CITGO/SAMAX Motorsport Pontiac Riley at Daytona

Sunday January 28, 2007. - Las Vegas resident Patrick Carpentier, Milka Duno, from Caracas, Venezuela, English driver Darren Manning and Scotland's Ryan Dalziel raced the #11 CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley to second place at the conclusion of the 45th edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Sunday. The SAMAX Daytona Prototype (DP) was down three laps at one point of the race but had rallied back by sun up to challenge and lead the eventual race winning Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley driven by Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya and Salvador Duran. The top two cars completed 667 laps around the 3.56-mile (5.73 Km) Daytona International Speedway road course in 24 hours. Third-place, two laps down, went to the Sun Trust Pontiac Riley driven by Max Angelelli, Jeff Gordon, Jan Magnussen and team owner Wayne Taylor.

SAMAX Motorsport also placed a second car in the top six with the #7 SAMAX Pontiac Riley, driven by Tomas Enge, of the Czech Republic, Chris Festa, of Atlanta, Georgia, Roger Yasukawa of West Hollywood, California, Christian Montanari, of the Republic of San Marino and Kris Szekeres of Hartland, Michigan. Starting 28th and last of the DP cars after it went off track during the first qualifying on Thursday, the car gained 22 positions in the race, the most for a DP car, to finish a well deserved sixth place overall in the opening round of the Grand-American Rolex Sports Car Series 2007 season.

"I'm really proud of the team, the drivers and everybody involved with both cars," said team owner Peter Baron. "The CITGO car ran perfect and there was only a minor mechanical gear problem on the #7 SAMAX car. No other team with multiple DP cars came close to what we have achieved over the last 24 hours."

The race was red flagged at the halfway point following an incident caused by the GT Porsche #82. The crash took out part of the guardrail in Turn 1 near pit out. Because of safety issues, race officials had to bring in heavy equipment to repair the fence. It was only the third time in the 24-Hour history that the race had been red-flagged.

Starting fifth, Carpentier handed the #11 CITGO/SAMAX Pontiac Riley to Manning in seventh place after two hours. For the next 15 hours, the team, also relayed by Duno and Dalziel, fought their way back from 12th place, at one point, to leading the race four times during 33 laps. The stage was set to challenge the Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya and Salvador Duran, which had led most of the race (329 laps) by daybreak. The midnight rain had stopped and the track dried up but as the sun was about to rise, the skies opened up and it came pouring down, monsoon like. Carpentier and Manning led 24 of the next 35 laps, mostly under caution between 6 and 8:00 a.m. When the green fell again, Manning started to put pressure on the Lexus of Duran who had moved into the lead. An hour later on lap 520, Montoya took over from Duran and went out on wet tires, while Manning, who came in at the same time, changed to slick tires before leaving. Manning retook the lead when Montoya had to pit again, this time for slicks on lap 531.

Both cars came back to the pits on lap 541 with Dalziel taking over from Manning while Montoya only took fuel and tires. Then the race for the lead was on with Montoya chasing Dalziel on lap 546 with more than three hours to go. The Sun Trust Pontiac Riley of Italian Max Angelelli now joined the leading duo, in third place. A three-car chase to the finish was on. Angelelli, whose car had been five laps down some time in the race, went by Montoya on lap 558 when the Columbian slightly drove off track. Angelelli then put pressure on Dalziel and chased him for 16 laps until the latter pitted for fuel and tires. Angelelli pitted on the next lap and drove out behind Dalziel who was now chasing race leader Montoya who had pitted on lap 575.

After a double stint, Dalziel relayed the CITGO/SAMAX car to Carpentier on lap 610 with 100 minutes to go. Angelelli pitted next and handed over the Sun Trust car to Jan Magnussen who rejoined the race in third place behind Carpentier. Montoya was the last of the leading trio to pit, and Pruett took over the Ganassi machine on lap 614. With one hour to go (lap 632) Carpentier came into the pits for a routine stop. During the stop, the SAMAX team checked the car to see if there was any damage to the car's front bumper following contact with a GT class Corvette. After a quick check, the team sent him back in third place. Five laps later, it was Magnussen in, followed by Pruett one lap later. On lap 647, Pruett led Carpentier by 32 seconds and Magnussen was now down two laps after a lengthy stop to bleed the brakes. The early last pit stop by Carpentier meant that he had to save fuel in order to rally the finish line without stopping again.

"The team is really happy with the finish, SAMAX's best-ever result at the Daytona 24 Hours," said Carpentier. "It's a bit disappointing that I made contact with a GT class Corvette while trying to pass him near the end of the race. This forced me to pit earlier and then I could not mount a charge on race leader (Scott) Pruett because I had to save fuel. Up to that point, we had been very lucky. Every driver on the team did well while they were on track. During the middle of the night stint, Milka (Duno) handed the car to Ryan (Dalziel) in second place. This was a team effort and it's a great way to start the season."

Following the race, Grand-Am officials have confirmed that Milka Duno's second place finish in Sunday's race was the highest finish by a female driver in the event's 45-year history.

"Our second place finish today is certainly one of the highlights of my racing career so far," said Duno. "It was a complete team effort from start to finish and I can't thank my teammates Patrick, Darren and Ryan enough - or the incredible performance of the entire CITGO Racing team and SAMAX Motorsports. While I am very proud and honored to be the highest finishing female driver ever in such a legendary race - I am most proud and thankful of my co-drivers and crew for their spectacular performance and our great effort together as a team!"

As for Darren Manning, he drove a superb race to keep the CITGO/SAMAX car in the hunt during the night and later in the morning took over the lead before handing his car to Dalziel.

"We had a great battle with the Ganassi team drivers for the first 18 hours, and with one quarter of the race to go, it turned out to be a sprint race to the finish," said Manning after his final stint in the car. "We went down a few laps during the night but we came back to lead the race in the morning.

"It was a tough battle but we're happy to finish second," continued Manning after the race. "I will now go and spray champagne on the head of my former boss Chip Ganassi, who unfortunately beat us today."

On his first stint on late Saturday afternoon, Ryan Dalziel inherited the car in ninth place and two hours later, he handed a third placed car to Patrick Carpentier. He also ran a strong race in the middle of the night after taking over from Milka Duno.

"This was a phenomenal race and I would like to thank everyone on the team for a great job," said Dalziel who led the race for 35 laps in the morning, the longest stretch for the CITGO car. "There was a lot of pressure put on me from my hero Juan Pablo Montoya when I was leading the race during my late morning stint, but I blocked it out. This an amazing team and the CITGO crew did a great job."

The #7 SAMAX Pontiac Riley started 28th and last of the DP cars after the team decided to stay out of the second session in order to spend more time to repair and prepare the prototype for the race. Tomas Enge had a great start and the car was up to tenth 90 minutes later. Then, problems started to annoy the #7 car after the Czech driver handed it over to Festa. He was punted off track by a GT class Porsche and had to come in to change the nose of the car, losing three laps in the process and slid down to 17th. By early morning, they were back in sixth place. After the rain eased up around 8:30 a.m., Enge started to push to reduce the two-lap gap to the leaders.

An hour later (on the leader's lap 532) Enge was fourth, one lap down, before he handed his seat to Festa who went out back in sixth place, three laps down. Festa moved the #7 SAMAX car to fifth when Memo Rojas crashed the second Ganassi entry on lap 546. At that point, the 20-year old Festa enjoyed a five-lap lead over Canadian David Empringham in the AIM Motorsport Lexus Riley. Yasukawa took over from Festa with two hours to go, and entered the pits six laps down. The team repaired 4th gear before handing the car back to Enge for the last hour of the race. Enge was now seventh, 13 laps down. By the leaders' lap 662, Enge had passed the Ford Doran of Californian Memo Gidley, for sixth place. The Czech driver completed 655 laps and edged Gidley by 1.5 seconds.

"You need luck to finish and win this race," said car #7 chief engineer Travis Lowe. "If it does not go your way, you can't win. We lost too many positions to repair the car too many times to hope to win this thing. During the middle of the night while the rain was heavy, both (Tomas) Enge and (Chris) Festa were running some of the fastest laps in the wet and made up some of the positions we had lost earlier. Overall, we did great considering we gained 22 spots in the race, the most by any team."

Daytona Prototypes drivers and teams will enjoy the month of February off before the 400 km round 2 of the 14-race Grand-American Rolex Sports Car Series 2007 Daytona Prototype schedule to be held the weekend of March 1st - 3rd at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

-credit: samax motorsport

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing