By Pat Jennings, Sportscar series reporter
- Pruettt & Rojas take third consecutive win in 2011
- Heartbreak for Spirit of Daytona team
- GT victory to Turner Motorsport
BMWs sweep Rolex Series in Birmingham
With about an hour remaining in Saturday's Porsche 250 Rolex Sports Car Series race at Barber Motorsports Park, it looked like the upstart No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Chevrolet Coyote of Antonio Garcia and Paul Edwards was going to snap Ganassi Racing's five-race win streak. Pole sitter Garcia had led 38 of the first 58 laps and amassed a sizable lead over the Ganassi BMW Riley before handing the car over to Edwards on lap 59.
But within a few laps of getting into the car, Edwards began experiencing engine problems. Those problems allowed Ganassi's Scott Pruett to recover the time his teammate, Memo Rojas, had lost to Garcia earlier in the race. Pruett assumed the lead on lap 78 after passing Burt Frisselle, who was out of sequence with the leaders, and held it until the checkered flag on lap 104.
"The 90 car had everybody covered today," admitted Pruett after the race. "There was no question about it. You never know how it's going to play out, but they were certainly in the cat bird's seat this weekend."
The Ganassi team has won all three Rolex Series races this season and six in a row dating back to last year. However, Pruett says he does not think about the streak. "You look at all of these statistics . . . , but you never get caught up in thinking about that stuff - especially this time of year. We're only three races in and there's a lot of racing left."
We're only three races in and there's a lot of racing left.
Pruett and Rojas now hold a 25-point lead over five Action Express drivers in the Daytona Prototype drivers' championship.
Nursing a broken right rear pushrod, the Gainsco Bob Stallings Chevrolet Riley shared by Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty crossed the finish line in second, almost 29 seconds behind Pruett, giving the team its first podium finish of the year. Ryan Dalziel and Mike Forest came home third in the Starworks Motorsport Ford Riley, nine seconds behind Gurney. The final top- five finishing positions went to the AIM Autosport BMW Riley and the No. 5 Action Express Porsche Riley.
The Spirit of Daytona car limped home in ninth, a lap behind Pruett. The SunTrust Chevrolet Dallara finished 23rd after losing a wheel on lap 27.
Tire management was a key issue during the race as the series' new Continental tires had never been raced in air temperatures approaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, the Rolex Series was sharing the track this weekend with the IndyCar Series, which races on Firestone tires. "We're all trying to find the best chassis set up for the tires, how to get the best durability out of the tires, and how to get the best longevity out of the tires," explained Pruett. "It's a whole new game for us this season with the tires."
In the GT class, Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana won for the second time in two races in the Turner Motorsport BMW M3, which raced with 200 fewer RPMs due to a recent rules change by Rolex Series officials. "The car handled great the whole time - from beginning to end," said Auberlen. "I like the new Continental tires a lot because they really suit our car."
The Turner car qualified 11th in GT, but Auberlen did not attribute that to the reduction in RPMs because the Barber track places an emphasis on handling rather than horsepower. He said the loss of RPMs will manifest itself at tracks with longer straights and those that place a premium on horsepower.
Auberlen and Dalla Lana now hold a two-point lead over Craig Stanton and John Potter in the GT drivers' standings. Stanton and Potter finished fifth in the Magnus Racing Porsche.
Balked in the closing laps by the No. 40 Dempsey Racing Mazda, the Banner Racing Chevrolet Camaro GT.R of Oliver Gavin and Gunter Schaldach finished second in GT, followed by the SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 driven by Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito.
"The 40 car was quick in all the wrong places for me . . . and he just wasn't getting out of my way," said Gavin. "I must have been behind him for 10 laps and that cost me any chance I had of catching Bill."
The race featured three cautions for 16 laps and seven lead changes among seven cars and seven drivers.
The next Rolex Series race is Saturday, May 14th at the Virginia International Raceway.