EXTRA STOP DROPS DIAZ FROM CONTENTION; WAGNER/JOHNASSON MARCH TO FOURTH IN MEXICO CITY MEXICO CITY (November 6, 2005) -- The Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates duos of Scott Pruett/Luis Diaz and Cort Wagner/Stefan Johansson secured third...
EXTRA STOP DROPS DIAZ FROM CONTENTION; WAGNER/JOHNASSON MARCH TO FOURTH IN MEXICO CITY
MEXICO CITY (November 6, 2005) -- The Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates duos of Scott Pruett/Luis Diaz and Cort Wagner/Stefan Johansson secured third and fourth-place finishes, respectively, in the Rolex Sports Car Series finale at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, Mexico. Diaz, the most sought-after driver in the Grand American paddock, had to make a final stop for fuel on Lap 74 of 90 that pitted him out of the lead and dropped the local favorite to a podium finish of third. Wagner and Johansson quietly made their way up through the Daytona Prototype pack to finish fourth after a post qualifying engine swap pinned the no.02 TELMEX Lexus-Riley to a 19th place gridding position.
The two biggest challenges facing defending series champion Pruett from the start were; 1) overcoming the lingering effects of his IROC crash at Atlanta the previous weekend, and 2) getting the no.01 TELMEX Lexus-Riley to the front from his second-place starting position in order to put Diaz in the best possible position to top the podium.
Pruett delivered-- as he's often times done over a stellar multidisciplinary career that recently garnered the Ganassi pilot IROC's all-time 'Legends of Victory Lane Award' with the likes of Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt and Steve Kinser. With a carbon fiber shoe-plate cut from CGRFS' Mitch Davis experienced hands, Pruett padded his fractured and bruised left foot and immediately went four-wide as the DP's fanned out to start the inaugural event. With his foot firmly in it, the cagey veteran emerged from the first-turn circus show unscathed, coming out in arrears of the front-running no.66 Racing machine.
Pruett was the benefactor of a stop-and-go penalty issued to the no.66 for jumping the start, and vaulted into the lead on Lap 1 as the festive Mexican faithful cheered with approval. The Californian held the spot at the top of the timing sheets over the polesitting no.19 car until Lap 40, when he brought the light-blue TELMEX car down pit lane for four Hoosier Tires, a full load of fuel and the only driver change of the afternoon.
Upon exiting the car, Pruett hopped the pit wall and immediately shed Davis' aforementioned makeshift carbon fiber shoe fitting. With a sigh of relief, he expressed his pleasure about the 500hp Lexus-powered prototype.
"The car is fast, and the race setup the Ganassi guys went with is just awesome," said Pruett. "The car is in one piece and it's got a high level of drivability, so Luis has everything he needs to get to the end I think.
Traffic was a bit of an issue at times, but I managed to keep my nose clean in the stint and didn't put a scratch on her. My foot was bothering me, but it just forces you to dig a little deeper."
Diaz took the helm, but the team grimaced as superior fuel mileage allowed a number of the frontrunners to extend their fuel window, thus increasing the chances of a one-stop race.
As the pit stop cycle came full circle, the Mexican had reemerged as the leader on Lap 48, but with that came the reports from the cockpit that the engine had a slight misfire. Team Manager Tim Keene instructed Diaz to ditch the traction control in an effort to neutralize the problem, and the team motored on until the no.19 car passed them for the point on Lap 55. Diaz was able to gather it up, and with the contingent of Mexican fans on hand fueling his competitive appetite, stormed back by the no.19 car on Lap 59 to regain the point.
Knowing full well the no.01 TELMEX car had to pit to make it to the 90-lap mark, the team radioed to Diaz to go full-rich on fuel in an attempt to build up a gap that would keep the competition at bay. The Mexican pilot responded, and on Lap 69 dug deep to post his fastest lap of the race with a scorching 1:45.861orbit of the 17-turn layout. But in the end, the gap would only amount to just over four seconds, and when the team pitted for the final time on Lap 74 for fuel, Diaz dropped to his eventual finishing position of third.
"I thought we had the car to beat today for sure," said Diaz of his eighth podium finish of 2005. "We were in a position to win, and Scott did everything in his power to get me the opportunity. Third place is okay, but we had our sights set on finishing up front knowing that the championship battle was decided. I want to thank Chip Ganassi Racing for another great season, and I look forward to coming back to Mexico again next year and hopefully getting the win."
The team's second entry experienced a less dramatic race, but nonetheless turned in an impressive showing in which the no.02 TELMEX Lexus-Riley put no less than 14 Daytona Prototypes in their rearview en route to the team's sixth top-five finish of the 2005 campaign.
Wagner started the race dubbed 'La Gran Final de la Serie Rolex Sports Car' on the 2.786-mile track, and was able to pick and choose his spots. After dodging the lesser horsepower GT machines and capitalizing on a driving style that extended fuel mileage, the 2002-2003 Rolex Series GT titlewinner passed off the driver duties to his Swedish teammate on Lap 44, securely in fourth position.
"The car was great from the start, and it became evident early that making the engine change after qualifying was the right thing to do," said Wagner. "I was able to crawl up and grab spot after spot, but the thing that kept me charging was [team owner] Chip [Ganassi's] voice in my head telling me we needed a TELMEX car at the front! I managed to get the fuel mileage I thought I could based on my conservative driving style, and Stefan basically took it from there."
Johansson's put the finishing touches on the drive in a peculiar race which saw no caution periods over the 90-lap race distance. With no real threats for position through the majority of his stint, he was able to drive his style of race and keep the car in fourth until the checkered flag flew.
"I think this is the first time in my sports car career that an entire race went caution-free," said Johansson. "The car became a bit loose near the end and we had the no.4 car breathing down our neck. Cort had one of his better drives of the season, and did a super job coming from the back to get us to fourth. Considering the circumstances, I think the whole team did an outstanding job, and we kept up the pace of the lead guys. That's all you can ask for, really."
With the third and fourth place finishes, the no.01 and no.02 Ganassi-prepared cars finished the season-long Rolex Sports Cars Series team championship race in second and fifth, respectively.
Fans of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates can follow the team's off-season sports car activity by logging onto the official website at www.chipganassiracing.com for news, features, photos and much more. Next up for the Rolex Series is Daytona Test Days, January 4 - 7, 2006 at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the 44th Annual Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 26 - 29, 2006.