Mid-Ohio: Race report

Fernandez and Haberfeld Earn First Rolex Series Victory in EMCO Gears Classic LEXINGTON, Ohio (June 24, 2006) -- After starting last on the Daytona Prototype grid, No. 12 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Pontiac Riley co-drivers Adrian Fernandez and...

Fernandez and Haberfeld Earn First Rolex Series Victory in EMCO Gears Classic

LEXINGTON, Ohio (June 24, 2006) -- After starting last on the Daytona Prototype grid, No. 12 Lowe's Fernandez Racing Pontiac Riley co-drivers Adrian Fernandez and Mario Haberfeld drove all the way through the field to earn their first career Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve victory in Saturday's EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (SPEED, 3 p.m. ET, June 25).

The finish of the race was marred by a frightening crash involving No. 21 Matt Connolly Motorsports BMW M3 driver Joey Hand and the No. 64 TRG Pontiac GTO.R of Paul Edwards. While battling for the GT class lead on Lap 97, Edwards made contact with the rear of Hand's car along the back straightaway, forcing the No. 21 machine off-course and into a series of end-over-end flips.

Hand was awake and alert following the incident and was transported to nearby MedCentral/Mansfield Hospital. The driver never lost consciousness and underwent a series of tests, but did not complain of any injuries. Precautionary x-rays were negative, while results of a CAT-scan were still pending. Hand remained hospitalized as of 11:15 p.m. ET. Edwards was able to continue on course following the incident and was not injured.

Getting back to the Daytona Prototype race, the No. 12 machine--in which Haberfeld originally turned the third-fastest time in Friday's qualifying session--was moved to the rear of the grid when post-qualifying technical inspection revealed that the car was too wide. Adding further insult to injury, the car did not take its position on the starting grid, as the team battled an electrical problem with the cool-suit mechanism in the car. As a result, Haberfeld joined the field at the end of the second pace lap.

From there, however, Haberfeld carefully worked his way up in the running order before turning the car over to Fernandez in a pit stop under caution on Lap 41. As teams adopted significantly different pit strategies, the one used by the Lowe's Fernandez team proved to make the difference in the race. Fernandez claimed the lead from Jon Fogarty, when Fogarty brought the No. 99 GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing Pontiac Riley onto pit road for its final stop of the evening under another full-course caution on Lap 72.

From that point on, Fernandez would not be challenged and the owner/driver went on to record the victory for his first-year team. It was Fernandez's second major race victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, as the Mexican also won a CART Champ Car event at the facility in 1998. It was Fernandez's first feature race victory in Rolex Series competition, although he did win the qualifying race for the GAINSCO Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway in May.

"I'm so proud of this whole team," said Fernandez. "We made some changes on the car this morning to help our setup in the dry conditions, but we've been fast all weekend. Our restarts were very strong and our tires held up. We had to take a chance on the fuel, but luckily, it worked out. The competition is real strong here, and I'm glad to get the first win here for Lowe's and the whole team."

Fernandez and Haberfeld became the sixth different set of teammates to win in nine Rolex Series feature races this season, and were the fifth different winners in the past five events. The Rolex Series record for most different winners in a single season was seven, established last year.

"It's good to get a win here," said Haberfeld. "We know we had a quick car, and we got the yellows that we needed. It's great to finally get the first Rolex Series win for Lowe's."

Like the No. 12 team, the No. 76 Krohn Racing Ford Riley team of Colin Braun and points leader Jorg Bergmeister also started from the rear of the grid for the same post-qualifying penalty. Braun--who turned in the fastest time in Friday qualifying--started 25th as a result of the penalty. Braun quickly worked his way through the field as well, moving into the top 10 on Lap 12 of what would be a 99-lap event.

The No. 76 machine was a fixture in the top 10 from that point on. Braun turned the car over to Bergmeister in a pit stop under caution on Lap 41, and the German ran among the leaders for the rest of the event before finishing second. It was Bergmeister's second-consecutive top-two result, as he co-drove to victory in the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen three weeks ago with Boris Said, and the performance allowed him to extend his lead in the Daytona Prototype driver standings to 26 points, 323-297, over No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley co-drivers Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz, with nine of 14 races now in the books.

"The guys did an awesome job on the pit stop when I took over from Colin," said Bergmeister. "The strategy was good, even though I had to save on fuel a little bit. The (No.) 12 car risked the strategy a little more, and it worked out good for them."

It was the third podium result of the season for Braun, who also finished second in the Mexico City 250 in March and third in the Road & Track 250 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last month. The 17-year-old driver did not compete in Round 3 at Homestead-Miami Speedway or Round 8 at Watkins Glen International.

"I had a pretty good first stint," said Braun. "I was very cautious moving up through the traffic because I knew Jorg would be mad if there was anything wrong with the car. The car kept getting better and better during the long run. It was just real good all weekend."

Fogarty, who led a race-high total of 31 laps in the No. 99 machine, and co-driver Alex Gurney, came home third. It was the second-consecutive podium result for the No. 99 duo, as Gurney and Fogarty also finished second in the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen. It was also their third podium result in the last four races dating to a second-place run in the Road & Track 250 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Jan Magnussen led 15 laps in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley and combined with co-driver Max Angelelli to earn a fourth-place result. It was the fifth-consecutive top-four performance for Angelelli--the defending Daytona Prototype co-champion--and the No. 10 team. The Mid-Ohio result moved Angelelli into fourth place in the Daytona Prototype driver standings, and he trails second-place Pruett and Diaz by just three points.

Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace completed the top five with a fifth-place outing in the No. 4 The Boss Snowplow Pontiac Crawford. It was the third-straight top-five performance at Mid-Ohio for the Howard-Boss Motorsports team, following a victory by Leitzinger and Elliott Forbes-Robinson last year and a second-place result by Wallace and Milka Duno in 2004.

TAFEL RACING DUO SCORES GT CLASS WIN AT MID-OHIO AFTER LATE-RACE DRAMA

In a race that saw numerous lead changes and tight nose-to-tail racing, a Lap 97 incident that left the race leader end-over-end on the back straightaway and the No. 72 NEC Porsche GT3 in the lead gave Tafel Racing co-drivers Wolf Henzler and Robin Liddell the GT class victory in Saturday's EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank.

With only a few laps remaining in the two-hour and 45-minute timed event, class leader Joey Hand--in the No. 21 Matt Connolly Motorsports BMW M3--was being pursued closely by No. 64 TRG/iRise Pontiac GTO.R and Henzler in the No. 72 machine. The No. 64 machine made contact with the right-rear of Hand's car, sending the No. 21 BMW into the grass and along for a wild ride, flipping end-over-end numerous times before coming to rest on its roof near the outside retaining wall.

The incident allowed Liddell to pass both machines as the full-course caution came out, and the Scot was the first GT car to cross the finish line as the race ended under full-course caution. It was the second-consecutive victory for the No. 72 team, as Henzler and Liddell were victorious earlier this month in the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen. It is the third victory of the season for both Liddell and Henzler, who scored their first win of the season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last month.

"This win isn't nearly as exciting as the one at Watkins Glen," said Liddell. "As a driver, you never want to win because of an accident. In one way, I was looking for opportunities to pass either car, but on the other hand, I had to be patient for a potential mistake. It was definitely getting real tense out there, as we were nose-to-tail for a while. I just hope that Joey is OK. He drove a great race."

Henzler qualified the machine second on the class grid, and pressured polesitter Hand throughout the opening stint, eventually passing him for the lead on Lap 5. The German pitted for the final time on Lap 77 and handed the No. 72 car over to Liddell with the lead.

"I must say that this is not a very good way to win a race," said Henzler. "The team did a good job as always, and they had a very good car for us. It's definitely not the way a driver wants to win a race, and I just hope that Joey is all right, and comes back real soon."

Edwards and co-driver Kelly Collins wound up second for their seventh podium finish in the last eight feature races. Collins started the No. 64 machine sixth in class, but quickly worked his way up to the front during his stint. Edwards took over on Lap 43, and drove in the lead pack throughout his final stint.

"Coming out of the Keyhole, Hand had a bad run coming out," said Edwards. "I was up alongside about halfway up his car and he kept coming across. The track ran out and I was off the gas but we touched and he went a bit sideways. He went in to the grass and hit a huge dip and launched. I watched the whole thing in my mirror with a sinking feeling."

"Truthfully, aside from the incident that happened which we don't know a whole lot about, we had a good car and we're happy to be on the podium again," added teammate Collins. "Sometimes there's contact and sometimes there's not, sometimes there's unavoidable contact and we can't judge that right now. As far as the performance by the Pontiac, I think that we were doing a great job. Paul did a fantastic job and I did my job to get the car where it needed to be. All three cars were fighting very violently for the lead and when they're going that tight and that fast, sometimes bad things happen. It's unfortunate, but it's a dangerous sport and everyone kind of takes everything for granted. I just hope Joey's okay."

Points co-leaders Andy Lally and Marc Bunting wound up third in the No. 65 TRG/F1 Air Pontiac GTO.R for their sixth-straight top-four finish. Bunting started the machine fifth, but an untimely caution during the race's midpoint caught the team a lap down to the lead pack. Lally maintained the pace of the leaders throughout the race's final hour, and brought the car home with a five-point lead for himself and Bunting over Liddell and Henzler in the GT driver standings (372-367) with nine of 13 races now complete.

Dave Lacey and Greg Wilkins finished fourth in the No. 17 Minestar Solutions/Tim Horton's/ SAMAX Porsche GT3, the duo's best class finish of the season. The tandem's previous best result of the year was seventh, coming in Round 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Leighton Reese and Tim Gaffney finished fifth in the No. 06 Banner Engineering Chevrolet Corvette.

NOTEBOOK

It was a tough weekend for a pair of former Daytona Prototype points leaders, as No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team Porsche Crawford teammates Mike Rockenfeller and Patrick Long and No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley co-drivers Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz finished 21st and 22nd, respectively. Long started the race from the pole position and led during the race's opening laps, but battery issues on the No. 23 machine put the team in the pits for a lengthy period before Rockenfeller could take to the track. Diaz started the No. 01 car 26th after post-qualifying technical inspection revealed that the front-end was too wide, but quickly moved up in the running order before handing off to Pruett. Pruett was running sixth when he collected a spinning No. 8 GlycoMax Porsche Doran of Burt Frisselle in Turn 9. Frisselle's spin was precipitated by contact from behind by Hoover Orsi in the No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve Porsche Crawford. Frisselle spun across the track and into Pruett. The No. 39 Porsche wound up 19th in class, and the No. 8 Porsche finished 22nd... Mid-Ohio proved to be a strong track for Pontiac-powered Daytona Prototypes, as five of the first six finishers used that powerplant. No. 89 Team Vonage/Playboy/Palms Casino co-drivers Alex Figge and Ryan Dalziel finished sixth, earning their third straight top-10 finish. The results moved Pontiac to within two points of Lexus in the Daytona Prototype engine manufacturer point standings (362-360), and widened the gap to third-place Ford to 12 points. Additionally, Riley extended its lead in the chassis constructor championship standings, now 42 points (402-360) over Crawford. In GT, Pontiac still leads Porsche in the manufacturer points chase by a margin of 18 markers (403-385).

-garra-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Andy Wallace , Milka Duno , Alex Gurney , Ryan Dalziel , Paul Edwards , Mario Haberfeld , Jan Magnussen , Butch Leitzinger , Boris Said , Adrian Fernandez , Scott Pruett , Robin Liddell , Hoover Orsi , Joey Hand , Elliott Forbes-Robinson , Kelly Collins , Leighton Reese , Luis Diaz , Andy Lally , Jörg Bergmeister , Max Angelelli , Patrick Long , Alex Figge , Burt Frisselle , Tim Gaffney , Dave Lacey , Greg Wilkins , Marc Bunting , Chip Ganassi , Matt Connolly , Mike Rockenfeller , Wolf Henzler
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing , Krohn Racing