Over the course of the past two years, just about every Rolex Sports Car Series race has come down to a struggle between two teams: Ganassi Racing, which won last year's championship, and SunTrust Racing, which seems destined to win this year's...
Over the course of the past two years, just about every Rolex Sports Car Series race has come down to a struggle between two teams: Ganassi Racing, which won last year's championship, and SunTrust Racing, which seems destined to win this year's title. Saturday's race at Watkins Glen International was no different, as SunTrust Racing's Max Angelelli held off Ganassi Racing's Scott Pruett in the closing moments to win the Crown Royal 250 by the narrowest of margins -- 0.473 seconds to be precise.
Pruett's teammate, Luis Diaz, started from the pole and led the first 11 laps. During that time, Wayne Taylor, who started the race for Angelelli, had worked his way up to third. On lap 12, Diaz and Taylor both pitted under the race's second caution. Diaz opted to remain in his Lexus Riley, but Taylor handed his Pontiac Riley over to Angelelli. The driver change allowed Diaz to beat Angelelli out of the pits, though both drivers found themselves out of the top-10 when the race went green again on lap 16.
Twenty-four laps later, Angelelli and Diaz were running second and third, respectively, when the race's fourth yellow flew. Both ducked into the pits at the same time, but quick pit work by the SunTrust squad enabled Angelelli to re-enter the race ahead of Pruett and Jorg Bergmeister, who had been the leader. Once in front, Angelelli would not relinquish the lead, fending off several challenges from Pruett and surviving a violent collision with an errant groundhog to win for the fifth time this year.
"Scott was faster than me in a couple of corners, but I couldn't really drive that hard because I had lost both of my mirrors," Angelelli explained. "I had to rely on the radio because I didn't know where he was. I was expecting him to attack me in Turn 1, but because I couldn't see him I was worried that we were going to get together. But I really pushed at the end and I had nothing left. This race was really tough from the beginning but it was important for the championship."
Indeed it was. With five wins in 12 races and two races remaining, Angelelli and Taylor now hold a commanding 39-point lead over Pruett and Diaz in the drivers' championship. "The strategy is always to be ahead of Pruett and Diaz," said Taylor. "We had a good car today and were able to make it work."
As for the groundhog: "I saw this black thing and I didn't know what it was. But when I hit it, it was a big shot. It moved the car and the steering wheel. It was a big hit. At the beginning, I was really worried for the suspension and the tires because after I hit the groundhog I thought that the tires were losing pressure. I heard a lot of noise in the car for two corners and then I picked up a little understeer, which was pretty bad."
Though the groundhog punched a sizable hole in the right front bodywork on Angelelli's car, Pruett was not able to capitalize on Angelelli's misfortune. "There were a few places where I could pull up to him (Max), but I could never really get there. This track is so fast and the turns are so fast that I would get up underneath him and I would pick up an aero push. I was looking for any opportunity to pass Max, but I wasn't just going to take him out. That's not what this is all about. We were just trying to keep the pressure on and hoping that an opportunity would come our way."
Opportunity did not come the way of Max Papis, who after taking over for Bergmeister in the No. 66 Krohn Racing/TRG Pontiac Riley, tried to pass Pruett on the outside of Turn 1. In doing so, Papis' car hopped the curb on the outside of Turn 1 and appeared to lose grip. To avoid a spin, Papis steered the car to his right, directly into the path of fourth place Butch Leitzinger's Pontiac Crawford. The ensuing contact sent the nose of Leitzinger's car flew into the air and cut Papis' right rear tire. But Papis did not know that the tire had been cut until he reached the top of the esses, three turns later. By then it was too late. The tire blew and everyone behind him tried desperately to slow down on one of the fastest portions of the track. Because some slowed quicker than others, a melee ensued. Though the track was almost completely blocked with the wrecked remains of twisted race cars, several cars managed to deftly maneuver through the carnage and emerge relatively unscathed, including the eventual GT class winner. Aside from Darren Law's sprained neck, all of drivers involved in the wreck were unharmed.
With Papis and Bergmeister out of the race, Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson were able to finish third, just ahead of the CB Motorsports Pontiac Riley of Terry Borcheller and Hugo Guenette and the Finlay Motorsports BMW Riley, co-driven by Memo Gidley and Michael Valiante.
A pair of TRG Racing Pontiac GTO.Rs swept the top two spots in the GT class, with Andy Lally and Marc Bunting taking the checkered flag .341 seconds ahead of their teammates, Jan Magnussen and Paul Edwards. The GTO.R has now won three of the last four races, but this was the first win for Lally and Bunting, who entered the race tied for fourth in the GT drivers' championship. "We just had a solid car today," explained Lally, who shared his GTO.R with Marc Bunting. "We've been capable of doing this the last few races but we've had a little bit of bad luck here and there. But today it just came together. We had a really good pit stop in the beginning and it kind of got us some position and from there it was just heads-down. We had our teammates behind us and they know we are in a point battle so I knew that they weren't going to take any unnecessary risks. But it was good."
The No. 36 TPC Racing Porsche of Randy Pobst and Spencer Pumpelly finished third in GT. Point leader Craig Stanton had to settle for a 12th place finish after being swept up in the big wreck at the top of the esses.
The race featured three lead changes among three drivers and was slowed six times for 26 laps. The Rolex Sports Car Series will return to the track on October 9 at Virginia International Raceway.