Negri and Patterson Score First Victory; Bergmeister Takes Championship in Discount Tire Sunchaser TOOELE, Utah (September 2, 2006) -- In a breathtaking final hour of racing in the season-ending Discount Tire Sunchaser at Miller...
Negri and Patterson Score First Victory; Bergmeister Takes Championship in Discount Tire Sunchaser
TOOELE, Utah (September 2, 2006) -- In a breathtaking final hour of racing in the season-ending Discount Tire Sunchaser at Miller Motorsports Park, Oswaldo Negri Jr. held off a hard-charging Michael McDowell to score the first Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve victory for himself and co-driver Mark Patterson, while German driver Jorg Bergmeister wrapped-up his first Daytona Prototype driver championship with a sixth-place performance.
Driving the No. 60 Flight Options/Net App Lexus Riley, Negri claimed the lead when he beat Michael McDowell in the No. 19 Playboy/Uniden Racing Ford Crawford off pit road following the final pit stop of the evening for both cars with just over one hour remaining. Negri withstood several challenges from McDowell over the final hour of the race, but the Brazilian managed to keep McDowell at bay to win by 2.94 seconds. The victory comes in Negri's 35th career Rolex Series start.
"It's absolutely fantastic," said Negri. "Mark did a great job to keep us in contention up front during his stints, and we also had a great last pit stop. (Team owner) Mike Shank has put together an unbelievable team and the support we get from Lexus is fantastic. I just want to thank my wife and kids and everyone who has had to put up with all the sacrifices we have to make to do this, but winning a race like this makes everything worth it. I'm just so happy I can't believe it."
While many teams elected to use three drivers for the nine-hour marathon, Michael Shank Racing opted to run just Negri and Patterson. That would prove to be an advantage on the final pit stop, where Negri stayed in the car while the Playboy/Uniden team replaced Memo Gidley with McDowell in the No. 19 machine for the final charge to the finish.
It was Patterson's third career Rolex Series podium result and his first since the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, where Patterson co-drove to a second-place result with Negri and Champ Car World Series stars A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson. The victory also clinched the first Daytona Prototype engine manufacturer's championship for Lexus, and Patterson also claimed the 2006 Jim Trueman Award for the top sportsman driver in the Daytona Prototype class.
"Many thanks to Lexus, Flight Options and to Mike Shank, he runs an absolutely fabulous team," said Patterson. "It's amazing to be on the top step of the podium. The realization that we've won this race hasn't even begun to sink in. Oz did an amazing job today and all season, and all credit goes to him and Mike Shank. We started the season off on the podium, and it's great to go one better to finish the season."
As Negri, Patterson and the entire Michael Shank Racing team celebrated their maiden victory in Rolex Series competition, Bergmeister and his No. 76 Krohn Racing Ford Riley teammates uncorked their own celebration in honor of the German's first Daytona Prototype driver championship. After entering the race with a 19-point advantage in the driver standings over No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley co-drivers Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz, Bergmeister only needed a solid performance to take home the title.
Although neither he nor his No. 76 co-drivers Nic Jonsson and Colin Braun ever challenged for the race victory, Bergmeister's title hopes were never in danger. The car ran comfortably inside the top 10 positions throughout the race, and Bergmeister drove the car across the stripe to win the championship by 16 points, 462-446, over Pruett and Diaz. Bergmeister finished inside the top nine in all 14 feature races this season in taking the crown.
"I was really happy when it was over," Bergmeister said. "The whole team did an excellent job all year long. We always finished. That's a great effort for the team, especially with all of the long races we've run. All of my teammates did super, super well. Especially today, Colin and Nic did a great job with making no mistakes. I can't thank them enough. I have had many teammates this year and they all did good for the team. I've run with Boris (Said) and Max (Papis) and have been able to stay in the top nine of every race."
For McDowell, Gidley and their No. 19 co-driver, Guy Cosmo, the second-place result was a season-best. It was also the best result for McDowell and Gidley since they earned their first victory in the 2005 season finale at Mexico City. The result was all the more impressive given the fact that all three drivers had to battle a power steering failure in the first third of the race.
"It was a great battle with Oz," McDowell said. "I thought it (passing for the lead) could happen for a while. The Playboy/Uniden car was great. Memo and Guy did the legwork and I was able to finish it out."
"It's a great result," Gidley added. "A nine-hour race is tough and when the power steering went out, I felt like pulling over and making a career change. I'm stoked to finish second. Let's go party!"
"It's an honor for me to driver for this team and with two outstanding drivers," contributed Cosmo. "They are great and I look up to them."
In the closing minutes of the race and under total darkness, No. 4 The Boss Snowplow Pontiac Crawford driver Butch Leitzinger--who missed Thursday's night practice session--fought past Pruett to take the final position on the podium. It was the second-consecutive podium result for Leitzinger and co-driver Andy Wallace, following a second-place outing last weekend at Infineon Raceway.
Pruett, Diaz and 2003 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon combined to lead 52 laps on their way to a fourth-place result. The performance was enough to clinch the second Daytona Prototype team championship in three years for the No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley organization. Mike Borkowski and Burt and Brian Frisselle capped a banner night for Michael Shank Racing as they brought the No. 6 Playboy/Mears Motor Coach Lexus Riley home to a fifth-place result.
Defending Daytona Prototype co-champion Max Angelelli combined with his car owner and co-champion Wayne Taylor and open-wheel standout Ryan Hunter-Reay to lead a race-high 53 laps in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley. However, electrical problems ruined their bid midway through the race and left the No. 10 trio 14th in the final rundown. As a result, Angelelli finished third in the Daytona Prototype driver standings.
All of the 2006 Rolex Series champions will be honored in the Rolex Champions Banquet on Monday night at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on Monday evening.
LALLY & BUNTING TAKE GT CLASS TITLE WITH SEASON-ENDING WIN IN UTAH
Andy Lally and Marc Bunting clinched the 2006 Rolex Series GT class championship Saturday night at Miller Motorsports Park after scoring their class-best fifth victory of the season alongside Spencer Pumpelly in the No. 65 TRG Pontiac GTO.R.
Lally inherited the lead on Lap 130 when class leader Robin Liddell was forced down pit road with a brake problem on his No. 72 NEC Porsche GT3, and led the rest of the way in the 174-lap event. The TRG crew completed flawless stops throughout the nine-hour season finale, and the win marks the first GT class championships for Bunting and Lally--the 2004 SGS class champions. Bunting and Lally came up one point short in their bid to win the GT driver title in 2005.
"Everything that happened last year was motivation for this year," said Lally. "It was a pleasure to be part of this team and this championship. (Team owner) Kevin (Buckler) has kept us focused throughout the year, and the whole TRG team rallied for the cause. It was a complete team effort."
Lally qualified the No. 65 machine on the outside of the front row, but fell back to third early on. After stints by Bunting and Pumpelly throughout the middle portion of the race, Lally climbed back in the cockpit for the finish. In addition to clinching the GT driver title for themselves and the team championship for the No. 65 TRG team, the Discount Tire Sunchaser performance also brought Pontiac its first GT manufacturer's title and Bunting the 2006 Bob Akin Award for the top-performance sportsman driver in the GT class.
"To be here after being so close last year just makes it sweeter," said Bunting. "We were consistent all year long and didn't have any problems. I just want to thank all the guys at TRG for all the hard work they've done all season. This is for them."
"I just want to say thanks to everyone on the team and congratulations to Mark and Andy on winning the championship," Pumpelly added. "I also need to thank Kevin for giving me this opportunity today. It feels sweet to get a win with this team."
Liddell and co-drivers Wolf Henzler and Andrew Davis finished second in the No. 72 machine for the car's eighth podium finish of the season. In 13 races, the Tafel Racing Porsche never finished lower than sixth and scored victories at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen International, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and last weekend at Infineon Raceway.
"I'm just disappointed," said Liddell. "I can't help but be disappointed. I should be happy to be on the podium but second is not enough to make me happy today. Andy and Marc have been great competitors all season, and I want to congratulate them on their championship. We've been the strongest Porsche all season and I can't thank the team enough for the successes we've had. It's just disappointing to come up a bit short."
Henzler started the No. 72 Porsche on the pole and led throughout his opening stint, building a comfortable lead in the process. As the hours wore on, the No. 72 machine's lead grew to more than one lap on the rest of the class field. With roughly two hours remaining, however, the brake problems spoiled any chance of victory.
"We got off to a great start, and then had a problem with the brakes in the seventh hour," said Henzler. Unfortunately, it was a nine-hour race. We got a stop-and-go penalty that put us back to fourth but, in the end, we finished second. The team has been strong all year and even though we didn't win the championship, I believe the whole team did a great job."
"It's a great honor to be here with these two guys," said Davis. "It meant a lot to me to be in the (No.) 72 car today. For me, it's nice to share the podium with these drivers. The Tafel guys have worked hard all year and this is a solid way to end the season."
Tommy Kendall, Gene Sigal and Peter MacLeod finished third in the No. 05 Sigalsport Pontiac GTO.R, the team's best finish of the season. Kendall started the machine fourth and all three pilots avoided major trouble throughout the nine-hour endurance challenge. The previous best result for the No. 05 team was a fourth-place run in March at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Dave Lacey, Greg Wilkins and Robert Bell finished fourth in the No. 17 Minestar Solutions/Tim Hortons/SAMAX Porsche GT3, followed by Eric Lux, Ian James and team owner Jim Tafel in the No. 74 Rembrandt Charms Porsche GT3. Robert Nearn and Steve Johnson finished sixth in the No. 81 Comfort Systems USA Porsche GT3, improving seven spots from their 13th-place starting position. With the effort, the team was awarded the race's SunTrust "Improve Your Position" Award in the GT category.
The No. 75 Krohn Racing Ford Riley--driven Saturday night by road racing stalwarts Boris Said and Max Papis as well as team owner Tracy Krohn--finished 12th in the Discount Tire Sunchaser. Krohn qualified the machine 24th and with the trio making up 12 positions during the race, the team earned the SunTrust "Improve Your Position" Award for the event... The No. 77 Kodak/Amp'd Mobile Ford Doran--piloted by Harrison Brix, Michel Jourdain and Oriol Servia--finished eighth Saturday night for the car's best finish since an equal result in June's Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen. Three of the car's four best finishes of the season came in endurance races, as the Doran Racing team opened the year with a seventh-place run in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The team finished fifth in Mexico City in March... The No. 99 GAINSCO/Blackhawk Racing Pontiac Riley and the No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team Porsche Crawford each overcame early problems to score top-10 finishes. The No. 99 Pontiac--co-driven by Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser--was forced to its garage early in the race with a leak in the oil line, but the team rallied to finish ninth. The No. 23 Porsche--which led 31 laps in the race--had to replace a left-rear upper control arm on pit road. Co-drivers Mike Rockenfeller, Terry Borcheller and Ralf Kelleners overcame the setback to finish 10th.