Utah: Series season finale preview

Rolex Series GT Championship Goes Down to the Wire In 1,000-Kilometer Season Finale at Miller Motorsports Park; Pruett, Rojas Look to Share Daytona Prototype Championship for Ganassi DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 16, 2008) - The Daytona Prototype...

Rolex Series GT Championship Goes Down to the Wire In 1,000-Kilometer Season Finale at Miller Motorsports Park; Pruett, Rojas Look to Share Daytona Prototype Championship for Ganassi

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 16, 2008) - The Daytona Prototype and GT championships will be on the line as the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 visits Miller Motorsports Park for Saturday's season-ending SunRichGourmet.com 1000 presented by the Grand and Little America Hotels.

The Rolex Series tackles the mammoth 24-turn, 4.486-mile circuit in the Salt Lake City, Utah, suburb of Tooele in the 139-lap, 1,000-kilometer event, with a seven-hour time limit. The race will be televised live flag to flag on SPEED (1 p.m. ET).

TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates teammates Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas need to drive at least 30 minutes each in the No. 01 Lexus Riley to share the Daytona Prototype championship. Pruett, who shared the 2004 title with Max Papis, is looking to become the first repeat champion in the Grand-Am Rolex Series' premier division. The Ganassi team has already locked up its third title, leading the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley team of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty by 38 points.

The GT championship is expected to come down to the final lap of the season, with Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins - drivers of the No. 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R - leading No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R co-drivers Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis by six points. Also in contention are Sylvain Tremblay and Nick Ham, who are 13 points out of the lead in the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazdaspeed Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8.

Pruett and Rojas opened the year by winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona - joined by Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti - and added five additional victories on their march to the championship. Gurney and Fogarty won only one race this year after winning seven races and the title in 2007, but are guaranteed second place in the team championship and a tie for third in the driver points.

With the top two positions in the Daytona Prototype team championship locked up, third place is up for grabs as six teams are within 18 points. The No. 58 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley of David Donohue and Darren Law leads teammates JC France and Joao Barbosa in the No. 59 by one point. Two teams - the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley of Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri, along with the No. 61 AIM Autosport Exchange Traded Gold Ford Riley of Mark Wilkins and Brian Frisselle, are six points out of third. The No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara of Michael Valiante and Max Angelelli is 17 points out of third, and one point ahead of the No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Lola of Ricardo Zonta and Nic Jonsson.

The two prior runnings of the SunRichGourmet.com 1000 have featured first-time Rolex Series winners. Patterson and Negri teamed to give Michael Shank Racing its first Grand-Am victory in the 2006 inaugural event, while Jim Matthews, Marc Goossens and Ryan Hunter-Reay gave Riley-Matthews Motorsports its initial triumph last year.

Among the teams looking for its first victory is Cheever Racing with drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Antonio Garcia in the No. 16 Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Pontiac Coyote. Other pairings yet to win include John Pew and Ian James in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley, and No. 7 Rum Bum Racing BMW Riley teammates Matt Plumb and Gene Sigal. In addition, the Lola chassis is looking to break through. Krohn Racing is fielding a pair of Pontiac-powered Lolas, with Tracy Krohn and Eric van de Poele in the No. 75 and Zonta and Jonsson in the No. 76.

Also up for grabs is the prestigious Jim Trueman Award. France enters the finale with a 59-point lead over Patterson in the competition among Daytona Prototype drivers who do not earn their primary income from racing.

Since the SunRichGourmet.com 1000 is the second-longest race on the Rolex Series schedule, a number of teams have added third drivers to their lineups. Hunter-Reay returns with the defending race winners, joining Matthews and Goossens in the No. 91 Pontiac Riley. AIM Autosport, winners of two of the last three races, adds 2002 Champ Car titlist Cristiano da Matta to the lineup of the No. 61 Ford Riley, joining Wilkins and Frisselle. Brumos adds a pair of stars, 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice to the No. 58 and five-time Rolex 24 winner Hurley Haywood to the No. 59. Michael Shank Racing will be joined by recently crowned IRL Firestone Indy Lights champion Raphael Matos - teaming with John Pew and Ian James in the No. 6 -- while 2008 Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca winner Ryan Dalziel co-drives the No. 60. Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 Champ Car titlist, rejoins the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallaing Racing entry. Alex Lloyd, the 2007 IRL Firestone Indy Lights champ, will co-drive the No. 01 TELMEX Lexus Riley. Other additions Burt Frisselle, joining the No. 77 Doran Racing Kodak Ford Dallara with Memo Gidley and Brad Jaeger, and Stephane Gregoire, in the No. 7 Rum Bum Racing BMW Riley with Gene Sigal and Matt Plumb.

Three Teams Battle for GT Honors

Point leaders Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards led every lap in the No. 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R en route to winning last year's SunRichGourmet.com 1000. The pair will be looking to repeat that domination this weekend to end the season on a high note, after their once commanding point lead has been trimmed to only six points entering the finale.

Collins and Edwards won three races early in the season and held a 35-point lead after the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen in early June. They saw that lead shrink to only six points after Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve contest. The gap remained at six after the most recent race, New Jersey Motorsports Park, where they finished ninth.

Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis took over second position following a second-place finish at New Jersey in the No. 57 Pontiac GXP.R. The pair won three races this year, at Mexico City, Virginia International Raceway and Montreal, among eight podium finishes.

Nick Ham and Sylvain Tremblay, co-drivers of the No. 70 Mazda RX-8, dropped to third in the team standings after struggling with an oil leak at New Jersey. They now trail the leaders by 13 points. They will be looking for a reversal of fortune at Miller Motorsports Park, after being taken out on the first lap of last year's race. They won both races at Daytona in addition to the event at Barber Motorsports Park this season.

The championship trio will have plenty of competition in the finale. Porsche powerhouses TRG and Farnhacher Loles have each entered a trio of GT3s for the event, while SpeedSource entered the No. 69 Mazda RX-8 of Emil Assentato, Jeff Segal and Nick Longhi that won the most recent endurance race on the Rolex Series schedule, the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen. Also entered in a Mazda RX-8 is Grey's Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey, who shares the No. 40 Hyper Sport entry with Joe Foster. Terry Borcheller, the 2003 Daytona Prototype champion, shares the No. 72 Autohaus Pontiac GXP.R with Tim Lewis Jr.

In addition to the championship, the Bob Akin Award will be presented to the top gentleman driver in the GT class at the end of the season. Tim George Jr. enters the finale with a 189-point lead over Ted Ballou in the competition among drivers who do not earn their primary income from racing. George also enters the finale with a five-point lead over Ricardo Zonta in the battle for MESCO Building for the Future Rookie of the Year honors.

Signed on as guest drivers in the GT class are Lawson Aschenbach in the No. 07 Pontiac GXP.R, Patrick Long in the No. 67 TRG Porsche GT3, Dominik Farnbacher in the No. 86 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3 and Wolf Henzler in the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3.

TRG's entry includes Salt Lake City driver John Potter, who will share the No. 65 TRG/Riegel Autosport Porsche with Josemanuel Gutierrez and 2005 Rolex Series GT champion Craig Stanton.

Rolex Series practice opens Friday at 9:50 a.m., with qualifying that afternoon at 3:30 p.m. (live, SPEEDtv.com). The SunRichGourmet.com 1000 takes the green flag at 11 a.m. Saturday.

RACE SPECS

- This is Round 15 and the final race of the 2008 season for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16. The Daytona Prototype race is 1,000 kilometers (139 laps) or seven hours, whichever comes first.

- The green flag for the race is scheduled to fly at 11:08 a.m. MT Saturday. The race will be carried live flag to flag on SPEED at 1 p.m. ET (Leigh Diffey - Play-by-Play; Dorsey Schroeder, Calvin Fish - Analysts; Brian Till, Chris Neville - Pit Reporters).

- All cars must make a mandatory pit stop prior to the 45-minute mark in the race, and each driver must complete 30 minutes of the race in order to earn points for their respective championships.

ROLEX SERIES WEEKEND SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES MOUNTAIN)

- Friday: Rolex Series GT Practice (9:50-10:20 a.m.); Rolex Series Combined Practice (10:20-11:20 a.m.); Rolex Series Daytona Prototype Practice (11:20-11:50 a.m.); Rolex Series Trueman/Akin Practice (1:15 - 1:45 p.m.); Rolex Series Daytona Prototype Qualifying (3:30 - 4:45 p.m.); Rolex Series GT Qualifying (3:55 - 4:10 p.m.).

- Saturday: Rolex Series Final Practice (9:30-9:45 a.m.); SunRichGourmet.com 1000presented by the Grand and Little America Hotels (1:08 p.m., 1000K, 139 laps or seven-hour time limit).

SELECTED PRE-RACE DRIVER QUOTES

Cristiano da Matta (No. 61 AIM Autosport Exchanged Traded Gold Ford Riley): "I'm very excited to drive the car at Miller. It's going to be very nice for me to drive, because I'm still hunting for getting back to work. I've had too many days of vacation. It's going to a challenge to learn the track. I only know the track from TV, and it looks like a very challenging place - a very cool place. It's got more than 20 corners, and that makes it an even bigger challenge. With the limited amount of practice time, it's going to be a big challenge, but I'm up to it. Learning a new track is one of the challenges I face coming back to racing. I've had many, many opportunities to learn tracks quick, and many times I have done well on the job. That's one of my abilities as a race car driver, to learn tracks quick, and I'm confident about it."

Mark Wilkins (No. 61 Exchange Traded Gold Ford Riley): "I'd love to win the pole at Miller. We certainly will be going for it. Our car was quite strong there last year, and I'm quite confident we'll be able to get the car working great."

Raphael Matos (No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley): "I'm looking forward to racing at Miller, because I've never been there. I've heard all the corners are pretty similar, the track is very flat, it's full of medium-speed and high-speed corners, and it's very fun to drive. I have a really good relationship with Mike Shank and Oswaldo Negri. I think it will be a very successful relationship. I'm very honored to be part of their program and very happy that we are able to be together for that race."

Ryan Dalziel (No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley): "This is an awesome opportunity and I'm really excited to be driving for Mike Shank again. Mike has always run a top-notch organization, and like they showed at New Jersey, they have cars capable of winning week in and week out, so hopefully we can get them back to the top of the podium again at Miller."

Matt Plumb (No. 7 RumBum.com BMW Riley): "I do like the track. I have driven it once before in a front wheel drive KONI car. It is certainly the longest track I have ever been on and the fans seem to be excited about us being there. Overall it seems like a perfect venue for our long race. My first year in Daytona Prototype has been great. The team and series has been a perfect fit, I have adapted to the cars and have been able to compete against some of the best drivers in the sport. I don't think I could ask for more. I am hoping the final race will allow us to once again show our potential as a team. We have had a rough run in the middle of the season fighting a number of issues all of which kept us from showing that we can be a winning car and team."

Stephane Gregoire (No. 7 RumBum.com BMW Riley): "I am glad to race with Rum Bum Racing for the 2008 season finale. The Rolex 24 with the team was a great experience and I am happy to work again with Gene, Matt and the whole team. The team was competitive all season and I really look forward to this race. I like the Miller race track and I am confident we can bring Rum Bum Racing a competitive result."

Gene Sigal (No. 7 RumBum.com BMW Riley): "We are happy to add Gregoire to our last race drivers' line-up. Stephan has plenty of experience and he can definitely help us achieve our ultimate goal in Utah; get a top five result to finish in the top ten of the 2008 Rolex Series team point standings. I finished third in that race in 2006. I like the track and I want to do well. I think our driver's lineup is competitive and I know we will have a good car and a good fresh engine from Dinan BMW to compete in this season finale."

Alex Gurney (No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley): "It seems like a long break after having so many races in a row. There hasn't been much rest for our crew guys, though, and it's been a pretty grueling schedule this summer. We would, of course, like nothing better than to end the season with a win, especially for all of the crew's hard work. We feel like we've let too many races get away from us this year and luck certainly hasn't been on our side.

"After the drama of last year's race, the championship pressure is off this time, so we can focus solely on winning the race. The Salt Lake track is a little flat but the 27 corners definitely provide plenty of challenges. I'm really excited about having Jimmy Vasser back joining us and also I'm excited about getting the chance to qualify again after not really getting a chance at Watkins Glen. I expect a very long, tough and competitive race as I know many teams are going into this one expecting a chance to win. We'll be giving it everything we got."

Nick Ham (No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8): "If we make it past lap 1, we're going to win."

Jose Armengol (No. 30 Racers Edge Motorsports Mazda RX-8): "This is truly a fantastic opportunity for me. I'm really excited to be able to take the step up to Rolex GT and join Racer's Edge for the season ending race. I was very impressed with every aspect of the team at our initial meeting at Daytona during the Grand-Am open house. Jon Mirachi and the entire Racer's Edge crew were fantastic to work with. Their professionalism, their passion for the sport and desire to do as well as possible became apparent to me very quickly. Also readily apparent was that their professionalism and desire didn't interfere with the ability to keep things light and fun in the garage and pit lane.

"I'm also thrilled to be able to continue to race a rotary powered Mazda. I have to say I was thoroughly impressed with the performance of the Mazda RX-8 GT car. Having driven a SpeedSource KONI Challenge RX-8 for some time now, it was easy for me to see and feel the lineage in the GT car after turning a few practice laps in the Racer's Edge No. 30 car. The overall balance and braking capability are stellar, only that the GT car is kind of like the ST car's big brother on steroids! I am looking forward to my Rolex Series debut at Utah with Racer's Edge and I'm confident that together we can achieve a solid result and get off to a great start, even as the '08 season winds to a close."

Wolf Henzler (No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche): "Because I have done many successful races with Farnbacher Loles in the past, it gives me a familiar feeling when I come back each time. I am looking forward to racing with Bryce and Dirk. I know both well, not only because I raced with them last year in Salt Lake City. We are all professional drivers and we know what we need to create a good result in a long race. My goal is to support Bryce and Dirk as well as the team to get a good ending of the season. Miller Motorsports Park is a very smooth track which reminds me a little bit of some tracks in Europe. With its huge runoffs, it is also a very safe track and makes it possible to come back if you make a small mistake."

Dirk Werner (No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche): "This last Grand-Am race for this year will be a little bit disappointing, because for the team and me the time as reigning champions in the GT category will end. It was a rough season for the No. 87 car, so a win would make it a lot easier to look back on this year. We have the car to win a race - we showed that in the past. I hope with a good result, we can help Porsche win the manufacturer championship. And going to the Miller Motorsports Park brings back all the great memories from last year's championship win there. We are ready for the final race."

-credit: garra

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya , Nic Jönsson
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Krohn Racing , Stevenson Motorsports , Racers Edge Motorsports , Doran Racing , Rum Bum Racing , SpeedSource , Michael Shank Racing