VIR: Race report

Rockenfeller and Long Win VIR 400 in Last-Lap Thriller to Take Daytona Prototype Points Lead ALTON, Va. (April 23, 2006) -- In a race where the front runners ran nose-to-tail for the final 20 laps, No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Porsche...

Rockenfeller and Long Win VIR 400 in Last-Lap Thriller to Take Daytona Prototype Points Lead

ALTON, Va. (April 23, 2006) -- In a race where the front runners ran nose-to-tail for the final 20 laps, No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Porsche Crawford driver Mike Rockenfeller saved his best move for last to take a thrilling, last-lap victory in the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve VIR 400 at Virginia International Raceway.

Rockenfeller took the white flag in third place, just behind leader Max Angelelli in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley and Scott Pruett in the No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley. With Angelelli fighting desperately to keep the lead and Pruett trying everything to find a way past, the race reached its crescendo entering Turn 14 on the 17-turn, 3.27-mile road course.

As he reached the end of the long straightaway heading into the turn, Angelelli was forced to slow down slightly to avoid Robert Bell's No. 17 SAMAX Porsche GT3. Pruett saw the opportunity and took his best shot, pulling alongside Angelelli as both drivers negotiated the turn and banged doors a few times. That was Rockenfeller's cue to take his own shot at the victory, and the German shot past Pruett and Angelelli. After his own door-banging session with Angelelli, Rockenfeller pulled away and beat Angelelli to the stripe by just 0.518 seconds.

"It was a great win," Rockenfeller said. "Pat did a great job to lead the race during his stint and turn over the car with a lot left. The yellow came out and we had just passed the pits so some of the other cars beat us to pit lane. I left in eighth and just focused on running clean laps and hoping the race would come back to me. On the last lap, I thought the race was over until the last turn when a GT car slowed the number 10 car and the 01, a gap opened and I raced through it to the win. It was redemption for the qualifying race."

It was the second-career Rolex Series victory for both Rockenfeller and co-driver Patrick Long, who led a race-high 30 laps after starting second and taking the lead at the start. The triumph comes on the heels of the duo's maiden Rolex Series win in the Linder Industrial Komatsu Grand Prix of Miami last month, and was their fourth podium finish in as many Rolex Series starts this season. The victory coupled with the second-place run in Saturday's qualifying race moved Rockenfeller and Long to the top of the Daytona Prototype points table. The duo leads No. 76 Krohn Racing Ford Riley driver Jorg Bergmeister by five points, 164-159.

"I had a good start and was able to negotiate the traffic to keep the car in the lead," Long said. "The car was handling great and the Porsche power was keeping me out front. When the caution came on Lap 30, we had just passed pit entry and we were beaten to the stop by a few cars. The team did a fast pit stop and Mike was able to make up ground. He was the man on the last lap. It was a great battle and a great win for the team."

Angelelli led a total of 12 laps in the VIR 400. It was the first time since the Crown Royal 250 at The Glen last September that the Italian led in Rolex Series competition. The 12 laps were also the first laps led for the No. 10 machine since Angelelli's co-driver Wayne Taylor led two laps in the first quarter of the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. It was the first podium result of the season for the defending Daytona Prototype co-champions.

"This is the race, together with Daytona, that I wanted to be on the podium," Angelelli said. "The SunTrust guys came here to the race, which I thank them a lot for coming to the event. I'm happy we could go to the podium and we almost won the race. I'm happy for the guests and hope they enjoyed the race. I invite everyone to come back again next year."

"I'm very happy that we were able to get on the podium, especially being that we are in such a big SunTrust footprint," Taylor added. "We had so many fans and so many SunTrust employees here today. I did think that this was going to be the event that we were going to turn it around. Max's driving in today's race was unbelievable, and it was clearly his driving that got us there. The team with the strategy was, once again, perfect. This team is the best."

Pruett came home third, just 0.795 seconds behind Rockenfeller to end a difficult weekend for him and No. 01 co-driver Luis Diaz on a high note. After electrical problems relegated Pruett to a 22nd-place result in Saturday's qualifying race, the team decided to change engines for the VIR 400, costing them four more positions on the starting grid. Diaz started the race from pit lane and methodically worked his way forward.

Diaz claimed the lead when Long and the rest of the leaders made pit stops under caution on Lap 31 and remained out front for 16 circuits before turning the car over to Pruett on a green-flag pit stop on Lap 47. Pruett then took up the chase from eighth position and worked his way forward over the final 30 laps through a mixture of on-track passes, pit stops by other teams and the race's final full-course caution period from Laps 54 through 57.

"It was a great race," Pruett said. "There's not much more to say really. If you like racing, then you would have loved to watch this one I can tell you. It just doesn't get any better than that the way the top-three finished. The first three cars were dueling it out for at least the last 20 laps. This kind of finish just shows that it's not over until the fat lady sings."

It was the fourth-consecutive podium result for Diaz and Pruett. Included in the run were victories in the Mexico City 250 last month and the Crown Royal Grand American Challenge of Long Beach two weeks ago. Pruett and Diaz are currently tied for fourth in the Daytona Prototype driver standings with 150 points.

"From my point of view, it was a challenging start coming off pit lane and making up spots where we could," Diaz said. "But my main focus was just keeping the nose clean, picking people off one at a time and then getting the car back to Scott in one piece. Scott's the man, he ran a great race and we almost did it here again today at VIR."

Michael McDowell--who won Saturday's inaugural Daytona Prototype qualifying race at VIR--and No. 19 Playboy/Uniden/Palms Ford Crawford co-driver Guy Cosmo did not lead on Sunday but came home fourth to make it four different engine manufacturers inside the top-four positions. Bergmeister and 17-year-old co-driver Colin Braun wound up fifth in the No. 76 Krohn Racing Ford Riley.

While the race ended in a three-way battle between Rockenfeller, Angelelli and Pruett, it was a four-way fight with as few as six laps remaining. Michael Valiante led Laps 54 through 71 in the No. 5 Make A Wish/Z-Line Designs/Finlay Motorsports Ford Crawford, keeping the No. 01, 10 and 23 machines at bay for several laps despite the fact that he was conserving fuel. Unfortunately for Valiante, Angelelli found his way past in Turn 10 on Lap 72 and the Canadian brought the No. 5 machine onto pit road for a quick splash of fuel at the end of the lap. He and co-driver Rob Finlay wound up ninth.

TRG PONTIACS GO 1, 2 IN GT CLASS AT VIRGINIA

For the first time in 2006, No. 65 TRG Pontiac GTO.R co-drivers Andy Lally and Marc Bunting climbed the top step of the GT class podium, and with Sunday's win in the VIR 400, the 2005 class runners-up also move into the championship lead.

Lally passed Germany's Wolf Henzler in the No. 72 NEC Porsche GT3 at the end of the back straightaway and into the "roller coaster" section of the 3.27-mile road course with six laps to go and never looked back, clinching the first victory for the machine since the Crown Royal 250 at The Glen last September.

"This win feels good, but the championship is the main goal," said Lally. "This is my first pro race win here at VIR, and after finishing second in the qualifying race yesterday morning and second in the Grand-Am Cup race yesterday afternoon, the win today makes for a very good weekend."

With the second place run by Lally in Saturday's qualifying race, Bunting started the machine from the outside of the class front row. Bunting's stint--for the most part--was uneventful. He stayed near the front of the pack throughout and looked forward to handing over the controls to Lally with the chance to win. However, just before the race's second caution period on Lap 30, contact with a Daytona Prototype sent the No. 65 spinning in the grass, with the crew fearing insurmountable damage.

"I had a great car to start with and was running good up until the incident in traffic," said Bunting. "Luckily, a caution came out right after that, so we were able to bring the car into the pits and check it out. I handed the car to Andy, and fortunately, there was nothing major wrong with the car."

Bunting and Lally jumped ahead of Henzler and co-driver Robin Liddell--who finished fourth in the VIR 400--in the points standings, and hold a five-point advantage (151-146) over the Tafel Racing duo heading into next month's U.S. Sports Car Invitational at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. They are 11 points better than TRG teammates Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards.

Edwards and Collins, who co-drive the No. 64 TRG Pontiac GTO.R, came into the weekend leading the points and riding a two-race win streak. The duo wound up second in the VIR 400, 8.812 seconds in arrears of the No. 65 machine. It was an eventful weekend for the No. 64 team, overcoming a crash during Thursday's test day at VIR, and an 11th-place showing in the qualifying race to record their third-straight top-two finish.

"We had a rough start to the weekend when I made contact with the (No. 36 TPC Racing Porsche GT3) during a practice session," said Edwards, who took over for Collins during the Lap 30 caution period. "I was glad to see they were able to fix it and make the race. It's disappointing to not get the win, but it was a good that a Pontiac was still at the front. It was a great job by the TRG team. We had a first and a second, and that's not that bad."

Collins started the machine 11th and steadily picked off positions during his stint, climbing as high as second in the class running order at one point in the race. It was the lowest starting position of the season for the No. 64 machine, having started fourth in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, from the class pole in Mexico City and fifth at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"I just wanted to drive as hard as I could to give the car to Paul in contention," said Collins. "I didn't want to have the overall leader be between us and the GT leader during a caution, so I needed to make up as much ground as I could. I had to get the job done quickly and pick points to attack."

Randy Pobst and Ian Baas finished third in the No. 36 Porsche for TPC Racing, finishing more than 10 seconds behind Edwards and Collins. Pobst and Baas were two of the four drivers that claimed the GT class victory in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, but it is the first event for the drivers since the twice-around-the-clock classic win with Spencer Pumpelly and Michael Levitas.

The fourth place finish by Henzler and Liddell in the No. 72 Porsche for Tafel Racing was their fourth-straight top six finish to start the season. The German was victorious in Saturday's qualifying race, and with the 30-minute sprint race paying full points, Henzler and Liddell were in the points lead heading into Sunday's feature.

Robert Bell and Ian James rounded out the top five in the No. 17 SAMAX Porsche GT3. Englishman Bell finished third in the qualifying race, and he and James were in contention for the class win throughout the day Sunday.

NOTEBOOK

The No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve/Cheever Racing Porsche Crawford has had its share of misfortune in 2006. An engine failure in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and an unavoidable crash in the Crown Royal Grand American Challenge of Long Beach led to 11th and 24th place finishes, respectively. However, in the three races that the machine has finished, it has logged top-seven finishes each time. Finishing sixth in Mexico City, second at Homestead-Miami Speedway and seventh in Sunday's VIR 400, the team sits fifth in the updated Daytona Prototype team standings... Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger--co-drivers of the No. 4 The Boss Snowplow Pontiac Crawford for Howard-Boss Motorsports--posted their third top-six finish in the last four races with a sixth-place overall result at VIR. With the finish, the duo climbs into a tie for 15th in the driver standings... The Rolex Series is known for its tight competition both on the track and in the standings. With the thrilling finish to the VIR 400, Porsche pulled to within one point of Lexus in the updated Daytona Prototype manufacturer standings (190-189). In the Daytona Prototype chassis constructor standings, the win by Crawford Race Cars at VIR moves the chassis into a tie with Riley Technologies atop the chart, with 195 points apiece. Six Crawfords finished inside the top 10 at VIR... The No. 16 Thetford/Norcold Pontiac Riley and No. 64 TRG Pontiac GTO.R won the SunTrust "Improve Your Position" Awards in the VIR 400. The No. 16 machine rallied from a 26th place starting position to a 10th place finish, while the No. 64 car finished second in the GT after starting 11th in class.

-garra-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Andy Wallace , Paul Edwards , Butch Leitzinger , Scott Pruett , Wayne Taylor , Colin Braun , Michael Valiante , Guy Cosmo , Randy Pobst , Kelly Collins , Luis Diaz , Ian James , Jörg Bergmeister , Michael McDowell , Patrick Long , Michael Levitas , Marc Bunting , Chip Ganassi , Ian Baas , Mike Rockenfeller , Wolf Henzler , Rob Finlay
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Krohn Racing