Ganassi win in Rolex 24 means record run for Scott Pruett
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—With the swagger of inevitably, given a decisive power advantage, the No. 01 BMW/Riley of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates captured the 51st Rolex 24 at Daytona on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
Juan Pablo Montoya did the honors, crossing the finish line of the grueling 24-hour race 21.92 seconds ahead of Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Chevrolet of Wayne Taylor. Defending champion AJ Allmendinger ran third in Michael Shank's No. 60 Ford.
Filipe Albuquerque won the GT classification, finishing ninth overall with Audi R8 teammates Oliver Jarvis, Edoardo Mortara and Dion von Moltke. David Donohue captured first in the new GX division, winning the class in a Porsche Cayman with teammates Shane Lewis, Nelson Canache and Jim Norman.
Montoya's closing drive made a five-time overall winner of teammate Scott Pruett, who tied Hurley Haywood for the record in that category. Pruett extended his own record to 10 class wins in the Rolex 24.
Memo Rojas and Charlie Kimball teamed with Pruett and Montoya for the victory, which was owner Chip Ganassi's record fifth in 10 tries.
The defending champion No. 60 Ford/Riley found trouble almost immediately. Allmendinger, who took the checkered flag last year, started off in the car, but 40 minutes into the race, he returned to pit road with a broken tie rod in the left front.
Allmendinger lost seven laps while the crew repaired the suspension damage. After regaining three laps under subsequent cautions, the No. 60 again was seven laps down after a fueling issue forced the car back to the garage.
Throughout the night, however, the team rallied, regaining lost laps under a spate of cautions. A caution for debris at 10:20 a.m. put the No. 60 back on the lead lap, and superb drives by Wilson and Ambrose brought the car to the second position, where it was running when Allmendinger took over for the final stint under green at 1:45 p.m.
Two minutes earlier, Montoya had replaced Pruett, in pain from an old ankle injury, as the No. 01 readied for its stretch run. Making the most of his BMW power, Montoya opened a lead of 26 second before a caution at 2 p.m. for debris at the start/finish line slowed the race.
Allmendinger grabbed the lead during the exchange of pit stops, and held the top spot for six minutes of scintillating racing before Montoya powered to the outside approaching the exit from the banking and cleared the No. 60 as the cars entered the infield.
Caution for debris at 2:30 p.m.--with one hour, two minutes left in the race--bunched the field again, but Montoya soon passed Angelelli for the top spot. Both drivers stopped for fuel in the final six minutes, leaving Montoya with his decisive advantage.
The race was not without controversy. In a general sense, the Ganassi cars had a clear power advantage over their Chevrolet and Ford rivals. In fact, GRAND-AM officials mandated a horsepower restriction for the Chevrolets before the weekend and relaxed it only slightly after Pruett and Dixon spanked the rest of the field in qualifying.
Angelelli said he couldn't feel the post-qualifying change.
"Did they change?" he asked facetiously after his first stint in the No. 10 Corvette. "No feeling at all. If the change is .000001 millimeter, it is not a change. They need to be released (from the horsepower restriction). Just look at the top speed. It is very simple."
The fastest car in the field--Ganassi's No. 02 driven by Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Joey Hand and Jamie McMurray--fell out after sunrise. McMurray's collision with the pit road wall at 5:47 a.m. cost the team seven laps for repairs.
"It didn't seem like the pit road speed monitor was working, and I got panicked," McMurray said. "I was speeding, just reading the dash. When I got to the end of pit road, I was too hot trying to exit the pits on cold tires.
"It's crazy how slick it is. I just made a mistake. I feel like an idiot, because we have the best cars, and it's really about making it to the end. I didn't do anything out of the ordinary—I just messed up."
The No. 02 team regained all but two of the laps lost before Franchitti stopped on the track at 11:48 a.m., causing a caution that gave his teammates the opportunity for a much-needed brake change. Rival owners Shank and Taylor took umbrage at the coincidence.
But Franchitti bristled at the suggestion that he had caused the caution deliberately, believing instead that he still had a chance to win the race.
"We were two laps down, so it was very doable," Franchitti said. I think, if we got back on the lead lap, we could have created some hassle for the other guys. ... It just lost drive. I could go up through all the gears, but it wouldn't go anywhere. No warning at all."