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Ganassi BMW Looking Good In 24

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2010
Scott Dixon and his Target Chip Ganassi team were looking strong in the early going at the Daytona 24. (Photo courtesy of the Grand-Am Series)

Scott Dixon and his Chip Ganassi Racing team were looking strong in the early going at the Daytona 24. (Photo courtesy of the Grand-Am Series)

Editor’s Note: RacinToday has two reporters – Mike Harris and Jonathan Ingram, both veterans of the event – on site at the Rolex 24. They will periodically file updates, notes and features during the race and wrap the event up afterward.

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Daytona Beach, Fla. – There were several rain men who charged to the top of the leader board in the first three hours of the Rolex 24 at Daytona after the race started in a steady downpour. But once the rain lifted and the racing line became dry, Scott Dixon and then co-driver Dario Franchitti showed the way in the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-BMW.

After being among the first to switch to dry Pirelli tires just before the end of the second hour, Dixon regularly began posting the race’s fastest lap times after falling to ninth place on worn rain tires. Sixteen minutes after his stop, Dixon took the lead and stretched it to 25 seconds over the revived Riley-Chevrolet of GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing in the hands of Alex Gurney before a caution bunched the field near the three-hour mark.

The GAINSCO machine, wrecked by NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson due to contact with a GT car in practice and then re-built prior to the race, continued its up-and-down weekend. After starting the race 15th and last among the Daytona Prototypes, Gurney gradually got up to second before turning over the Johnson during the race’s fourth full-course yellow.

As night fell, Johnson dropped from third on the re-start to sixth before going straight through Turn 1 and into the runoff area with a suspected stuck throttle. The crew looked at the problem during the race’s fifth full-course yellow and Johnson returned to the track in 11th. “Maybe my foot got caught (under the accelerator),” said Johnson as he came down the pit road after first saying the throttle had stuck.

Early leaders included the Riley-Ford of Michael Shank Racing in the hands of Oswald Negri, Scott Pruett in the No. 01 Ganassi entry and Memo Gidley in the Dallara-Ford of Doran Racing. Gidley turned in an oustanding stint in the rain to dash from 11th to first after 13 laps of green. Dixon and pole sitter Max Angelelli were next up in the top spot.

The latter was the first to stop for dry tires, but in the third hour the Sun Trust Racing entry began to suffer from a bizarre problem. The antenna mounted on the car’s roof came loose and began to drop into the cockpit in the driver’s line of vision. The team lost two laps before zip-ties and holes drilled in the roof resolved the problem.

Ricardo Zonta became the next charger to the front aboard the Lola-Ford of Krohn Racing when Dixon’s Pirelli rain tires began to suffer as the track dried. The Brazilian’s Lola had no such problems and he vaulted into a short-lived lead by passing Pruett. After pitting for dry tires, Zonta went off in middle of the East Horseshoe on the cold rubber and dropped out of the top ten before beginning a climb back through the leaders.

“It’s treacherous when (the tires) are cold,” said David Donohue, whose Brumos Racing Riley-Porsche also spun shortly after leaving the pits on dry tires. Donohue had bided his time during the wet running before his quick lap times took him up to third on the drying track. He pitted from second place and spun two laps later at the exit of the East Horseshoe.

Donohue said he was surprised by the dash to the front in the opening hours in the wet. “Everybody wants to be a hero,” he said, “I guess because reputations are made in the rain. Reputations are also lost.”

Grand-American Rolex Series officials elected to start the field behind the pace car, because of standing water on the infield portion of the Daytona course.

“It was about impossible to drive because of the puddling on the infield,” said Christophe Bouchut, who started the Level 5 Motorsports Riley-BMW. “Eveybody was aquaplaning.”

The GT battle ebbed and flowed once the green fell as well. The Porsche 911 GT3 Cup entry fielded by Flying Lizard Motorsports quickly took the lead in the hands of Patrick Long after three Mazda RX-8’s had swept the top spots in qualifying. The Camaro GT.R of Stevenson Motorsports led in the hands of Robin Liddell before unscheduled pit stops dropped the car down the order.

The new BMW M6 of Turner Motorsport also challenged for the lead with Joey Hand at the wheel before a damaged rocker panel created an overheated floor and robbed power due to a damaged exhaust. By the four-hour mark, the leader board was dominated by the Porsches of veteran entrant TRG Motorsports. The Alex Job Porsche, which had also undergone an overnight rebuild at its nearby shops after a practice crash, was in the lead in the fourth hour when the front splitter was damaged with Dominik Farnbacher on board, which dropped him to fourth behind three TRG entries.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2010
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