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“Hare” Becomes A Late-Night Casualty In 24

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 31 2010
The No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing car looked strong in the Rolex 24, but would not make it through the night. (Photo courtesy of the Grand-Am Series)

The No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing car looked strong in the Rolex 24, but would not make it through the night. (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. – Establishing a pace that keeps your team in front and forces other teams into mistakes or mechanical failures is one way to win a 24-hour race. At the close of eight hours of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, pushing the pace was clearly the strategy of the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing entry. But shortly after midnight that strategy backfired when the car’s BMW V-8 blew up.

The Ganassi team’s strategy was evident when NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray fell off the pace in the Ganassi Riley-BMW after spending 10 laps at the front. The team quickly put in the call to Juan Pablo Montoya as the Colombian rested in his motor home. Having just completed his first stints two hours earlier, Montoya returned to the pits to relieve McMurray shortly after the eight-hour mark.

Montoya soon had the No. 02 Riley-BMW back in the lead, pushing the pace for the all-star car of Ganassi that includes Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and McMurray. They were running for glory and not for points, unlike the No. 01 Ganassi entry where Grand-Am regulars Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas are in the line-up.

It was a classic “hare” strategy for a two-car team: pushing the pace with one entry and saving a second entry for the long haul. So once McMurray fell off the pace, the Ganassi brain trust put a call into Montoya.

“I did well at times and I struggled at times,” said McMurray, who acknowledged his teammates were better situated to push the pace. “The competition is very close,” continued McMurray, who traded the lead with Michael Shank Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger and Michael Valiante during his stint. “I didn’t want to be the guy who runs the car off and messes it up for everybody else.”

But ultimately the stategy blew up and Montoya brought the No. 02 car back to the garage after the team had led 139 laps.

Elsewhere the stategy was different. The Brumos Racing’s Riley-Porsche may have been the only car to stay with the No. 02 Ganassi entry in a head-to-head duel, but the team was still emphasizing survival over the course of 24 hours for its lone entry.

“We’re driving hard, but we’re not pushing,” said Darren Law, who started for Brumos. “When I was watching Juan and those guys, they were banging off the curbs in the corners.”

The field’s lone flat six Porsche-powered prototype, the Brumos car was the first to keep the No. 02 entry at bay when a duel developed between Raphael Matos and Montoya at the five-hour mark. Brazilian Matos re-started in the lead after the race’s sixth caution, but Montoya quickly cut his lead from seven seconds to less than a second. But Matos continued to hold off Montoya.

“I was saving my rear tires,” said Matos. “He closed the gap on me and then I was pushing again. I was just saving my tires. That was not the time to push. I’m sure Juan was pushing but not too much. I was pushing enough to stay in front of Juan, but not too hard.”

Matos was following team orders from one of the Brumos team’s pit strategists, Gary Nelson, the former director of competition for NASCAR who now works as a consultant at Brumos. “We told Raphael we’re just trying to stay in the race,” said Nelson of the radio conversation with Matos. “He said, ‘I’m slowing down as much as I can.'”

Matos pitted from the lead when his pit window opened for the driver exchange, but a seat belt got hung up in the driver exchange to Butch Leitzinger and the team fell to eighth place, but was still on the lead lap.

Once the No. 02 Ganassi entry had retired, that left only six cars on the lead lap, including the Brumos entry in third place behind the leading Lola-Ford of Krohn Racing the the Riley-BMW of Level 5 Motorsports.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 31 2010
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