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Porsche V-8 Leads The Field At Rolex

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 31 2010
The No. 9 Porsche Riley has spent much of the morning in the lead at Daytona. (Photo courtesy of the Grand-Am Series)

The No. 9 Porsche Riley has spent much of the morning in the lead at Daytona. (Photo courtesy of the Grand-Am Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Daytona Beach, Fla. – Nineteen hours into the twice-around-the-clock Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway and it is still a four-car race.

Out front  on a bitter cold, windy Florida morning is the Porsche Riley of Mike Rockenfeller, Terry Borcheller, Joao Barbosa and Ryan Dalziel, with Scott Pruett, co-driving the remaining Chip Ganassi BMW Riley with Memo Rojas, Justin Wilson and Max Papis the only other car on the lead lap.

A.J. Allmendinger, sharing a Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley with Michael Valiente, Brian Friselle and Mark Patterson, was in and out of the lead in the early morning. But the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver fell a lap off the pace after a bump from a slower GT car tore up his right rear tire.

“We’ll be OK,’’ Shank said as he watched little puffs of white smoke coming from the No. 6 entry. “We’re just going to keep a close eye on it and make sure everything is OK.’’

One more lap back is the BMW Riley of IZOD IndyCar Series driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, Christophe Bouchut, Lucas Luhr and Scott Tucker.

Heading toward the end of the 19th hour, Bobby Labonte, another NASCAR star, had the TRG Porsche in the lead in the GT class and ninth overall.

It was an eventful night, with the favored Ganassi entry of Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray sidelined by a blown engine in their BMW Riley after leading the majority of the first half of the race.

Another of the favorites, the GAINSCO Chevrolet Riley shared by Jimmie Johnson, Jimmy Vasser, Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney fell off the pace after Johnson lost first gear during the 13th hour.  The team got the car back on track, but it was running fifth, eight laps behind the leaders heading into the 20th hour.

“We always keep digging,’’ Fogarty said after an early morning stint. “You never know what’s going to happen and there’s still a whole lot of time yet. ‘’

Last year’s winners, the Brumos Porsche Riley co-driven by David Donohue, Hurley Haywood, Raphael Matos and Darren Law, were chugging along in eighth, 29 laps behind.

“I just wish we were in the lead instead of in eighth place,’’ Donohue said after handing off the car to five-time winner Haywood for what will likely be his last official racing stint. The 61-year-old Haywood has said he will retire after this race.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

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