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Ganassi Rolls Into 2011 With Rolex 24 Victory

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 30 2011

The No. 01 Ganassi car got the victory Sunday in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. (Photos courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Team owner Chip Ganassi’s wonderful 2010 racing season extended into 2011 Sunday when his No. 01 BMW/Riley Daytona Prototype car won the 49th Rolex 24 Grand-Am series race at Daytona Internatonal Speedway.

The car, which won the 2010 Grand-Am championship, was driven by Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Joey Hand and Graham Rahal.

With Pruett at the wheel, it took the lead for the final time with 49 minutes remaining and held it until the end.

The car which Pruett passed for the lead was that of Ganassi stablemates Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Jamie McMurray.

“It is truly awesome,” Pruett said. “To have a 1-2 finish is just incredible. Our No. 01 car has finished every lap here the last five years and won it three times. That in itself is a true testament to what the Ganassi organization does and the preparation on getting this car on the track. They’ve been busting their butts getting our cars ready for this race since October.”

The margin of victory was just over 2 seconds. It could have been more but with 8 minutes to go in the race, and Pruett with a 10-second lead, a caution came out for debris from the car of Sascha Maassen.

But Pruett drove away on the restart. The victory was his fourth in the 24.

Last season, McMurray won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in a Ganassi-owned Sprint Cup car and Franchitti won the IZOD IndyCar Series championship and the Indianapolis 500 for Ganassi.

“Really special for the team,” Ganassi said. “Just happy to be part of it.”

Finishing third was the Action Express Porsche/Riley piloted at the end by Joao Barbosa. Co-driving were Christian Fittipaldi, Max Papis, JC France and Terry Borcheller.

Fourth was was the United Autosport Ford/Riley, which featured former Formula One drivers Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell and  who were joined by Zak Brown and Mark Patterson in the No. 23 Johnny Walker/FXI/UBS Ford Riley.

“We just finished fourth overall in the Daytona 24 Hours,” Blundell said. “This is my first Daytona 24 and my first Daytona 24 Prototype drive.  This is all new to me.  It was a great event; I really enjoyed.  The team did a tremendous job.  The Ford engine was great and didn’t miss a beat.  We’re all happy.”

The top four cars were separated by 3.752 seconds after 2,566.76 miles of racing, completing 721 laps.

The victory Sunday did not come without suspense.

Montoya held a big lead  as the morning wore on Sunday. But Joey Hand, once in the

The No. 02 of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. It finished No. 2 Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series)

cockpit of the 01 car, cut the lead and was on Montoya’s bumper when pitting began with just over 3 and a half hours to go.

When the pitting cycled through, Hand had the lead, McMurray, who replaced Montoya in the 02 was second and Blundell was third.

However, on his way out of the pit stall, Hand, starting a third-straight stint, hit a tire on pit road.

That resulted in a penalty. He was brought back in, held for 30 seconds and re-entered the race in fourth place, 53 seconds behind Dixon.

With 1:31 left, a yellow came out and Pruett, who replaced Hand earlier, pitted.

Between him and the lead were eight cars when he re-emerged. He picked them off one by one and with just over 50 minutes remaining, moved past Barbosa for second place.

Pruett’s pass for the lead came during a pitting sequence.

Then there was the late yellow. But none of it mattered. The race restarted with one minute left and a lap later, the No. 1 Ganassi car took the checkers.

“I don’t drive the cars, I don’t change the tires and I don’t work on the engines,” Ganassi said. “There are lots of people, lots of great competitors, who make up this team. I just get to stand up here and talk about it.”

Finishing fifth was the No. 10 SunTrust Chevrolet Dallara – driven by Max Angelelli, Ryan Briscoe and Ricky Taylor. It was involved in on-track contact, which caused damage to the right side of the car, nearly six hours into the race, and lost five laps while in the garage. The team regained four of those laps before returning to the garage to repair a broken suspension part, believed to have resulted from the earlier incident.

“The car is good, the Chevrolet engine is good and I am looking forward to the season,” said Taylor. “We know where the engine is now. We know we have a strong engine. All the variables we were worried about, we have answers to and I think they are all positive.”

It was a lap down, as was the sixth-place Krohn Racing Ford/Lola driven by Ricardo Zonta, Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Nicholas Minassian.

Attrition took its toll among many of the contenders. Jorg Bergmeister won the pole in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche/Riley and led the opening 27 laps, but an off-track excursion to avoid an incident damaged the front end of the car and sent the team to the garage, losing 19 laps.

Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson joined two-time DP champs Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty in the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet/Riley, but the trio fell out of contention late Saturday evening with brake problems. They finished 15th overall and 12th in DP.

The highly competitive race featured 52 lead changes among 27 drivers. Twelve of the 18 Daytona Prototypes in the field led at some point.

While there were no major incidents, early morning fog led to 57 laps of caution, a period covering 2 hours and 47 minutes.

The next action for the Rolex Series will be another series tradition – the Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway, on March 5.

In GT, the team owned and co-driven by Patrick Dempsey appeared to have a great shot at winning as it held a comfortable lead with 5 hours, 48 minutes to go.

But a minute later, driver Tom Long spun the car and then stalled it. Unable to restart it, he fell well back into the field.

That allowed the the TRG Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car of Andy Lally to steam past and take the lead. And, it put TRG teammate Patrick Pilet in second place.

But with 3:48 to go, Pilet’s car broke a shock and that knocked him seven laps off the pace.

Lally got the victory by two laps over the Paul Miller Racing Porsche, which was driven by Bryce Miller.

Sharing the wheel with Lally were Spencer Pumpelly, NASCAR star Brendan Gaughan and Porsche factory ace Wolf Henzler.

Co-drving the Miller entry were Tim Sugden, Bryan Sellers and Rob Bell.

Third was the Dempsey Racing Mazda RX8, driven to the finish by Joe Foster.

“It was pretty emotional,” said Dempsey, who joined his teammates in scoring their best Rolex Series finish. The team led 197 laps with Dempsey out front for 28 of them. “To be on the wall and hear everybody’s journey with each stint was an incredibly joyous, magic, fun moment. It’s validation for all of their hard work, and this is a team sport.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 30 2011
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