Grand-Am Streaks Skid To A Halt At VIR
Two streaks were snapped at Virginia International Raceway on Sunday. One was six races long. One was forever long.
Bill Lester took the GT victory in the Bosch Engineering 250 to become the first African-American to win a GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series event, while Joao Barbosa beat Scott Pruett to the checkered flag by .270 seconds to end TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing’s record six-race winning streak.
Fittingly, Lester’s victory came in Danville, Va., the hometown of racing pioneer Wendell Scott – the first African-American to win at NASCAR’s highest level. Lester was joined by Jordan Taylor in the No. 88 Autohaus Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. It was Lester’s third career podium finish in 39 races.
“I’m sure that the Scott family would be happy about what I was able to accomplish,” Lester said. “I actually spent some time at the Scott residence in Danville and saw Wendell’s old garage and sat in one of his racecars. I was actually fortunate enough to help induct Wendell Scott into the Sports Hall of Fame up in New York. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been influenced by him. Even though this is a different type of racing, the fact of the matter is that I’m glad that I was able to represent minorities, basically, across the board. That’s not what I’m all about. The fact is that I’m just really proud that everything was able to come together. We’ve shown flashes of brilliance and this time we were able to put a dot over the i.”
Barbosa took the lead in the No. 9 Action Express Riley Porsche/Riley also driven by JC France and Terry Borcheller with 50 minutes remaining, and led the final 22 laps to score his first victory since the 2010 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
In addition to the $25,000 “Bounty” posted by GRAND-AM for the team that stopped the Ganassi team’s winning streak, Action Express also pocketed an $18,750 Continental Tire Horsepower bonus in addition to the winner’s share of the purse for an $83,750 payday.
“Everything clicked today,” Barbosa said. “We were able to get the track position at the right time and then I tried to do the best I could at the end. With Scott (Pruett) behind, it’s never easy, but I pushed as hard as I could and tried to gain a safe margin just in case. You never know what can come from those guys. It worked out really perfect. It was a great race and really competitive. I can’t wait to see the race on TV. I’m sure it was pretty good for the fans to watch.”
Pruett didn’t give up, though, closing up to Barbosa’s rear wing on the final lap of the competitive race. It marked only the third time in 15 races since the 2010 Rolex 24 that Pruett and Memo Rojas failed to win in the No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley.
“The wick was burning hot the whole time,” Pruett said. “As the track kept getting a little drier and a little drier, I think we were able to keep going faster and faster, but they did a terrific job. They ran strong and Joao did an incredible job there at the end. We had a hard fight. It was a lot of laps of fighting hard at it and we were giving them all we could give.”
Darren Law passed Max Angelelli with two laps remaining to give put the No. 5 Action Express Porsche/Riley in third, giving the team two cars on the podium.
The skies opened up moments before the start of the two-hour, 45-minute race, causing most of the opening hour to be run behind the pace car. By the time the checkered flag waved, the sun was shining over the 3.27-mile circuit.
The GT race also came down to the wire. Four days after his 20th birthday, Taylor led twice for 29 laps for his first victory in 26 races. He held off a late charge by Oliver Gavin in the No. 07 The Cool TV Chevrolet Camaro. It marked the fourth second-place finish for co-driver Gunter Schaldach in the last six races dating back to 2010.
Bill Auberlen finished a strong third in the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 started by Paul Dalla Lana, ending their two-race winning streak.
DP contenders Antonio Garcia – driving the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Chevrolet/Coyote started on the pole by Paul Edwards – and Alex Gurney in the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet/Riley got together in Turn 3 to bring out the fifth and final caution. Following the restart, Pruett pressured Barbosa throughout the final seven laps to the checkered flag.
– Bill Lester and Jordan Taylor entered the race ninth in the GT point standings. After scoring their first career victories, they moved up to third in the championship.
– One race after Antonio Garcia gave Spirit of Daytona Racing its first Daytona Prototype pole, Paul Edwards gave the No. 90 Chevrolet/Coyote its second straight pole. It was also his first career DP pole after setting fastest time six times in the GT division.
– Patrick Dempsey stayed out under caution during the final hour to take the overall lead in the No. 40 Dempsey Racing Mazda RX-8. He later spun to bring out the second caution period, losing a lap. Co-owner and co-driver Joe Foster kept Dempsey in the car to give him addition experience en route to a 13th-place finish.
– JC France scored his third career Daytona Prototype victory – but first since Phoenix in 2003. France and Hurley Haywood were the first overall winners in DP history that year, scoring back-to-back victories at Homestead and Phoenix.
– After finishing no better than 10th in the opening three races of the season – and missing qualifying due to a practice accident – Henri Richard and Brian Frisselle placed fifth in the No. 77 Office Depot/Future Electronics Ford/Dallara.No Comment