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Dalziel Wins Race, Pruett Wins Crown In GRAND-AM Finale

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 19 2011

Scott Pruett heads for another GRAND-AM championship at Mid-Ohio on Saturday. (Photos courtesy of the Rolex GRAND-AM Road Racing Series.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Determined to “win or wreck,” Ryan Dalziel held off newly re-crowned Daytona Prototype champion Scott Pruett by 0.416-seconds to capture the 2011 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series season-ending EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Pruett and Memo Rojas clinched their third DP title in four years Saturday afternoon by completing the minimum 30 minutes required to score points in the No. 01 TELMEX BMW/Riley. Pruett made numerous attempts to close the year on a winning note, but Dalziel was up to the challenge and gave the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Ford/Riley started by rookie Enzo Potolicchio its first victory of the season.

Meanwhile, Ronnie Bremer and Robin Liddell took the victory in GT, combining to lead 34 laps en route to the second straight win for the No. 57 Stevenson Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro GT.R. The class championship was claimed by Andrew Davis and Leh Keen in the No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche GT3.

“This is absolutely huge for Starworks,” Dalziel said. “We’ve been through some rough years, but Peter (Baron) keeps brining me back. This victory was more emotional for me than winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona last year. Today was one of those days when it all comes together. At the end, I was driving my butt off to stay ahead of Scott. I said in my head, ‘I’m going to win or wreck.’^”

Potolicchio, a native of Venezuela, said his teammate was the difference-maker around the 2.258-mile,

Ryan Dalziel, Peter Baron and Enzo Potolicchio.

13-turn layout in Lexington, Ohio. “It was an amazing race, and it’s unbelievable,” Potolicchio said. “It’s all my teammate (Dalziel). I felt good with my job, I kept a good pace. Then Ryan drove an amazing race.” Dalziel and Potolicchio averaged 79.241 mph in a race that featured eight caution periods for 32 laps.

Pruett scored his fourth DP title and the fifth team championship for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates since the organization entered the Rolex Series in 2004. Pruett and Rojas finished with a 32-point margin (385-353) over Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor in the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Chevrolet/Dallara in the final standings.

The pole-sitting No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet/Riley duo of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty _ looking to end the year with two consecutive victories _ finished third in the 2 hour, 45-minute event to clinch third in the team championship.

BMW tied Chevrolet for the DP Manufacturers’ Championship points lead at 385, with the German marque claiming the title by virtue of a double-tiebreaker. Both manufacturers recorded five wins, so BMW’s four runner-up finishes to Chevrolet’s three made the difference.

“It’s been an incredible year for us,” Pruett said. “We’ve had our ups-and-downs, but we’ve been focused as a team to get our car to the front as much as possible. All my championships are great. I never thought I’d still be winning championships at this point in my career.”

Ricky Taylor and Angelelli both led Saturday in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing entry, but the car broke

Ricky Taylor put the SunTrust Wayne Taylor Racing team had disappointing end to their season. (File photo courtesy of the Rolex GRAND-AM Series)

exiting the pits after its final stop en route to an 11th-place finish. Despite leading twice for 23 of the opening 43 laps, the team endured an unceremonious end to its season when the car’s clutch failed while Angelelli was trying to exit the pits after the final stop with less than an hour to go.

It was the team’s first DNF (Did Not Finish) result since April 2010 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., 21 races ago, and only its eighth DNF in 104 races since joining the Rolex Series in 2004.

“Looking back on the year, we finished second in the championship, Ricky has now led 17 races in a row, he’s earned six poles, he and Max got three wins and lots of podiums (eight),” said team-owner Wayne Taylor, who co-drove with Angelelli to SunTrust’s Rolex Series DP championship in 2005. “I can’t complain but, you know, it’s all about winning races and championships.

“Hats off to the Ganassi guys on winning the championship again this year. We’ll have to work that much harder to try and get the championship for next year. Now the headache really starts. There’s a lot of work, a lot of things that need to happen, a lot of things to put in place. The bottom line is we have to win the championship. It’s been too long.”

Angelelli led six laps to bring his season total to 302, second only to teammate Taylor’s series-high 311. “The good thing is that we finished second in the championship, but when you have a car that should have won the race, it makes it very difficult to accept,” Angelelli said. “I think when we go to Las Vegas (for the Rolex Series Champions Banquet) we can look back on an excellent season and we will feel like celebrating. Right now, it doesn’t feel so good.”

Taylor and Angelelli’s combined 613 laps-led this season are the most by a SunTrust Racing duo. Angelelli and Wayne Taylor’s 508 laps-led during their 2005 championship season was the previous high. Ricky Taylor’s six poles also are a season-high for SunTrust, the previous record being four pole positions in 2008. The three victories this season also are the most since the SunTrust team scored five wins in 14 events in 2005.

“This is not the way you want to finish the season because we were just so fast,” Ricky Taylor said. “We’ve been so fast all year and the team’s done such a great job all year. We owned the last two-thirds of the season, I think, and we wanted to finish with one more win. We’ll just have to keep the momentum going into next year and translate all that good work into the new bodywork all the teams will be running. That will level the playing field, so everyone will have to work really hard to get back to where they want to be _ ourselves included.”

GAINSCO’s third-place race/overall finish marked the fifth consecutive GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Series season _ including Daytona Prototype championships in 2007 and 2009_ in which Gurney and Fogarty have recorded a top-three result in the year-end team point standings.

After winning a record-extending 19th career DP pole during Friday’s qualifying session, Fogarty jumped to an early lead in the No. 99 “Red Dragon” and joined Gurney in pacing 32 of the race’s 97 laps. Fogarty led the first nine laps while Gurney set the pace for 23 circuits as the race moved through the two-hour mark.

“It’s good to be on the podium but definitely not what we were looking for,” Gurney said. “It was certainly a wild and exciting race from the driver’s seat. Starting out on the pole, we definitely had the goal of winning but our strategy didn’t work out for us. When things kind of shook out, I was behind the leading No. 10 car, they pitted, and we didn’t. At that point, we are on a different strategy and we needed for it not to go yellow. We were pitting on a specific lap, and about halfway around that lap, the race went yellow. It destroyed our strategy.”

After pitting from the lead, Gurney returned to the race in fifth. He immediately began to work back to the lead pack only to encounter a rear suspension or related issue less than 40 minutes from the finish.

Counting Saturday’s Mid-Ohio result, Gurney and Fogarty scored six top-three finishes in the year’s final seven races, including victories at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., in July and in the penultimate round of the season last month at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Along with an early-season second-place finish at Barber Motorsports Park, the GAINSCO Boys finished on the podium in seven of 12 races in 2011 _ a record that included two victories, two runner-up finishes and three third-place showings.

Gurney and Fogarty ran their final race in the proven Riley XX chassis Saturday, the same car the team has relied upon, through two slightly different versions, since entering the Rolex Sports Car Series in 2005. A new “DPG3” Riley chassis will be the car of choice next season.

A late-season addition to the Stevenson team, Bremer finished with a pole and two straight victories in the No. 57 Camaro GT.R. Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato finished second Saturday by 0.296-seconds in the No. 69 FXDD Mazda RX-8 while James Gue and Dane Cameron placed third in the No. 41 Seattle Children’s Hospital/Bass 2 Billfish Mazda RX-8.

Davis and Keen, meanwhile, placed fourth to capture the GT championship in Brumos Racing’s first season in the class. The co-drivers of the No. 59 Brumos Porsche GT3 were trailing Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito, drivers of the No. 70 Castrol Edge Mazda RX-8, late in the event. But Keen beat Bomarito out of the pits following the final stop and held that advantage for the remainder of the event.

“At the beginning of the year, Hurley Haywood sat us down and told us we were going to race to win races and championships,” Keen said of the team’s mentor/manager. “Winning the championship in our first year shows what Brumos is made of. This championship feels better than my first, doing it the way we did it and how it all unfolded, bringing Brumos back to GT.”

Davis and Keen finished two points (319-317) ahead of Bill Lester and Jordan Taylor as Brumos Racing won its first title since capturing the North American Endurance Championship in 1994. Davis led 12 laps in the famed No. 59 Porsche after starting from the back when the team missed qualifying.

“My stint was very eventful,” Davis said. “Coming from the back to the front was a lot of fun. Our strategy helped, but once I was up-front I was able to drive away. It was great to lead a few laps after our disappointment in qualifying.”

Starting from the pole, Liddell and Bremer piloted the No. 57 Camaro GT.R to the team’s third victory of the season by leading a combined 34 of 97 laps. Additionally, Liddell and Bremer presented Chevrolet its first GT Class Manufacturers’ Championship.

“As a GM factory driver, winning the Manufacturers’ Championship for Chevrolet is the most important thing from my perspective,” Liddell said. “It was a very tight battle and I didn’t really feel like I had the car under me. When I was sitting there in fourth, I thought that was the best we were going to do. But we made some small changes on our last pit stop, and that gave us enough to have the car to win. Near the end I was aggressive in the right places and managed to get by the Mazdas one-by-one.”

Lester was bidding to become the country’s first African-American champion of a major auto racing series while Jordan Taylor, Ricky’s brother, was looking to become GRAND-AM’s youngest champion. But Lester spun the No. 88 Autohaus Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro GT.R off the circuit (without help) and lost a lap in the opening minutes. The team eventually worked its way back onto the lead lap and an eighth-place finish.

“All of our Chevrolet teams have put forth a tremendous effort this season,” said Mark Kent, director, GM Racing. “In DP, we battled to the last corner of the last lap for the engine Manufacturers’ Championship. Although we tied in the total points scored and total wins, we had to settle for second because of the tiebreaker rule. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort.

“As the season went on, we’ve continued to improve the performance of our Chevrolet-powered cars in DP as well as the Camaro race cars in both Rolex GT and Continental Tire GS classes. We’re looking forward to the 2012 season and contending for the title in all three classes.”

Next activity for series participants will be the Rolex Series Champions Banquet presented by SunTrust at The Bellagio in Las Vegas on Monday, Sept. 26.

The 2012 Rolex Series will open with the historic 50th anniversary running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Jan. 28-29.

The Roar Before the Rolex 24 test at Daytona International Speedway is booked for Jan. 5-8. GRAND-AM also will conduct open tests for Rolex Series and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge competitors at Barber Motorsports Park on Oct. 17-18, and Daytona International Speedway on Nov. 15-16. A Rolex Series open test also is scheduled for DIS’ “roval” on Dec. 6-7.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 19 2011
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