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Ganassi DPs Appear To Be The 24 Hour Power

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 25 2013

The Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Rileys are looking like the package to beat at this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Racing team owner Chip Ganassi can do sarcasm. He may be one of his biz’s top practitioners of the art, in fact. He let go with a classic after last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. That baby occurred when, in the wake of his two cars being podium-skunked, Ganassi responded to a standardized question by saying, “It was an epic race. We just weren’t a part of it.”

After Thursday’s qualifying session for the 2013 running of the Rolex 24, it appeared that Ganassi may have to dig deeper as he mines for sarcastic answers to questions posed to him after this weekend’s race. That’s because Ganassi’s two cars were clearly the quickest among all the Daytona Prototype entrants.

Driver Scott Pruett won the pole for the event – which is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. Saturday – in the 01 while Scott Dixon drove the No. 02 Ganassi BMW Riley to the outside pole.

So dominant were the Ganassi cars in qualifying that they sent other top teams and drivers into “Hey, it’s a long race” mode.

“Obviously it’s nice to be fifth,” Richard Westbrook of the top-tier, Corvette-based Spirit of Daytona team said. “Doesn’t really matter for a 24 hour race, but what’s really worrying is the gap to the BMW’s. It took a real good lap and a real good tow to even get within 1.3 seconds of them.”

While the 01 Ganassi car did manage to win the 2012 championship, it did not do so with anything resembling ease. There were only three victories and the championship came down to the final event of the year. The margin of victory was just 12 points.

For much of the last season, Ganassi and members of his team complained that Grand-Am rule-makers had tilted the playing field toward the Corvette teams.

After the season had ended, Tim Keene, general manager of Chip Ganassi Racing, told RacinToday that the BMWs were down 300 revs to the Corvettes. “It was frustrating,” Keene said, adding that his cars and drivers, Pruett and Memo Rojas, were, “unable to defend ourselves.”

Keene and the Pruett spent the first part of the off season with fingers crossed that Grand-Am would adjust the kilter of the playing field.

Their hopes were answered. And the front row was won.

“Grand-Am did extensive work over the winter looking at the cars, the Riley and the Corvette, as well as looking at the engine packages,” Pruett said. “They made some changes. I know they pulled the Corvette back a little bit, they pulled the Ford back a little bit based on the performance we saw last year. And they gave us a little. The gave us 100 rpm and they gave us some inlet trumpets.”

[Update: On Friday morning after qualifying, GRAND-AM granted the Corvettes a slightly larger air restrictor. The move allowed Corvette teams to pick up approximately 4 to 5 horsepower, which sees its mandated air restrictor increase from 1.85 to 1.90 inches, resulting in an approximate 2.7 percent increase in size. The 5.0 liter V8 powerplant ran without an air restrictor prior to this weekend.]

Even though Grand-Am also hit the Rileys with new regulations which increased their drag a bit, the Ganassi folks are clearly happy about the situation they find themselves in as the season begins.

Pruett finds himself with an opportunity to make history this weekend. A victory in the 2013 24 would be his fifth and would tie him with legendary Porsche driver Hurley Haywood for most ever.

Must be looming large, it was suggested to him Thursday.

“Not at all,” Pruett responded. “If it’s meant to be, it is…I drive in the gates yesterday and I get goose bumps just being here.”

Pruett will chase history with a revamped cast. This year, he and Rojas will run the 24 with two new teammates as Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball will share the ride.

It was suggested to Pruett that having Montoya in the car could hurt chances for victory as the Colombian NASCAR and former Formula 1 start has made a lot of enemies with his aggressive driving style in sports cars.

Pruett waived that off.

“As Juan showed up here for the test, you could tell from the start that he’s in it to win it,” Pruett said. “I mean his focus and his determination…it’s exciting to have him back on board.

“I think when you get on board the 01, it’s certainly a little different mentality than the 02 car (which is only run on a limited basis). The 01 is a season car. We look for every point out of every race to try and go after a championship while the 02 car is sometimes, just for one race, the 24, or what we saw last year, for a couple of races with the endurance championship.

“There’s a little different attitude and with that comes the respect with the 01 car. You’ve got to run fast, you’ve got to run smart.”

It certainly looks today like the running fast part is in the bag – for both Ganassi cars.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 25 2013
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