Ganassi’s golden run

by Gordon Kirby on 31st January 2011

Chip Ganassi’s Grand-Am team added to its already stunning record in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona last weekend when its pair of BMW-powered Riley Daytona Prototypes finished one-two. Defending Grand-Am champions Scott Pruett/Memo Rojas shared the winning car with Graham Rahal and Joey Hand, while Scott Dixon/Juan Pablo Montoya/Dario Franchitti/Jamie McMurray drove Ganassi’s second car. This was Ganassi’s fourth Rolex 24 win but only its first one-two. The team scored three straight wins in 2006-08 and finished runner-up in 2009-10.

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Last weekend’s sweep further embellishes Ganassi’s reputation. His teams scored successive wins in last year’s Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400, and now the Rolex 24. Some people are calling it ‘The Chip Slam’. Grand-Am team leader Pruett, by the way, now has four Daytona 24 Hours wins to his name and has been on the podium in 14 of his 26 starts in the race.

Ganassi’s previous Rolex 24 wins came with Lexus (Toyota) engines, but Chip’s Grand-Am team switched last year to BMW power. Pruett and Rojas won the championship for BMW last season and have now scored the German manufacturer’s first Daytona victory since 1976, when Brian Redman/John Fitzpatrick/Peter Gregg won the 24 Hours in a factory BMW 3.5 CSL.

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Neither of Ganassi’s cars enjoyed trouble-free runs last weekend. Montoya used his NASCAR fender-banging style to good effect on a number of occasions, but that also meant his crew had to twice change the car’s nose. Joey Hand made his debut with Ganassi’s team and did an excellent job in the winning car. Last year he drove for Bobby Rahal’s BMW GT team in the American Le Mans Series and has served a long apprenticeship in open wheel and sports cars. Hand lapped as quickly at Daytona as any of Ganassi’s drivers, and recovered well from a Sunday morning pit penalty after he was mistakenly waved out too early and hit one of his used tyres.

An indication of the thorough professionalism of Ganassi’s team was a decision during the race’s second hour to change the gear clusters in both cars. Warmer weather than anticipated and a change in wind direction meant both Ganassi cars were hitting their rev-limiters on the banking, so each car was brought in under successive yellows to remove the short gears and install a new stack of ratios.

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Finishing third behind Ganassi’s cars were last year’s winners. The Action Express team ran two Riley-Porsches this year with João Barbosa/Terry Borcheller/Max Papis/Christian Fittipaldi finishing a strong third after the team’s other car was delayed by a few incidents. Martin Brundle/Mark Blundell/Mark Patterson/Zak Brown were an excellent fourth aboard United Autosports’ Riley-Ford run by Mike Shank Racing (see Damien Smith’s blog).

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