Ganassi's fifth Daytona 24 win


Five wins in the last eight Rolex 24 Hour races at Daytona is a pretty impressive record. Chip Ganassi’s IndyCar team has established itself over the past 15 years as one of America’s best open-wheel teams and it can fairly be said after last weekend at Daytona that Chip’s Grand-Am team is without doubt America’s best sports car team.

As always, Ganassi ran two cars at Daytona and his pair of Riley-BMWs swept the front row and ran among the leaders from the start. The second car driven by Dario Franchitti/Scott Dixon/Jamie McMurray/Joey Hand eventually dropped out on Sunday morning with a gearbox failure. But the team’s lead car driven by Scott Pruett/Memo Rojas/Juan Pablo Montoya/Charlie Kimball led most of the race and came through to win with Montoya driving a fast, final stint.

Kimball, Montoya, Rojas and Pruett relax after the race

Montoya eventually won by more than twenty seconds from Wayne Taylor’s Corvette DP driven by Max Angelelli/Jordan Taylor/Ryan Hunter-Reay with last year’s winners AJ Allmendinger/Justin Wilson/Oswaldo Negri/John Pew/Marcos Ambrose finishing third aboard Mike Shank’s Riley-Ford. Shank’s team lost six laps early in the race because of a suspension failure but used the many yellow flags to great effect to get themselves back on the lead lap for an excellent result. The GT class saw a 1-2 sweep for Audi as Alex Job Racing’s Audi R8 won the class and finished ninth overall, 31 laps behind Ganassi’s winning car.

The only team to win more 24 Hour races at Daytona than Ganassi’s operation is the Brumos team from nearby Jacksonville, winners of six Daytona 24 Hours. Meanwhile, Pruett has tied Hurley Haywood’s record of five wins in the race so that Pruett and Ganassi have every chance of emerging as Daytona’s most successful long-distance driver and team.

After the race second-placed Angelelli complained that Taylor’s Chevy-powered Corvette DP was hamstrung by the Grand-Am’s rules equalisation or ‘performance-balancing’. “We have something restricted,” Angelelli grumbled. “It’s just like we were driving with handcuffs. It’s so obvious, so unfair. Montoya and the 01 car are in another league. It’s an A class. We are B class.”

Montoya takes the flag in the Riley-BMW

Ganassi said his team worked hard for its advantage. “Our guys worked very, very hard on the mechanical grip of the cars,” he commented. “When you see the speed at the end of the straightaway that our car had, it was because we had less wing on the car. Like I said, we work very, very hard on the mechanical side so we can run less wing here and be fast down the straightaway.”

Montoya echoed Ganassi’s comments. “We’ve been in that (Angelelli’s) situation before and still fought for the win,” he remarked. “We were down on power here last year, but if you look at the other two BMW cars here this year they were as quick as the field. I think as a team we did a really good job of taking drag out of the car and understanding what needed to be done to get the top speed up. We did our homework and it paid off.”

Rojas said the Corvettes enjoyed an advantage last year which has been negated this season. “They had the best cars last year during the season,” Rojas commented. “It’s one of those things where it’s not only speed but the whole package, a good team and no mistakes. They were the quickest car through all of 2012 and they just made too many mistakes. They need to remember that.”

Pruett added his view. “I think it’s a great thing that the Grand-Am continually looks to equalise the cars,” Pruett said. “All the Rileys had to add drag to their cars. Everybody knew that we were in deficit on the engine side last year. We won two races and Chevy won eight races last year, so I think it was pretty clear where the dominance was, and I think we’ve seen so far, if it’s not right, the Grand-Am will come and fix it.

The second-place Corvette of Angelelli, Hunter-Reay and Taylor

“The NASCAR regime has always been to entertain the fans with close competition and our series is owned by NASCAR with the same philosophy. I guarantee you there’s a chance our car will be impounded and taken back to the NASCAR tech centre and they’ll have a close look at it and make any changes needed if they feel like they need to do it.”

In fact, the first three finishers were impounded after the race and taken to NASCAR’s technical centre in North Carolina for further inspection. So goes the beat of American-style Grand-Am sports car racing.

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