GRAND AM NEWS: Tight Championship Battle Resumes This Weekend at VIR 400

Photo by John Thawley DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 24, 2007) – After more than a month off, the battle for the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve returns to the forefront this weekend at Virginia International Raceway for split Daytona Prototype and GT races at the VIR 400 (GT Race – SPEED, Tape, 4/28, 8:30 p.m. ET, Daytona Prototype race – SPEED, Live, 4/29, 1:00 p.m. ET).

No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley driver Scott Pruett leads the Daytona Prototype championship standings by a single point over No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley co-drivers Max Angelelli and Jan Magnussen, 93-92, heading into this weekend’s race on the 3.27-mile 17-turn VIR road circuit. Pruett’s points lead is courtesy of his victory in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona with co-drivers Salvador Duran and Juan Pablo Montoya, and a pair of top-four finishers with full-time co-driver Memo Rojas.

Pruett may well escape this weekend with the points lead if past history is any indication, as he has finished on the podium in all three of his previous races at VIR, including a victory in 2005. However, VIR has also been good to Angelelli, who won there in 2004 and has placed inside the top four in each of his three previous appearances. Also working in Angelelli’s favor is the fact that he and Magnussen have finished inside the top five in their last 10 races as co-drivers and have finished on the podium in all three of their starts this season.

While championship battles between the No. 01 and No. 10 teams have basically remained constant since both teams joined the Rolex Series in 2004, the last two races have seen a pair of teams earn their first Rolex Series victories. In Round 2 at Mexico City, No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley co-drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty finally broke through for a long-awaited victory, while two-time Rolex Series GT champion Bill Auberlen and his No. 05 Luggage Express Team Sigalsport BMW Riley co-driver Matthew Alhadeff claimed their first win in Daytona Prototype competition in Round 3 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

While the No. 01, No. 99 and No. 05 teams have already celebrated in Victory Lane this weekend, the No. 10 team leads a long list of talented teams that may break through this weekend. Certainly, the No. 75 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley pairing of Colin Braun and Max Papis must be considered top contenders after a near miss at Mexico City, where they finished second, and three top-11 results to open the year. Another one to watch will be Patrick Carpentier in the No. 11 South Coast Fish Company/SAMAX Pontiac Riley. The Canadian has a pair of top-four results from the first three races and will welcome a new co-driver this weekend.

Certainly not to be overlooked is the No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team Porsche Crawford, which claimed its last victory one year ago at VIR. Co-driving the No. 23 machine will be defending race-winner Patrick Long and 2006 Daytona Prototype champion Jörg Bergmeister. After a bit of a rough start to the season, the No. 23 Porsche was one of the top contenders at Homestead and the team may be poised to turn its season around this weekend.

Other strong Porsche-powered Daytona Prototypes in this weekend’s field include the No. 39 Crown Royal Special Reserve/Cheever Racing Porsche Fabcar, the No. 58 Red Bull/Brumos Racing Porsche Riley and the No. 59 Brumos Porsche/Kendall Porsche Riley. The No. 39 machine with co-drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Harrison Brix has run among the leaders in both of its races since debuting in Mexico City, while the No. 58 with co-drivers David Donohue and Darren Law has been plenty fast and just in need of some racing luck. Meanwhile, JC France and road racing legend Hurley Haywood have earned two top-five results from their first three races in the No. 59.

The two-car Michael Shank Racing operation is another team with the wherewithal to claim victory at any time and features co-drivers Oswaldo Negri Jr. and Mark Patterson in the team’s No. 60 Lexus Riley and Ian James and Henri Zogaib in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley. Likewise, the No. 61 Exchange Traded Gold/AIM Autosport Lexus Riley in the hands of Mark Wilkins and Brian Frisselle, and the No. 3 Preformed Line Products/TrueChoice Motorsports Lexus Riley of co-drivers Shane Lewis and Randy Ruhlman of nearby Greensboro, N.C. could also contend.

This weekend will feature yet another Lexus Riley, as co-drivers Rob Finlay and Michael Valiante have joined forces with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates to field the No. 19 Z-Line Designs/Mission Residential/Make-A-Wish Lexus Riley.

Two other teams with local ties also bear close watching this weekend, as either team could well find their way to Victory Lane. The No. 91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley—based in Mooresville, N.C.—will be shared by co-drivers Jim Matthews and Belgian racer Marc Goossens, with Chris and Rob Dyson slated to share the No. 16 Thetford/Norcold Porsche Crawford for the Denver, N.C.-based Howard Motorsports team.

Completing a strong field are past Rolex Series race-winners Tracy Krohn and Nic Jönsson in the No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley and Memo Gidley with a co-driver to be announced in the No. 77 Kodak/Feeds The Need/Doran Racing Ford Doran, and the No. 12 RVO Motorsports Pontiac Riley to be shared by co-drivers Roger Schramm and Justin Bell.

The VIR 400 for the Daytona Prototypes takes the green flag at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday with live coverage airing on SPEED.

Headlining Saturday’s schedule will be the VIR 400 for the GT machines. No. 70 SpeedSource/Mazdaspeed Mazda RX-8 co-drivers Sylvain Tremblay and Nick Ham lead the GT championship standings by 17 points, 96-79, over No. 22 Gatorade/ Porsche GT3 co-drivers Carlos de Quesada and Jean-Francois Dumoulin.

Tremblay and Ham make their way to VIR riding a two-race class winning streak and will be looking to make it three-in-a-row this weekend, while de Quesada and Dumoulin took a prestigious class win in the Rolex 24 At Daytona to open the year and are looking to continue their momentum this weekend.

Both teams will be challenged by a host of proven GT front-runners. Leading the charge are multi-time GT race-winners Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards in the No. 07 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R. Collins and Edwards are part of a two-car operation from Banner Racing with team owner/driver Leighton Reese and co-driver Tim Lewis Jr. in the team’s No. 06 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R.

Farnbacher Loles Motorsports fields a pair of ultra-fast Porsche GT3s with co-drivers Dominik Farnbacher and Leh Keen sharing the No. 85 Shoes for Crews/Recaro machine and Bryce Miller and Dirk Werner slated for the No. 87 Marquis Jet/IPC/Recaro Porsche. Either one of those cars could find their way to Victory Circle.

The same can be said for the two-car Tafel Racing entry, with Wolf Henzler and Eric Lux sharing the team’s No. 74 Rembrandt Charms Porsche GT3 and Andrew Davis and Nathan Swartzbaugh co-driving the No. 72 Tornos/Dunkel Bros Porsche GT3. TRG’s four-car entry could also be tough, with defending GT co-champion Andy Lally sharing the No. 66 F1 Air Porsche GT3 with RJ Valentine, the No. 67 NETTS/Louis Boston Porsche GT3 of Spencer Pumpelly and Mark Greenberg, the No. 65 Maxwell Paper Products Co. Porsche of Ross Smith and a co-driver to be named, and the No. 64 SRS/JLowe Racing Porsche GT3 of Jim Lowe and Jim Pace.

Based at VIR, the Synergy Racing team will field a pair of entries. Former Virginia Tech football star Steve Johnson will co-drive the No. 81 EMC Mechanical/Gamewell Mechanical Porsche GT3 with Patrick Huisman, and Maurice Hill is slated to drive the No. 80 Synergy Racing Porsche GT3. Hill’s co-driver has not yet been named.

If the team’s success in the 2007 Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series is any indication, the No. 15 USG Sheetrock/Guardian Insulation Ford Mustang Cobra GT is another solid contender. KONI Challenge Grand Sport points leader Tom Nastasi, who has won all three 2007 KONI Challenge Series events thus far, will be joined once again in the No. 15 Mustang by Champ Car World Series veteran Alex Tagliani.

The GT field has 28 cars entered for the race, which will take the green flag at 4:30 p.m. ET. The VIR 400 for GT cars will be televised on SPEED on a slight tape-delay, airing at 8:30 p.m. ET on Saturday night.

Live coverage from throughout the weekend, including Live Timing & Scoring data from all official sessions and audio webcasts of both races will be available on the official web site of Grand-Am,

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