GRAND AM NEWS: Lally, Valentine Win Series-Leading Fourth Grand-Am Rolex GT Race of Season at Iowa Speedway

Photo by John Thawley DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 14, 2007) – Despite falling a lap behind early in Saturday’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve GT race at Iowa Speedway, Andy Lally put the No. 66 TRG CRG/Maxter Porsche GT3 into the lead with 20 laps remaining in the two-and-a-half hour race and came away with the team’s series-leading fourth victory of 2007.

Lally, who took over for co-driver RJ Valentine during the first 20 minutes of the race, fell as far back as 14th before charging through the field. Lally assumed the lead for a lap during the final round of pit stops, rejoined the race in second behind No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports IPC/Marquis Jet Porsche GT3 driver Dirk Werner, then pressured the leader for several laps before getting a run coming out of Turn 9 on Lap 165. Lally and Werner went side-by-side across the start/finish line before Lally completed the pass in Turn 1.

From there, Lally endured challenges by Tim Lewis Jr. – who passed Werner on Lap 172 – in the No. 06 Banner Racing/Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R before beating Lewis by 0.618 seconds on the 1.3-mile, nine-turn stadium road course. Lally averaged 95.995 mph in an event which saw only two caution periods, both for debris.

It was a hard-fought victory not just on the track, but in the car as well. Lally – who posted his record 50th career Grand-Am Rolex Series podium finish – fought hot conditions throughout the afternoon, stopping once just to have his TRG team pour ice down his driver suit. He also frequently stuck his hand between the window net to get air. The consolation was victory and a jump to second in points, 10 behind Werner with three races remaining.

“This place is so busy,” Lally said. “But this is what you dream for. At the end, I was seriously worried. The only thing I knew was that Dirk was hot, because we were both hanging our hands out the sides of the car trying to get some air. I don’t think I was going to get by Dirk if it weren’t for a couple of situations. When I saw Tim in my mirrors, I got really worried, but luckily, everything worked out well.

“This was our biggest win of the year. New team sponsor AVIVA is located here in Iowa, and they had so many people here. It was great to come out and get a victory in front of their guys.”

Valentine started the car 13th and improved several spots before pitting under the green flag. He watched as Lally fell a lap behind, but every other team made its first stop under green too, allowing Lally to make it into the top five when the first round of stops cycled through.

“As always, my job is just to come out here and hand the car off to Andy and let him take it from there,” Valentine said. “This is a great win for TRG. We are so pleased to be in victory lane once again and take second in points.”

Lewis’s car owner and co-driver Leighton Reese, who started third, fell behind after a first lap skirmish with No. 85 Farnbacher Loles Motorsports Shoes For Crews/Recaro Porsche GT3 driver Dominik Farnbacher on the first lap. Despite spinning, Reese stayed on the lead lap, and turned the car over to Lewis after returning to the top five. Lewis never dropped out of the top five, and after getting past Werner for second, didn’t have enough to run down Lally.

“I was just surprised how the car came to me,” Lewis said. We had some understeer early, but the car kept coming in. The Pontiac was great today. I think I wore the car out trying to catch Andy, so I don’t think I would have had anything for him at the end. Of course, I don’t know what he had left in the bank either.”

A former oval racer, Reese was happy to return to the Hawkeye State on a road course. He was also happy the first lap incident didn’t put the team further behind.

"I’ve been driving long enough and knew when the car was on the grass I didn’t have a flat tire,” Reese said. “I ended up in front of him (Farnbacher) sideways. I had a good car and a good drive. We pounded away all day. I kind of drove it around, and Tim was fighting there for the win. The fans in Iowa are great. This track has turned into a first-class facility. All my Iowa racing has been circle-track of sorts, so this is great.”

Werner and Bryce Miller finished third after Werner slipped back in the waning laps. Werner led for a race-high 69 laps, all in succession, taking the point when leader Paul Edwards brought his car in with mechanical problems. Werner held more than an 11-second advantage before a caution on Lap 143 bunched up the field. Lally pressured Werner until the winning pass. Werner was 17.722 seconds behind Lally at the checkered flag, the final driver on the lead lap.

“During the race, I thought we had a good chance to win today,” Werner said. “Bryce did a great job during his stint. The Pontiacs were stronger than we were all day. Our car had a disadvantage at the end as we were running on tires from the first pit stop. With the championship lead, I’m pretty happy. We got another podium finish, and we’ll see what we can do during the next three races.”

Miller was a top-five performer all afternoon too. He started fifth but moved to third after a lap and handed the car off to Werner on Lap 51 while running in the same position. The third-place finish was the duo’s seventh podium in 10 starts.

“I just tried to go out there and run conservatively,” Miller said. “I wanted to hand the car off to him (Werner) in good condition and let him do what he needed to do. The car was good. The thing that really made the difference was the tires. We opted for a different strategy, so we had to conserve what we had.”

Spencer Pumpelly and Bryan Sellers made it two TRG cars in the top five as the pair claimed fourth in the No. 67 TRG AVIVA Porsche GT3, painted specifically in bright yellow for the race. Sellers ran as high as second before Pumpelly joined the race on Lap 96. Pumpelly ran among the top-five the remainder of the race.

Nick Longhi and Emil Assentato in the No. 69 SpeedSource FXDD Mazda RX-8 rounded out the top five after running near the front all afternoon. Assentato started and finished the car, and Longhi entered the top five on Lap 120. It marked the duo’s second top-five finish of 2007, and Assentato picked up another Bob Akin Award medal for the effort.

Many drivers who ran near the front early in the afternoon found themselves near the bottom of the final rundown. Incoming championship points co-leaders Edwards and Kelly Collins dominated the first half of the race, leading 95 of the first 96 laps. But Edwards pulled into the pits on a Lap 98 restart with mechanical problems. He returned to the track two laps later, but a failed power steering belt led to terminal mechanical problems and forced Edwards back into the pits. The duo was credited with 14th and fell to a third-place tie in points, now 11 behind Werner.

No. 72 Tafel Racing Tornos/ANCA Porsche GT3 co-driver Wolf Henzler, who moved to the No. 72 after his No. 74 Tafel Racing Rembrandt Charms Porsche GT3 was damaged in Friday’s practice session when teammate Eric Lux hit the tire barrier in Turn 4. Henzler ran as high as third before an oil leak forced him into the pits for an extended period. Co-driver Nathan Swartzbaugh returned to the track, and the pair finished ninth.

No. 70 SpeedSource Mazdaspeed Mazda RX-8 co-drivers Nick Ham and Sylvain Tremblay suffered a severe blow to their championship hopes on Lap 41 when Ham got loose coming out of Turn 4. With nowhere to go, No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Stevenson Automotive Corvette driver Marc Bunting slammed into the left front of Ham’s Mazda, sending both cars behind the wall. Tremblay returned to the track on Lap 89, but he and Ham were credited with a 13th-place finish, 50 laps off the pace. Bunting retired in 17th.

The Rolex Sports Car Series returns to action next weekend with the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. while the Daytona Prototypes are scheduled for a two-and-a-half hour race Sunday (SPEED, 3 p.m. ET Sunday, July 22). The GT race is also scheduled for two and a half hours and will start at 4 p.m. Saturday (SPEED, 4 p.m. ET Saturday, July 21).

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