GRAND AM NEWS: Pruett, Rojas Set Grand-Am Rolex Series Overall Victory Records in Daytona Prototype Race at Iowa Speedway

Photo by John Thawley DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 13, 2007) – Daytona Prototype championship points leader Scott Pruett and his points-leading No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team rewrote the record books Friday in Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve competition, as both became leaders in overall Rolex Series victories at Iowa Speedway with a narrow triumph at the 1.3-mile, nine-turn stadium road course. Pruett shared the victory in the Daytona Prototype feature race with Mexican rookie Memo Rojas.

Pruett, who now owns a record 14 Rolex Series overall wins, led No. 19 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Z-Line/Mission Residential Lexus Riley teammate Michael Valiante by .325 seconds at the checkered flag for the No. 01 team’s second victory of 2007 and Ganassi’s first ever 1-2 finish in the series. It also marked the 15th overall Rolex Series victory for Ganassi, another series record, and gave Rojas his first Rolex Series victory after three runner-up finishes earlier this season.

Pruett averaged 105.490 mph in the 192-lap race, which had only two caution periods. He took the lead from Jörg Bergmeister on Lap 88 coming out of the pits and endured a strong challenge first by Gurney and at the end by Valiante, leading the final 105 laps. The No. 01 Lexus Riley had only led 13 laps since winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona heading into the race.

Pruett and Valiante, who co-drove with Rob Finlay to the pair’s best career finish, battled through traffic for the final 10 laps, trying desperately to garner breathing room for a clean shootout. However, lapped traffic didn’t budge, and Valiante had a last-ditch passing opportunity when Pruett’s car hiccupped in the final corner. But Valiante also checked up and didn’t force an attempt, giving Pruett just enough to secure the victory and improve his championship points lead to 15 over Max Angelelli (272-257) with five series races remaining.

“We had rules not to take each other out,” Pruett said of him and his teammates. “It was good and bad. Everything was good until the last lap when we started running out of fuel and coughing. Luckily, the car picked it up and we didn’t miss coming onto the straightaway. We unloaded strong, and we each tried some things that helped us out throughout the evening. It is a strong finish for Ganassi. We’ve been very fortunate with Ganassi, Lexus and Carlos Slim (of TELMEX). Michael and Rob have been a strong addition to the team, and all in all, we just try to do what we know how to do – go out and win races. Tonight was a lot better than I expected. I hope we put on a strong race for the fans.”

Rojas completed the first 38 laps after starting second. He fell to third on the first lap but held that position until pitting.

“Well first, I have to thank the team,” Rojas said. “They gave us a strong car the entire weekend. The first one is always the hardest one to get, so hopefully we’ll get out there and win some more. I have to thank everyone for getting us here today. We tested here, and any time I can get test time at tracks I haven’t been to, it is definitely a benefit.”

Finlay posted a career-best starting position of fifth and kept the car in the top-five much of his stint before Valiante took over during the first round of pit stops. Valiante set the race’s fastest lap on Lap 173 (41.624 seconds; 112.435 mph) and quickly shortened a three-second advantage to about six tenths of a second soon after. Valiante closed in as the lead duo approached slower traffic, and decided against possible contact with Pruett to improve his position on the final lap.

“When Scott bobbled, I checked up, and if it was anyone else I would have tried to make that winning move,” Valiante said. “It was going to be our best finishing position anyway, so it just wouldn’t have been a smart move to make and maybe take both of us out. Second was good for us. We all do a good job sharing information (within Ganassi), and this relationship has just grown very well. We are extremely happy with this result.”

Finlay was equally excited about finishing second and said it was to the team’s benefit to join forces with Ganassi in April at Virginia International Raceway. The pair has finished in the top eight in four straight Daytona Prototype races.

"It was a great day,” said Finlay, who was also awarded the race’s Jim Trueman Award. “It was the best qualifying effort I’ve ever had, especially in Daytona Prototypes. The race was going well for me until I hit a back marker. Fortunately, we kept the car going and put together a solid effort. Michael went out there and gave us the best result we’ve ever had, so an awesome night for the team.”

Polesitter Jon Fogarty and co-driver Alex Gurney in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing GAINSCO Pontiac Riley had their three-race winning streak snapped after hanging strong all evening. Fogarty led the first 34 laps before dropping to second, and Gurney ran there for much of his stint as well.

But Gurney couldn’t overcome pressure from Valiante, and slid wide on Lap 170 coming out of Turn 9. Valiante passed him crossing the start/finish line, and Gurney nearly brushed the outside wall in Turn 2. The team landed third after sitting on the pole for the fifth straight race and the front row for the ninth straight time in as many races this season. They remain tied for third in points, 22 behind Pruett.

“I wasn’t used to running up in the gray,” Gurney said of the late-race incident. “We were having problems with the header and I was going to let Michael by anyway. Jon sat on the pole and we really lost the race in the pits. But we are still happy to secure third overall. We feel like we are going to be heading to tracks we’ve done well at before, so we’re thinking we’ll be tough to beat.”

Fogarty was pleased with the result despite not garnering that record fourth consecutive Rolex Series victory.

“It was pretty clean racing,” Fogarty added, “and that’s a good thing. The race was a bit weird, as there was kind of a lot of ebb and flow. I opened up a gap, the (No.) 10 closed it, I would open it up again, then the (No.) 01 got by him and I was able to maintain the gap there. I got the car where I needed it to be, the balance came my way and I was able to hold the lead until that first yellow. I think we had a smart drive, and we did everything we could to win this race, but we just had some goofy things happen. To come away with a podium is not bad.

Colin Braun and Max Papis scored their third straight top-five finish in the No. 75 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley. Braun was running third when contact between him and Valiante sent Braun spinning. He quickly returned to action – keeping the car on the lead lap – and set his car’s fastest lap on Lap 181.

Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri fell down a lap early in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Lexus Riley, but Negri regained the lap with the second chance award and ran as high as sixth before taking the checkered flag. However, a 10-second penalty for improper fueling on No. 58 Brumos Porsche Red Bull Porsche Riley co-drivers David Donohue and Darren Law dropped their car from the top five, giving Patterson and Negri fifth.

Only two cautions slowed the race’s pace. No. 11 SAMAX/CITGO Pontiac Riley driver Kris Szekeres spun in Turn 3 on Lap 35, resulting in the first of five driver lead changes when Magnussen passed Fogarty as the pair split Szekeres. Magnussen, in the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley, brought out the other caution when he slid off the course in Turn 4, narrowly missing the tire barriers. Magnussen pitted after getting back on course, handing the car off to Max Angelelli. The pair finished seventh.

NASCAR Nextel Cup Series veteran Mark Martin started the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Preformed Line Products/TrueChoice Motorsports Lexus Riley 17th on the grid but passed five cars on the opening lap and ran as high as 11th before pitting. Shane Lewis got in the car and ran in the top five before a late-race pit stop dropped him a lap behind. Lewis and Martin were credited with eighth, the team’s first top 10 of the season, which earned the SunTrust Improve Your Position award by gaining nine positions. Regular driver Randy Ruhlman did not compete.

The Daytona Prototypes return to action next weekend with the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala (SPEED, 3 p.m. Sunday, July 22). The GT cars will compete at Iowa at 1 p.m. local time Saturday (SPEED, 2:30 p.m. Saturday).

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