Ganassi Third Straight... Mazda On Top In GT

Photo by John Thawley 

For the third straight year, a Chip Ganassi Lexus Riley was the first to cross the finish line for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates racing program became the first team to capture a Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victory in three straight years. Rolex Series stars Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti captured the victory in the No. 01 TELMEX/Target Lexus Riley. The record breaking race was the 46th running of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 season opener.

While the No. 01 team led 252 laps, it was clear a race win would have to be earned surviving the rain and slippery track prevalent throughout the night stages of the race. When the checkered flag waved, the Ganassi quartet executed their strategy to perfection and went without the mechanical problems that plagued many of their counterparts.

The wins were the second straight for Montoya and Pruett, the first time drivers earned repeat victories in the race since Derek Bell, Al Unser, Jr. and Al Holbert accomplished the feat in 1986 and 1987.

“We pushed very hard,” Montoya said. “Every stint I was in the car, I pushed really hard. It’s a good way to start the year. We all worked; we all did what we need to do.”

The victory added to Pruett’s already all-time best eight class victories at the Rolex 24 and record 15th overall Rolex Series wins. It was his third overall in the Rolex 24.

“Your last one is always your best. This was tough,” Pruett said when asked to pick the favorite of his Rolex 24 wins. “The conditions were pretty treacherous because it was rain, then it was dry, then it was a little bit of wet again. That makes for a really tough race. I can’t say enough for all of the Ganassi guys.”

Photo by John Thawley
In the Rolex Series GT class, Rolex 24 At Daytona polesitter Sylvain Tremblay finished what he started Sunday by taking the checkered flag with his SpeedSource co-drivers Nick Ham, David Haskell and Raphael Matos in the No. 70 Mazdaspeed Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8 at Daytona International Speedway. The quartet also finished ninth overall in the race.

Tremblay set a record qualifying time Friday with a time of 1:50.758 (115.712 mph). The victory was the fourth for the operation in Rolex Series GT, which is in its second full season of GT racing with the Mazda. The team also won the two-hour, 45-minute sprint at Daytona in July 2007.

With the exception of an off-track excursion and a few near misses, the team put together an almost flawless effort. The four combined to lead 323 of the overall 664 GT laps contested (48.6 percent), including the race’s final quarter. Each driver led at least 40 laps in Mazda’s first victory in any Rolex 24 At Daytona class since winning in SRP in 2001.

“Our biggest mechanical problem is my ears,” Tremblay said. “I had fluid in my ear yesterday and couldn’t hear anything. We also lost the driver’s side mirror, which is a problem, especially here, but our spotters did a great job. The car was flawless.”

The victory by the SpeedSource Mazda - combined with a Lexus-powered Daytona Prototype taking the overall win - broke a 14-year streak of Porsches in the Rolex 24 Victory Lane.

“It was pretty special,” Tremblay said of winning the Rolex 24. “I’ve dreamt of this since I’ve started racing. To win at Daytona has been a dream of mine for a long, long time. When I first talked of getting a Mazda running against the Porsches, it seemed like a joke back then. There was so much that had to happen, so many pieces we had to build. Then we had to convince other people to believe in our dream, and pull on from there.”

“Today is really the culmination of a lot of work from a lot of different people who all had a dream - to come here and race against the best,” Tremblay continued. “I must say, in all the years I’ve been racing, the GT field was by far the stiffest, strongest field I’ve ever seen in any GT race anywhere in the world. I’m proud of the accomplishment of my teammates. It’s a dream come true.”

Ham felt a win in the series’ biggest race was not only rewarding but would carry over in the season-long points chase.

“It was a reasonably uneventful race,” said Ham, who led nine times for 93 laps. “We all had our moments, but the key thing was that everyone on the team did their job, and did it to the best of their ability. That in the end is why we won. This victory is definitely going to give us a good place to start. It’s nice having the lead going into Homestead. Hopefully, we can maintain it.”

While SpeedSource celebrated its win, TRG went full force for the other top-five positions. Running a strong seven-car effort for the Rolex 24, TRG Porsches garnered second, third and fourth in the 24-hour classic that saw five of the seven cars take the checkered flag.

The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 will continue racing March 28-29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami.

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