Ganassi / Sabates Go Three In A Row - Speedsource Puts Mazda On Top

photo by John Thawley .When Rolex Series stars Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti captured the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 season opener in the No. 01 TELMEX/Target Lexus Riley, the Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates racing program became the first team to capture three straight Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victories in as many years. The record breaking race was the 46th running of the classic endurance race.

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 Hulbert 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.”

photo by John Thawley The No. 9 Penske-Taylor Racing Toshiba Pontiac Riley of Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Kurt Busch scored a third-place finish in Roger Penske’s first Rolex 24 effort since 1973, rounding out the podium.

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.


photo by John Thawley SpeedSource came out on top of the GT category of the 46th Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, the opening round for the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. The No. 70 Mazda RX-8, driven by Sylvain Tremblay, Nick Ham, David Haskell and Raphael Matos, defeated the armada of Porsches and other contenders in the twice-around-the-clock road racing marathon.

“It’s pretty special,” said Tremblay, who’s also the team owner. “I’ve dreamed 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 team, and pull on from there.”

photo by John Thawley The win marked the first for a production-based GT-spec Mazda in the race since 1993 when Dick Greer, Al Bacon Peter Uria and Mike Mees took their RX-7 GTU to victory lane. All in all, 22 Mazda-powered entries have now triumphed in the 24 Hour at Daytona International Speedway. It also marked an end of an era for one of the manufacturer’s archrivals. The 2008 race was the first time that Porsche has not at least taken a class win in the Rolex 24 since 1993, the year of the last Mazda victory.

Starting from the pole position, Tremblay knew it was going to be a tough fight ahead, especially with the increased caliber of drivers competing in this year’s race. Jokes were even made throughout the garage area that Porsche had brought all of Germany’s drivers over with them to Daytona. While not entirely the case, the smaller car outfits like SpeedSource went up against seven-car Porsche “superteams” from TRG and Farnbacher Loles - driven by world’s best Porsche drivers, including many factory aces.

“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,” Tremblay stated. “I’m proud of the accomplishment of our teammates It’s a dream come true.”

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photo by John Thawley During the final quarter of the race, a string of bad luck hit many of the front-running machines. The least catastrophic of the bunch came when the No. 99 machine was pulled behind the wall with gearbox problems. But strong pit strategy and speed allowed the team to rally throughout the remainder of the race, making up four of the six laps they lost in the garage area.

“My guess is that if we would have changed the gearbox under yellow instead of green, we probably would have won, but you make your best decisions and run with it,” team owner Bob Stallings said. “It was a little bit chaotic. We were all arguing for about 15 minutes on if we should stay out because Jon was in the car and was gaining on Rojas. We left him out there but then the problems started to get worse and we made the decision to switch.”

Disaster struck others. With less than five hours left, a broken suspension piece on the No. 59 Brumos Porsche Riley caused Joao Barbosa to spin from the lead in the final turn. The curse hit No. 23 Alex Job Racing Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Porsche Crawford driver Joey Hand moments later as the No. 23 began smoking while running third. What was originally thought to be tire rub turned out to be a blown engine, erasing the team’s efforts that included 59 laps led.

photo by John Thawley Less than an hour later, Burt Frisselle – hoping to give Michael Shank Racing its biggest win to date – saw the No. 6 Ford Riley suffer suspension damage while running in the lead. Despite leading 118 laps, Frisselle and co-drivers Allmendinger, John Pew and Ian James fell to 14th overall and ninth in class.

Frisselle’s suspension failures left Montoya alone on the lead lap, and from there he and the TELMEX/Target team held on for a victory.

Unlike the early favorites who ran into trouble at the end, the No. 9 Penske-Taylor team’s troubles started early. The advantage of an early fumble was the ability to recover.

“I had a cut right front tire early in the race, and I just managed to bring it in without much damage,” said Castroneves. “Unfortunately, that put us a lap down. This type of race is all about not having trouble. As you can see, the winner had no trouble. To put this project together in four to six weeks with Wayne Taylor, it was an incredible result, and we are extremely happy to finish third.”

Busch, a former NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, also had an idea of what to expect having competed in a prior Rolex 24.

“It was an incredible effort,” Busch said. “I don’t know what the expectation was coming in, but when you’re teamed up with the Captain, Roger Penske, you’re only shooting for the best. To be able to have a podium finish is incredible. It was a great effort by Tim Cindric (Penske Racing President); he’s a leader on top of the pit box. That allowed us to do our job.”

The decision of Krohn Racing to put the development of the Lola chassis on hold to run the tried-and-true Riley chassis from past seasons paid off as Nic Jönsson, Ricardo Zonta and Darren Turner finished fourth overall in the No. 76 Krohn Racing Pontiac Riley.

Wayne Taylor teamed with 18-year-old son Ricky and No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley full-season drivers Max Angelelli and Michael Valiante for a scrappy fifth-place finish, eight laps behind the champions.

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photo by John Thawley Three of TRG’s seven Porsche GT3 Cups finished directly behind the winning RX-8, despite battling issues of their own. The No. 66 entry of Bryce Miller, Ted Ballou, Andy Lally and Richard Westbrook limped home in second. The drivers kept a constant eye on the water temperatures, as the car was overheating during the second half of the race. The No. 67 entry of Spencer Pumpelly, Tim George Jr., Bryan Sellers, Romain Dumas and Emmanuel Collard came crossed the line third, surviving engine worries. Jim Lowe, Jim Pace, Johannes van Overbeek, Tim Sugden and RJ Valentine co-driving the No. 64 machine finished fourth.

“Finishing second, third and fourth is huge for our team and drivers who are competing for the championship in the 2008 Rolex Grand-Am series,” said TRG team owner Kevin Buckler. “Naturally, we would have like to win the top spot on the podium, but some mechanical problems and some bad luck prevented that from happening.”

Finishing behind the three Porsches was another Mazda - the sister No. 69 SpeedSource entry of Emil Assentato, Nick Longhi, Lonnie Pechnik and Jeff Segal in fifth. The No. 80 Synergy Racing Porsche wound up sixth, with the No. 07 Banner Racing entry the highest of the Pontiacs finishing seventh.

Farnbacher Loles came equipped to the 24-hour with two, if not three, very strong driver line-ups in its Porsches. However, all three suffered setbacks, with their highest-placed Porsche being the No. 87 in eighth. This doesn’t bode well for defending series champion Dirk Werner, who wanted to secure more points at the season-opening race.

The Rolex Series will remain in Florida for round two, set to take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 29.

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