With a lil’ help from Grand-Am, Ganassi BMW/Riley win Rolex 24

Grand Am Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona International Speedway, January 26-27, 2013

Scott Pruett and car owner Chip Ganassi both collected their fifth overall Rolex 24 win at Daytona

As is often the case, Chip Ganassi Racing was clearly the team to beat throughout the 51st running of the Rolex 24 on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course. The No. 01 TELMEX/Target BMW/Riley team of Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball gave Ganassi his fifth victory in 10 attempts at the Rolex 24. In the process, Pruett joined Hurley Haywood – who served as the event’s grand marshal – as the only drivers to claim five overall Rolex 24 victories.

“It’s just an incredible day all the way around, winning with these guys, winning with Chip, with TELMEX and with BMW,” Pruett said. “Then at the end of it, having gotten to know Hurley real well over the years by racing with him and just as a friend – and to have him there at the end – was pretty special. It was a very special thing.”

With its victory Team Ganassi has an early lead in the North American Endurance Championship presented by VISITFLORIDA.com. The NAEC is a three-race competition that includes the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and the Super Weekend at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette DP pitted for fuel out of the lead with a handful of minutes remaining

Despite the strength of the No. 01, the DP lead changed hands six times over the final 90 minutes between Montoya, Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette DP and AJ Allmendinger, whose No. 60 Michael Shank Racing team rallied all the way back from a seven-lap deficit early in the race. But the Corvette’s struggled with engines restricted by Grand-Am, and the BMWs clearly had extra power on Daytona’s banking.

A dramatic final hour saw both Montoya and Angelelli try to stretch their fuel loads to the finish, while Allmendinger was effectively removed from contention for the victory with an unscheduled pit stop after contact with Joao Barbosa in the No. 9 Action Express Racing Corvette DP.

Montoya and the Ganassi team blinked first as Montoya surrendered the lead to Angelelli when the No. 01 came to pit lane for a splash with seven minutes to go. Angelelli came into the pits on the next lap and moved Montoya back to the front in a race-record 77th lead change.

The Colombian crossed the stripe 21.922 seconds ahead of Angelelli, who teamed with Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 10 machine. Allmendinger and co-drivers Ozz Negri, John Pew, Justin Wilson and Marcos Ambrose placed third in the No. 60. Allmendinger, Negri, Pew and Wilson were the race’s defending champions.

The No. 24 Alex Job Racing WeatherTech Audi R8 on it’s way to GT glory

The GT race came down to a battle between European luxury manufacturers Audi, Ferrari and Porsche. Similar to the action in DP, the GT race also saw a number of lead changes over the final hours and fuel concerns coming to the checkered flag. The latest evolution of the Audi R8 GRAND-AM experienced a successful baptism of fire in the toughest GRAND-AM race of the year. All four of the updated customer sport race cars for the United States were running with technical perfection all the way up to the finish of the 24-hour race. Each of the three race teams had the lead at least once and a chance of clinching victory until the very end. “We achieved this dream result at what was only our second attempt at Daytona,” enthused Romolo Liebchen, Head of Audi Sport customer racing. “With that, the R8 GRAND-AM in the United States is continuing the string of successes of its GT3 sister model that has clinched a total of five overall victories at European 24-hour races in the past two years.”

Filipe Albuquerque drove the No. 24 Alex Job Racing WeatherTech Audi R8 GRAND-AM into the GT lead for the final time with a little more than 40 minutes remaining. He went on to win by 1.476 seconds ahead of Rene Rast in the No. 52 Audi Sport Customer Racing/APR Motorsport Audi R8. Albuquerque and co-drivers Oliver Jarvis, Edoardo Mortara and Dion von Moltke gave Audi its first victory in GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series competition.

Spins and time penalties then caused car number “24” to drop back several times. Particularly controversial was a 30-second penalty that was imposed after Edoardo Mortara had spun and a competitor was allegedly obstructed in the incident. Factually, though, Mortara had lost a position due to his excursion. Filipe Albuquerque stood up to the pressure exerted by his brand colleagues in the dramatic final phase. For him, as for Mortara and Jarvis, this meant victory on debuting at Daytona.

“It is the first one for Audi at Daytona and I am a part of, hopefully, a long run here,” said team owner Alex Job. “The win was a real team victory. My team, combined with the Audi Sport Customer Racing technical support staff – and of course a group of great drivers – made it all work. The Audi clearly had the speed and it was positioned to win.”

The No. 52 Audi streaks past the amusement park…when will Rockingham get a Ferris Wheel??

Rast combined with Frank Stippler, Marc Basseng and Ian Baas to finish second in the No. 52. Markus Winkelhock may have given Audi a top-three sweep had his No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Audi R8 GRAND-AM not run out of fuel on the final lap. That moved No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD Ferrari 458 Italia teammates Emil Assentato, Nick Longhi, Anthony Lazzaro and Mark Wilkins to third in GT.

Despite a drive-through penalty in the first quarter of the race Rast took the lead from his brand colleague Albuquerque in the eighth hour. Shortly before midnight, Marc Basseng was running in front when he received a time penalty due to incorrect overtaking during the safety car period. Later, Ian Baas was hit by a Daytona prototype. So the black-white-red R8 was short of three laps when the sun rose. With a clever pit stop strategy, though, the team recovered the laps it had lost within just a few hours. Rast managed a dramatic recovery, as the German was battling for victory trailing the leader by merely a meter throughout the last hour of the race. Rast and his team had to admit defeat by a very narrow margin.

The No. 13 Audi

In the initial phase, Rum Bum Racing was the quickest team within the Audi Sport customer racing squad. Frank Biela/Christopher Haase/Matt Plumb/Markus Winkelhock (D/D/USA/D) in car number “13” lost ground for the first time at the race’s mid-point due to a stop-and-go penalty. On Sunday morning, Markus Winkelhock took the lead in the GT class. Due to a wrong overtaking maneuver in a caution period the German lost two laps after receiving a time penalty. The team battled and recaptured the lap of the leader up to the final phase. The checkered flag and second place were almost in Winkelhock’s sight when the team’s bold strategy failed to pay off: on the last lap of the race his car ended up coasting due to a lack of fuel.

interview with #13 Audi driver Markus Winkelhock

When thinking about the 2013 Daytona 24 Hours in the future, what will stick in your memory?
Looking at the finish straight, because that’s what was right in front of my eyes when I coasted with an empty fuel tank on the last lap. That was definitely bitter after such a hard battle for success for 24 hours.

On the whole, it was an emotional roller-coaster for you…
That’s right. After the time penalty at night, which cost us two laps, we battled to make up ground again and took the lead. Then, in the last hour, I had to make sparing use of my fuel. We knew that it would be incredibly tight. The others came up from behind, so I had to step on the gas pedal again and still save fuel. That really wasn’t easy but we almost made it – running out of fuel only 200 meters before the finish line was obviously painful. But it was still a great race and a cool experience for me. It was fun for me and the guys from the team anyway. I hope that next year we’ll be able to strike back and complete the 200 meters that were lacking today.

What was going on in your mind at that moment?
Well, I knew that it would be a tight situation. My display was already showing “fuel alarm” on the last two laps, so I was expecting it in a way. But when the first misses actually started on the last lap I couldn’t help but think: “This can’t be true now!”

After qualifying, would you have expected such a big success for Audi?
Honestly speaking: no. But it was like it had often been the case in the past: We thought that it would be hard. But across the distance the Audi R8 was very, very good again. The R8 has meanwhile become an almost unbeatable endurance car that has won all the major endurance races that exist. But it was also a superb performance by all the teams, mechanics, drivers and everyone who was involved in this project. The entire team performance was right on the mark.

In which areas did the R8 GRAND-AM have its strengths at Daytona?
Things went really well across the distance and there was relatively little tire degradation. The car was consistently fast everywhere. The speed deficit we had in qualifying wasn’t quite as large in the race. Still, we lost a tiny bit on the straight. That made overtaking difficult for us. With a little bit more power I wouldn’t have had to stay behind a Ferrari here and there quite as long in traffic. But the car felt fantastic nonetheless: at night in cooler conditions just like in the heat – it was really good fun.

Will it be possible now to battle for victories with the R8 in the GRAND-AM at other races too?
I think that at Daytona we proved that the R8 GRAND-AM is capable of winning. I’m sure this will not have been the last GRAND-AM victory this year.

interview with #10 Corvette drivers Max Angelelli, Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay

Chip was just in and admitted that, yeah, you want to leave a little bit in your pocket when you’re testing, but where they found speed was with the rear wing. That’s where they picked up all their speed.

MAX ANGELELLI: We are not rookies. I mean, what else can I do? It’s so obvious, so unfair. What else?

Max, to play off that a little bit, talk us through a little bit at the end of the race there, did you think there was anyway that you could stick with Montoya or even get by him for the lead?

MAX ANGELELLI: We were hoping with a strategy to make it to the end and beat them in the fuel, with the fuel. So we didn’t change tires at the kind of I had many, many laps on my tires, and we were hoping just to make it like that with the strategy and get the win.

But Montoya and the 01 car is another league, is an A class. We are B class. Anyway, we are very happy, our Velocity Worldwide car Corvette performed very well.

Do you still have a good explanation as to why your engines were restricted?

MAX ANGELELLI: Well, I wanted to ask you that. I need an answer because there is no explanation. There’s no point. Everybody could see it yesterday, the day before yesterday, today. I don’t understand. It makes no sense. This is not competition. I am competing against myself, and there’s no chance.

After last year the difficulty with the engine failure, is there any redemption in coming back at all? Are you able to get any celebration or joy?

MAX ANGELELLI: We celebrated after the 22nd minute when we made it after the 22nd minute. We were very happy. It’s been a great day for us, thanks to Ryan and Jordan, a perfect job. They did a perfect job, and our team, our crew, they made it happen. It’s thanks for them, for their strategy, their pit stop. They never made a mistake?

When you said about Juan, he’s A class, we are B class, were you talking about the cars or were you talking about Juan?

MAX ANGELELLI: We have something restricted, okay, just like driving with handcuffs; you can’t do it, can’t drive?

So we’re talking about the cars?

MAX ANGELELLI: Yes, the car.

JORDAN TAYLOR: I think a comparison could be when Brumos won the 24 hour and Ganassi finished second. They had the same complaints.

Jordan, can you talk about your first outing with this team and what it meant to you to finish so well?

JORDAN TAYLOR: Yeah, it was good. It was cool being with Ryan and Max, of course, just to have drivers like that to learn from and compare to. As for the race, it was definitely a learning experience, it was my first time really being thrown in with all the GT cars trying to hold you off, but every stint felt better and better and I was feeling more comfortable.

I think the team said that it was the first time they’d ever run this race and not had to go to the garage, so I think that says some good things about us for not putting a wheel wrong, but it goes to the team for preparing the car to not have one little issue for 24 hours.

The debut race for the new Rolex Series GX class was all about the No. 16 Napleton Racing Porsche Cayman. Shane Lewis started from the class pole position and combined with co-drivers Jim Norman, David Donohue and Nelson Canache to lead the class for almost the entire race.

“For us it was a race of preparation,” Donohue said. “Our guys did a superior job when this program was conceived in early November of building a car, making it reliable and keeping the stock parts – which are surprisingly many, many stock parts on this car – where they needed to be. The proof is in the pudding.”

Second in GX went to the No. 22 Bullet Racing Porsche Cayman GX.R team of Darryl O’Young, Daniel Rogers, James Clay, Seth Thomas and Karl Thomson. The No. 38 BGB Motorsports Porsche Cayman GX.R team of Lee Davis, Ryan Eversley, Jeff Mosing, Eric Foss and John Teece took third in class.

Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona Preview

With their Le Mans prototypes legislated out of the dumbed-down future of North American sports car racing, Audi is taking Grand Am GT very seriously.

After BMW swept the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona front row and split the second one with Ford, Chevrolet teams wailed and have rec’d a bigger air restrictor for the race, which just got underway at 3:30 eastern time. The first row is all-Ganassi/Riley, with Scott Pruett on pole and going for the all-time lead in 24 Hours at Daytona wins. Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon started the other Gansassi car but missed a shift and dropped to 4th ahead of “Adderall is Good!” Almendinger.

But if not the fastest, the Corvettes are at least the best looking of what are otherwise the dogs of the prototype racing world—typical of NASCAR-owned series. Richard Westbrook led the Corvette Daytona Prototype (DP) entries in qualifying for the 51st running of the event. The Englishman Westbrook, who won the first-ever race for the Corvette DP, put the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP in the fifth starting position. “It’s a 24 hour race so qualifying is not as important as it normally is,” reasoned Westbrook. “The car felt really good. We are no match for the BMW’s at the moment, but I think we will be a lot closer in the race. It’s nice to be the first Corvette and it’s just good to start a 24 hour race at the right end. We didn’t really know where we were going to be after practice, but really happy. Really happy for our new sponsor Visitflorida.com and to be the first Chevy is good.

“The main problem is getting it set up for a 24 hour race because you need a car that is good over a distance not just for one lap. That is why qualifying you shouldn’t really take too much notice of the positions because it doesn’t necessarily mean that is the race is going to pan out. We are pretty confident.”

Alex Gurney qualified the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing “Red Dragon” Corvette DP in the eighth starting position, and Stephane Sarrazin was ninth in the final order behind the wheel of the No. 3 8-Star Motorsports Corvette DP. The remaining Corvette DPs qualified as follows: Christian Fittipaldi, No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP – 11th; Max Angelelli, No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Corvette DP – 12th and Joao Barbosa, No. 9 Action Express Racing Corvette DP – 13th.

Nick Tandy (Porsche) was the fastest Grand Touring (GT) qualifier amongst the four Porsches that sit atop the GT field, followed bt Ferrari and then Audi. The best Audi R8 will be starting from the third row. The fastest driver of the Audi customer teams in qualifying was Filipe Albuquerque. Following several warm-up laps, the Audi factory driver managed to make a perfect landing. After the tire pressure had reached the planned optimum level, Albuquerque drove a flawless lap on the high-speed track in Florida. His time of 1m 48.282s earned him and Team Alex Job Racing grid position six.

“I’m very happy with my lap,” said Albuquerque. “I kept my cool because I knew that the first three laps are nothing special. I knew when I’d be able to attack. The tire pressure was developing according to plan and then I only needed a single lap. Everything was right on the dot. There was no more traffic and I made no mistakes. Afterward, the tires were used up. Things couldn’t have gone any better today. And in the other practice sessions we want to improve our car a little bit more. I’m looking forward to the race.”

“In qualifying, there were no surprises,” agreed Romolo Liebchen, Head of Audi Sport customer racing. “We concentrated on preparing for the race. It was important not to take any risks today. Together with the preparation in the tests at the end of last year and in the beginning of January, we’re tackling the race with a clear conscience. The drivers are giving us feedback confirming that we’re running with a set-up that provides very good drivability.”

René Rast achieved the second-best time of an Audi driver. The German from Team APR Motorsport took grid position eleven (1m 48.581s). Markus Winkelhock in the Audi R8 GRAND-AM qualified in the front half of the field of 34 GT vehicles as well. The Audi from Rum Bum Racing will start from position 16 (1m 48.865s) on Saturday. The American Matt Bell from APR Motorsport achieved grid position 27 in another R8 GRAND-AM.

Robin Liddell qualified the No. 57 Stevenson Camaro GT.R in eighth position in-class. The No. 31 Marsh Racing Corvette, qualified by Eric Curran, will start 23rd in-class.

GT Qualifying results

1 Nick Tandy (Porsche) 1m 47.631s
2 Andy Lally (Porsche) 1m 47.828s
3 Sean Edwards (Porsche) 1m 48.007s
4 Patrick Long (Porsche) 1m 48.137s
5 Alessandro Balzan (Ferrari) 1m 48.260s
6 Filipe Albuquerque (Audi R8 GRAND-AM) 1m 48.282s
7 Marco Seefried (Porsche) 1m 48.319s
8 Robin Liddell (Camaro) 1m 48.330s
9 Daniel Serra (Ferrari) 1m 48.521s
10 Anthony Lazzaro (Ferrari) 1m 48.577s
11 René Rast (Audi R8 GRAND-AM) 1m 48.581s
16 Markus Winkelhock (Audi R8 GRAND-AM) 1m 48.865s
27 Matt Bell (Audi R8 GRAND-AM) 1m 49.937s