Fontana: Race report
Pruett & Diaz Take Closest Victory in Rolex Series History at Ferrari Maserati 400 FONTANA, Calif. (April 3, 2005) -- Defending Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype co-champion Scott Pruett held off current Daytona Prototype ...
Pruett & Diaz Take Closest Victory in Rolex Series History at Ferrari Maserati 400
FONTANA, Calif. (April 3, 2005) -- Defending Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype co-champion Scott Pruett held off current Daytona Prototype co-points leader Max Angelelli by a series-record 0.096 seconds to take his first victory of the 2005 season in the Ferrari Maserati 400 at California Speedway.
Driving the No. 01 CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley, Pruett claimed the lead from Michael Valiante when the Canadian pitted for fuel, tires and to hand the No. 19 Ten Motorsports BMW Riley over to co-driver Michael McDowell on Lap 65 of the 86-lap race. Pruett's ascension to the lead was remarkable as his No. 01 co-driver Luis Diaz encountered a power steering failure as he approached the green flag while starting from his first career pole position.
"I was a little bit nervous so I decided to be safe with the car, until we knew a little bit more about the problem," Diaz said. "With the problems with the car, I decided to run a good pace and to bring the car to Scott in good shape, not risking too much in the first part of the race. I think that paid off."
Despite the difficulties, Pruett had the advantage as the race neared its conclusion. Pruett's car had plenty of fuel, while it wasn't entirely clear whether or not Angelelli's No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley--that was driven in the first stint by car owner Wayne Taylor--could make it to the end without another stop. Angelelli's big break came on Lap 74, when Justin Pruskowski brought out the day's final full-course yellow in the No. 5 Essex Racing Ford Crawford after spinning and stalling in Turn 10.
The two-lap caution period was enough to remove any doubts for Angelelli and set the table for an intense, 10-lap dash to the checkers. On the Lap 76 restart, Angelelli made quick work of the lapped cars between himself and Pruett, and closed-in, looking for his third-straight Rolex Series win. As they took the white flag, Pruett led Angelelli across the line by a half-second. However, as he approached the 21st and final turn on the 2.82-mile road circuit, Pruett was momentarily delayed by the No. 22 BMW GT car of Ian James, allowing Angelelli to get one final run.
Both Daytona Prototypes pulled back onto the oval portion of the Speedway, with Pruett on the bottom of the track, the BMW in the middle, and Angelelli rocketing around the outside. The Italian's run came up just short and Pruett hung on for his first victory of the 2005 Rolex Series season. The margin of victory eclipsed the previous best of 0.870 seconds by Angelelli over Pruett at Virginia International Raceway last year.
"It was a great day for the whole team," Pruett said. "All the Ganassi guys, CompUSA, Lexus and Luis (Diaz) did a fabulous job. I'm a little disappointed though. He brought the car in all tore up; there was a pylon stuck in the windshield, the power steering wasn't working and he just said 'Here Scott, there you go, it was perfect for me.' It'd be nice though, like I was joking before the race, to get this mechanical monkey off our back. Unfortunately we haven't but victory is ever so sweet. They tried to take victory away from us and we took it back. I'm pleased with the whole operation and all the guys just dug deep today."
It was Pruett's fifth career Rolex Series victory, but was his first since he and co-driver Max Papis wrapped up the Daytona Prototype title at California Speedway last year. Diaz, on the other hand, celebrated his first-ever Rolex Series triumph, topping previous best Rolex Series finishes of third in the six-hour event at Watkins Glen and at Mid-Ohio last year.
"It feels great," Diaz said. "Especially with these types of drivers at this level, it feels awesome. We need to keep working to catch these guys (Taylor and Angelelli) in the championship. They are very strong so we have to keep working. Hopefully we are going to have good breaks."
After winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Grand Prix of Miami to open the 2005 season, Angelelli and Taylor came up just short in their bid to join Didier Theys as the only drivers to win the first three races of a Rolex Series season. Nevertheless, it was their third straight podium finish and enabled them to extend their lead in the Daytona Prototype championship standings. After coming into the race six points ahead of No. 4 The Boss Snowplow Pontiac Crawford co-drivers Butch Leitzinger and Elliott Forbes-Robinson of Howard-Boss Motorsports, they now lead Pruett and Diaz by 17 points (102-85).
"We came here and obviously everyone was saying can you do this three-in-a-row, so that was in the back of our mind," Taylor said. "Also, we're thinking about the championship. We were probably watching out for Butch Leitzinger and Elliott (Forbes-Robinson). Along the way, Scott and Luis (Diaz) came because at one point they seemed to be out of the frame. The other thing is there are 12 or 13 cars at any point that can win these races. I remember at one point in the race, three out of the top four cars were BMW powered. I think those guys in No. 19, when they get their strategy straightened out; we're going to have a tough time. As everybody said, it's really good cars, really good drivers and really good teams. It's going to be tough."
The second-place run marked Angelelli's 10th consecutive top-four result and was his ninth podium in his past 10 starts dating to last season. Taylor and Angelelli have been involved in the three closest finishes in Rolex Series history, as they also won the Grand Prix of Miami by 1.198 seconds over Leitzinger and Forbes-Robinson, which now ranks as the third-closest finish.
"I think I was pretty lucky because of the traffic," Angelelli said. "He (Pruett) got stuck so I could gain a little bit, but we were so equal. I think he had just a little bit more than me, so it was really difficult for me to close the gap unless I had some help from the traffic. Because he passed me in the pits, I think that cost us a lot of the race. It's not because of my mechanics, it's because I asked for adjustments on the car. It's pretty tough and I am quite pleased for second place in thinking about the championship and the points."
Filling out the podium with an outstanding performance were No. 6 Mears Motor Coach Pontiac Riley co-drivers Mike Borkowski--who started third in the race--and Paul Mears Jr. for Michael Shank Racing. It was Mears' best-ever finish in Rolex Series competition, besting a seventh-place run at VIR in 2003, while it was Borkowski's best run since taking third in the 2003 season finale at Daytona International Speedway.
"The Michael Shank Racing guys did an outstanding job all weekend--this is my favorite group of guys that I have ever worked with in racing," said Borkowski. "My pit stop was a bit earlier than the (No.) 01 car and the (No.) 10 car, so my tires had more laps on them at the end and I wasn't able to fight with them. I had to really work hard to keep (Andy) Wallace behind me. It was basically like a fist fight in the closing laps. I'm really pleased with the car we had during the race, and am really excited to be up here on the podium with Paul and the whole team."
"This was a tough weekend for me," Mears said. "I was a bit sick earlier in the weekend and wasn't even sure that I was going to drive. I only ran about 45 minutes of the race, but I was able to keep the car on the lead lap and let Mike make up the deficit I left him. I can't say enough about what a great job (team owner) Mike Shank and his guys did this weekend. We had some problems with the car earlier in the weekend, and they got everything sorted no problem, so my hat's off to them, and to the outstanding job that Borkowski did to come all the way up the order and get us on the podium."
Andy Wallace and Milka Duno charged from 21st on the starting grid to finish fourth in the No. 2 CITGO Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford. It was Wallace's second top-four result in three starts this season. Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson completed the top-five finishers in the No. 67 Krohn Racing/TRG Pontiac Riley for their second-straight top-five finish after a fourth-place showing last month in Miami.
The Ferrari Maserati 400 featured six lead changes among six different drivers. Among the leaders were Valiante, Fabrizio Gollin in the No. 77 Crown Royal Special Reserve Doran Racing Lexus Doran, Jorg Bergmeister in the No. 66 Krohn Racing/TRG Pontiac Riley and Shane Lewis in the No. 3 PAP-Parts/OZEXE BMW Riley for Southard Motorsports, each of whom led for the first time in their Daytona Prototype careers. The combined margin of victory for the last two Rolex Series races (the Ferrari Maserati 400 and the Grand Prix of Miami) is 1.294 seconds.
BMW RETURNS TO VICTORY LANE WITH AUBERLEN AND HAND
After winning the 2004 Rolex Series GT team and driver championships, BMW Team PTG and No. 21 BMW Financial Services BMW M3 driver Bill Auberlen had a rude awakening in the first two races of their title defense.
All that changed this weekend, however, as Auberlen put the No. 21 machine on the GT class pole position in qualifying. Auberlen and co-driver Joey Hand managed to continue their success in the race, as they led much of the way to their first GT win together in their home state. For the Santa Monica-resident, Auberlen, it was his 16th career Rolex Series class victory, moving him into sole possession of second place on the Rolex Series class victories list behind Terry Borcheller, who has 24.
"The race was good," Auberlen said. "We had to preserve our tires and hang in there trying to get to the fuel window. I was trying to give the car to Joey in one piece. He carried it home and he did a great job. I've never won here and it's been frustrating. We've led tons of laps here and then we'd always had bad luck. It's been killing me but we finally got it off our back and won."
Hand, who hails from Sacramento, picked up his second career Rolex Series GT win. It was his first since he and Boris Said took the 200-mile race at Watkins Glen International last August.
"The car was really good," Hand said. "The race was bumpy and the course provides tight racing in the infield. The other tricky thing was traffic on the restarts. The restarts were nerve racking, trying to stay out front. California is my home state and I love racing here. It's really great to get back on the podium."
On the heels of winning the GT race last month at the Grand Prix of Miami, No. 65 Auto Gallery/TRG Porsche GT3 Cup co-drivers Andy Lally and Marc Bunting were back to their old tricks in the Ferrari Maserati 400 with a second-place performance. The duo--which won the 2004 Rolex Series Super Grand Sport (SGS) title--has now finished on their class podium in 13 of their last 15 Rolex Series starts.
David Murry and Craig Stanton came home third in the GT class co-driving the No. 80 Synergy Racing Porsche GT3 Cup. It was their best class result together since finishing second for AASCO Motorsports at Phoenix last year. The AASCO team celebrated its return to Rolex Series competition this weekend for the first time since the six-hour race at Watkins Glen last year with a fourth-place run for Californians Patrick Long and Pat Flanagan in the No. 26 HOME 123 Mortgage Porsche GT3 Cup. Michael Levitas and Jean-Francois Dumoulin completed the GT top five with a fifth-place performance in the No. 36 TPC Racing Porsche GT3 Cup. It was the first time in 15 races that the TPC team didn't have at least one car finish on its class podium.
SCC: Fontana race results
Fontana: Michael Shank Racing Saturday report