Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing captures Rolex 24 overall win, SpeedSource snags GT title.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 27, 2008) - 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 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 record breaking race was the 46th running of the classic endurance race.
In a race that featured Grand-Am Rolex Series and Rolex 24 records for car leaders (15), driver leaders (25) and lead changes (60), the Ganassi team stayed out of trouble to complete 695 laps and march to a two-lap victory over defending series champions No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Lowe's Pontiac Riley of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, joined by back-to-back NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and former Champ Car champion Jimmy Vasser.
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 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.
During the final quarter of the race, a string of bad luck hit many of those 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.
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.
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."
For Fogarty and Gurney, the race was the first step in their Daytona Prototype title defense.
"This is the Rolex 24," Gurney said. "This is a big race. It's a bit of a bummer that we could not pull out a win. We were watching the board all the time to see the No. 01 up there knowing that any little thing could go wrong and put us up front. We were hoping but it didn't work out. We're now in good shape for the championship."
Even as a NASCAR champion, Johnson felt the pressure of joining the Rolex Series champions for the Rolex 24.
"In some ways, coming to the Rolex Series in the past, it's really been a release of sorts and something to have fun with," Johnson said. "But coming in, having the honor for these guys to invite me to the team and come drive for them, I'm thinking championship. That pressure was on my mind just like it would be for a Sprint Cup Series race. I would hate to be the one that kept them from winning a championship this year."
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.