DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — By taking the lead for the final time with just 4 minutes, 46 seconds to go, Chip Ganassi’s flagship sports car team tried to leave an impression the Rolex 24 at Daytona was close.
The No. 01 BMW-powered Riley for Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball was fast and practically flawless on Daytona International Speedway road course all weekend, leading 421 of 709 laps in a dominating effort that
did not sit well with some of the competition.
The winning Daytona Prototype started on the pole and had little trouble out-running Chevrolet- and Ford-powered cars. Pruett, who tied Hurley Haywood’s record of five overall wins, set the stage early when he opened up a 22-second lead in the first 22 laps.
“That wasn’t the best car I’ve ever had, but it’s certainly up there with the top three,” Pruett said. “The thing about this car was it was always the same. It didn’t change. The balance stayed the same for every stint.”
Although there were a record 74 lead changes during the twice-around-the-clock event, it was clear early the only way Ganassi could lose the biggest race on the Grand-Am Road Racing schedule was to crash or blow up.
The only reason there was any drama in the final five minutes Sunday was fuel mileage. Montoya stopped with 6 minutes, 45 seconds remaining for enough gas to finish, but he recaptured the lead two minutes later when Max Angelelli stopped two minutes later to top off his tank.
After that, Montoya did what everyone else on his race team could do with relative ease throughout the sports car marathon – pull away to a big lead.
Pruett tied Hurley Haywood for the most overall wins (five) in Daytona’s 24-hour history. At the same time Ganassi became the winningest car owner (five).
Grand-Am finalized its engine rules based off last year’s results and a three-day test session last month at Daytona. BMW got some extra horsepower, while Chevrolet was hit with some restrictions.
The fastest lap for the No. 01 during the test was 124.762 mph, but the team returned for qualifying last Thursday it was considerably faster at 127.455. That triggered a lot of criticism from the Chevrolet and Ford camps that Ganassi held back to hide its advantage.
Ganassi didn’t argue.
“Everybody talks about what the speeds were,” he said. “Everyone wants to keep some things in their pocket for the race. They worked very, very hard on the mechanical grip of the cars. When you see the speed we have at the end of the straight it’s because we have less wing on the car. We knew if we could come here with less wing we’d be fine.”
Angelelli lived up to his nickname “Mad Max” after hearing Ganassi’s explanation.
“We are not rookies,” he said. “It’s so obvious. It’s not fair. The 01 was another league. They were A class. We were B class. We were driving with handcuffs. You can’t do it.”
A heavy wave of fog put the race under the caution for 1 hour, 45 minutes early Sunday. When the green flag finally waved at 9:04 a.m., the winning car resumed its torrential pace.
The only misstep for the winning car was faulty brakes during the 20th hour. At the same time, a second Ganassi car, which led another 116 laps, rolled to a stop on course to bring out a caution. That allowed the Ganassi team to make repairs without losing any ground.
A rash of late-race cautions created a finish that was closer than expected. But each time Montoya had no trouble eventually working through traffic.
“You keep your head cool,” Montoya said. “You know what you need to do. With the car, we felt like we didn’t have to take any risks. One of the cool things about doing this with Chip is when you come here you know you’re a favorite.”
Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay drove with Angelelli in the second-place Chevrolet DP, while the Ford-Riley for defending race winners A.J. Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri Jr., Justin Wilson, John Pew and Marcos Ambrose rallied to two different seven-lap deficits to finish third.
“We weren’t going to beat the 01 car, so we were racing for second,” Allmendinger said. “It’s no secret with the way testing works, everybody was hiding stuff. They did their homework and played the game the best. It was a prayer to beat them.”
An Audi Sport for Filipe Albuquerque, Oliver Jarvis, Edoardo Mortara and Dio von Molke finished first in class in Audi’s Grand-Am debut. They were ninth overall, 10 laps behind the winning prototype.
Jim Norman, Shane Lewis, David Donohue and Nelson Canache drove a Porsche Cayman to win the new GX class. They were 26th overall – and 74 laps in arrears.