Chip Ganassi continued to make magic — and history — at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.
Juan Pablo Montoya held off Max Angelelli to deliver Ganassi a record-breaking fifth Rolex 24 at Daytona victory. The Chip Ganassi Racing team’s accomplishment also enabled Scott Pruett to secure his fifth overall Rolex win to tie the record held by Hurley Haywood. The victory is also Pruett’s fifth in the Daytona Prototype (DP) Class, his fourth with Ganassi and his 10th career victory among all classes.
“It’s unbelievable,” Pruett said. “When you look at what we’ve been able to achieve, it’s been nothing short of incredible. . . . To win with these guys, to win with Chip, with Telmex, with BMW, and 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, very special thing.”
Ganassi was humbled by last year’s Rolex 24, when neither of his teams made podium appearances as Ford swept the top three spots in the DP class. That forced the organization to go to work. Ganassi acknowledged “it was a big effort” for the company.
“There are lots of things on these cars,” Ganassi said. “These are not spec cars. These are cars you can make changes with, whether on the wing, the toes, the brakes, the shocks, lots of things you can work with on these cars that really helps you develop mechanical grip. And I think that’s what we worked most on.
“We wanted to give those guys every opportunity to win, as well, and we thought the 02 car was obviously very strong . . . so we thought we had two good shots at it here, and we did until earlier today.”
With the performance of the BMWs, it was clear from a power standpoint that Ganassi had the field covered. Although the No. 01 developed brake issues just before noon, when Ganassi’s No. 02 car developed mechanical issues and stopped on the course, the caution enabled the No. 01 team to fix the problem.
Montoya relieved Pruett at 1:43 p.m. ET for the final stint and took the lead from Marcos Ambrose three minutes later, when the defending championship car pitted and changed drivers with AJ Allmendinger taking the wheel.
On a caution for debris with just more than an hour remaining, Allmendinger took the lead out of the pits with Montoya, Joao Barbosa, Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor rounding out the top five at 2:20 p.m. Six minutes and four laps later, Montoya took back the lead. He held the point for six additional minutes before a caution flag for debris only delayed the inevitable if Montoya’s car stayed intact.
When action resumed at 2:41 p.m., Angelelli led Montoya to the restart, and Barbosa forced Allmendinger off the course and received a penalty for avoidable contact. Allmendinger took the opportunity to top off his Michael Shank Racing Ford and cycled out to fourth behind Angelelli, Barbosa and Montoya. Barbosa finally pitted at 2:48 p.m. and served his one-minute penalty, allowing Allmendinger to advance to third.
Meanwhile, Montoya passed Angelelli in the bus top for the lead at 2:49 p.m. — with 43 minutes remaining in the race. Although he relinquished the point one last time to pit for fuel with seven minutes remaining in the 24-hour marathon, Montoya regained the lead when Angelelli was forced to refuel on the next lap.
“It was a lot of pressure,” Montoya said. “I thought we have a decent lead, we’re just going to go out there and ride for two-and-a-half hours or whatever is left, and then you realize there’s a caution and another caution and another caution, and with the way the rules are and the speed the car had, it’s like you didn’t want to get into a pissing contest with anybody. You had to be smart about when you passed them and everything, so I was always careful on the restarts, and I took my time to pass people.
“When they told me 9 (Barbosa) was going to get a penalty, I rode behind for a couple laps, and as soon as he went in, I caught up the 10 car (Angelelli) in a half a lap, and a lap later passed him and drove away. We were kind of concerned about the 60 car (Allmendinger), what they were going to do with fuel because they told me they could make it until the end and that we were going to have to push, and we pushed like crazy and opened up a hell of a gap. It was fun.”
Throughout the course of the weekend, however, the field questioned whether the Ganassi cars were sandbagging over the past month between testing from Jan. 4-6 and the actual event.
Based on testing, GrandAm restricted Chevrolet teams’ power prior to the race. Angelelli, who drove a Corvette to a second-place finish, was still searching for an explanation after the race ended. Given the 21.922-second margin of victory, the Wayne Taylor Racing driver felt he had nothing for Montoya in the closing laps. Angelelli described the race “like driving with your hands cuffed.”
“We are not rookies,” Angelelli said. “I mean, what else can I do? It’s so obvious, so unfair. What else?
“Montoya and the 01 car is another league, is an A class. We are B class. . . . This is not a competition. I am competing against myself, and there’s no chance.”
Allmendinger, who along with his MSR teammates battled back from seven laps down after a tie rod broke in the first hour, finished third. Still, he was going to make Montoya work for it. And while he shared Angelelli’s sentiment, Allmendinger acknowledged that Ganassi’s strategy was no different than Shank’s last year when their team won the race.
“They had the car to beat, for sure,” Allmendinger said. “They did their homework, and it’s no secret that with the way testing works everybody is kind of hiding some stuff and trying to keep it in reserve for the race.
“Last year, we were able to capitalize on that and we got our turn and won the race. It was their turn. They did their homework and played the game the best.”
As the Ganassi crew celebrated in Victory Lane, Haywood joined the party and made a point to congratulate Pruett. The gesture tickled Ganassi, who remarked that it “was something special” for Pruett to tie the record. While Ganassi insisted he already was focused on the next race, he took time to reflect on Montoya “exorcising demons” from the previous year and with Pruett in Mexico City, Memo Rojas assuming his share of the driving duties and Charlie Kimball winning his first major event as a rookie.
But most of all, for Ganassi to share the moment with Pruett, 52, and Haywood is something he likely won’t forget.
“I used to race against Scott Pruett, and he amazed me then with his tenacity. And we saw it again here today,” Ganassi said. “I never met a guy that was so team-oriented and so about the team as he is. . . . For he and Juan to get back together and have a victory I think mended a lot of things there. They’ve had their — they’ve had victory here together before, and they’ve had some angst with each other at certain places, and I think this brings them back together in a nice way.
“But I can’t say enough about Hurley Haywood being there in Victory Lane. When you look at Hurley’s career and the cars he’s driven and the co drivers he’s been with, to have a name like Scott Pruett up there tying his Daytona 24 record is quite a feat.
“Hurley asked me to — if I could just make sure that Scott retired now, and I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘What I will do, though, is maybe ask Hurley to come out of retirement if he wants to join him.’ So there’s a carrot out there for Hurley.”
Meanwhile, Audi got its first GrandAm win in the GT Class with No. 24 Alex Job Racing. In the debut of the GX Class, first place went to the No. 15 Napleton Racing Porsche Cayman.
IF IT WASN’T FOR BAD LUCK . . .
Unlike Ganassi Racing’s winning team, Jamie McMurray experienced two tough outings in the No. 02 BMW during the Rolex 24 — before the transmission finally broke three hours and 40 minutes before the finish of the race.
McMurray took over from teammate Dario Franchitti just after 6:40 p.m. and powered the car to the overall lead in about a half-hour. After trading the point with Allan McNish, the caution fell with 141 laps completed. At 7:58 p.m., McMurray pitted for fuel while being scored second. However, he ran over an air hose upon his exit. Despite regaining the lead at 8:19 p.m., four minutes later he was forced to pit and remain in the stall 30 seconds for “hitting pit lane equipment.”
Although McMurray was relieved by Joey Hand while running seventh, the problems didn’t end there. When he returned for his second stint before dawn, McMurray hit the wall exiting pit road and was forced behind pit road at 5:47 a.m. After a 16-minute repair, he returned the car to the track, but McMurray was understandably dejected.
“It didn’t seem like the pit road speed monitor was working, and I got panicked,” McMurray said. “I was speeding, just reading the dash. When I got to the end of pit road, I was too hot trying to exit the pits on cold tires.
“It’s crazy how slick it is. I just made a mistake. I feel like an idiot because we have the best cars and it’s really about making it to the end. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary; I just messed up.”
A TOUGH WEEK
For Ganassi Racing, the victory was bittersweet. On Thursday, Scott Pruett dedicated his Rolex 24 pole to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammate Sammy Gonzalez, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer earlier that day.
Gonzalez was a holdover from the Dale Earnhardt Inc., crew. He began his NASCAR career driving Ron Hornaday Jr.’s transporter in 1995 and joined the organization full time the following year. Throughout his tenure, Gonzalez contributed his mechanical talents to 66 different wins in Sprint Cup (four), Nationwide (20), trucks (25), ARCA (2) and the Southwest tour (15), as well as two titles each in the Nationwide (with Martin Truex Jr.), trucks and Southwest (Hornaday) tours.
Gonzalez achieved his lifelong dream of winning the Daytona 500 with Jamie McMurray in 2010. Later that season, the California native won his only career victory as driver in the crew member race at Black Rock Speedway.
Gonzalez leaves behind his wife Diane and sons Stephen and Sean.
ONE AND DONE?
The prospect of racing with a first-time All-Brazilian team in the Rolex 24 appealed to former Formula 1 veteran Rubens Barrichello.
The Rolex rookie joined countrymen Tony Kanaan, Felipe Giaffone, Nono Figueiredo and Ricardo Mauricio in driving the No. 21 Porsche in the GT Class for Dener Motorsports. But the engine blew just past the halfway point.
“We were suffering since the beginning of the race with the motor,” said Barrichello, who finished 46th among 57 entries. “Basically, we were struggling but we were still trying to enjoy ourselves. It was tough.
“We were competitive in the corners but not on the straight. It’s a shame, but it’s something that was going to happen.”
After one season in IndyCar, Barrichello will turn his sights to stock cars in Brazil. Chances are, if he ever returns to Daytona, it will be with a more experienced team.
16th — Place finish for Clint Bowyer in his first Rolex 24 with support from team owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman.
74 — lead changes, a new event record.
246 — drivers, from 30 different nations, who participated in the event
While hoping to defend his title, Allmendinger acknowledged he wasn’t going to lay down for Montoya on the final run and described his intention as the driver sat in the room.
“I knew he was going to get by. I was just going to make him work for it. I wasn’t going to make it easy on him. Juan and I have a lot of respect for each other — a little bit of respect. I hate his face,” Allmendinger said to much laughter.