Ganassi win third straight Rolex 24
|By Diego Mejia||Sunday, January 27th 2008, 21:01 GMT|
Chip Ganassi Racing took an unprecedented third consecutive victory at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona as Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas comfortably won in the 46th running of the event at the wheel of the No.01 Telmex Lexus Riley.
The team completed 695 laps throughout the day of racing, leading for 252 of them, and beating the No.99 Pontiac Riley of current Grand-Am Rolex Series champions Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, Jimmy Vasser and NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson by two laps.
For Montoya his second straight win marks the first time a driver has won in his first two Rolex 24 appearances. It also marks a dream start to the relationship with his new NASCAR Sprint Cup teammate Dario Franchitti, who adds yet another big win to his tally, following his Indianapolis 500 victory and IndyCar Series title last year.
"My favourite win is always the most recent," team owner Chip Ganassi said. "It's obviously a huge accomplishment but you always look on for the next one.
"I'm not retiring or getting out of this business any time soon, so I'm still trying to climb the mountain and get to the next win. But this one's up there, I can tell you that."
The team's very cautious approach to the race was key to their third consecutive success. While all their rivals got into some kind of drama at some point during the race, the lead Ganassi crew never put a wheel off and stayed out of trouble while spending the whole race on the lead lap.
"We decided as a team before even going into this race that if anything didn't feel right about the car or if we picked up a vibration on tyres by locking up a front, we would just go ahead and pit," Pruett said. "That's what we did. We tried to stay out of harm's way just by being over-cautious and not even taking a chance."
Montoya was the first to put the car in the lead during his first stint on Saturday afternoon, then consolidated that position in the early hours of Sunday in a long second stint.
In the closing hours of the race the No.6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley driven by Burt Frisselle pitted from the lead with a bell-housing failure, leaving Montoya with a healthy lead up front as the MSR entry was the only other car remaining on the lead lap and the sole one that had not faced any major issues up until that point.
"When the 6 car broke down I just got out of the gas and started rolling," Montoya said. "We just rolled. When you have a five-lap lead with two hours to go what do you do? You just make sure you don't touch anything, don't even ride the kerbs and just roll. We did that and temperatures came down and I think it worked pretty well."
Franchitti had a tough first two stints in the winning car, as he had to drive for most of the wet part of the night. The only mishap that the winning team faced was just after sunrise when Pruett wanted to pit for a driver change but no driver was available to take over during a caution period.
"It was pretty treacherous conditions out there, so personally that was probably the most difficult thing," Franchitti said. "Doing the first stint in the darkness with the rain made it pretty interesting.
"Everything ran very smoothly, apart from when they woke me up slightly late to come and take over from Scott. I didn't make it there on time, so Scott had to do another stint, and that was about the only mishap."
Mexican Rojas became the third man from his country to win the Rolex 24, following in the footsteps of Pedro Rodriguez and Salvador Duran. Rojas drove the least among the drivers of the winning team, making just one stint on Saturday night, leaving the bulk of the driving to Pruett and Montoya.
"I'm really excited to be part of this line up, it was an honour," Rojas said. "I had already been part of this team last year but now racing with Juan and Dario and also with Scott this season is a pleasure. I'm really happy with this result. It's something I'll never forget for the rest of my life."
Dan Gurney had been named as the race's Grand Marshall and was hoping to hand the winning trophy to his son Alex, 46 years after he won the inaugural event. However gearbox problems hampered the younger Gurney's bid for victory in the final hours and put his GAINSCO/Stallings team several laps down to the leader.
The No.9 Penske-Taylor Pontiac Riley recovered well from being a lap down early on due to a cut left front tyre and then from an overheating engine on Sunday morning. Helio Castroneves, former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch and Ryan Briscoe finished third and six laps down to complete the podium.
In the GT class, the No. 70 Speedsource Mazda RX-8 of polesitters Raphael Matos, Hick Ham, Silvain Tremblay and David Haskell stayed in contention all day despite a few spins and offs, ultimately taking victory.
The TGR Porsche of Bryce Miller, Ted Bellou, Andy Lally, and Richard Westbrook was second ahead of the sister car driven by Brian Sellers, Romain Dumas, Emmanuel Collard, Tim George Jr and Spencer Pumpelly.
Pos Drivers Car Laps 1. Franchitti/Montoya/Pruett/Rojas Lexus Riley 695 2. Fogarty/Gurney/Johnson/Vasser Pontiac Riley 693 3. Briscoe/Busch/Castroneves Pontiac Riley 689 4. Jonsson/Turner/Zonta Pontiac Riley 688 5. Angelelli/Taylor/Taylor/Valiante Pontiac Riley 687 6. Negri/Patterson/Rahal/Wilson Ford Riley 680 7. Gavin/Krohn/van de Poele Pontiac Riley 678 8. Goossens/Hunter-Reay/Matthews/O'Connell Pontiac Riley 676 9. Ham/Haskell/Matos/Tremblay Mazda RX-8 664 10. Ballou/Lally/Miller/Westbrook Porsche GT3 Cup 657