Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante got the #90 Spirit of Daytona Coyote Corvette to the checkered flag first in the Emco Gears Classic, the team’s second win of the 2012 Grand Am Rolex season.
Valiante started third, behind the #99 Gainsco Rile Corvette and the #10 SunTrust Dallara Corvette. Valiante got by Ricky Taylor in the SunTrust Dallara on lap seven, and took the lead on lap 18 when Jon Fogarty in the Gainsco car suffered a power steering failure. The #90 SDR Coyote Corvette kept the lead for the rest of the race, save for pit stops.
“How many people can win two races in one day within a couple of hours?” Michael Valiante asked Speed TV after the race. (Valiante won the ST class of the Continental Tire Sports Car Series EMCO Gears Classic earlier that day.) “It was a great drive by Richard and it was so nice to come back after disappointment last weekend and win this one. It’s awesome.”
“It’s amazing that we’re doing so well with such a new car,” commented co-driver Richard Westbrook on grand-am.com.” It was a big day for all of us at Spirit of Daytona Racing. Detroit was a heartbreak for everyone on the team.” (Westbrook was leading the Belle Isle, Detroit race when he wrecked making an over-aggressive pass of a GT car.)
“We had a very good car, but it was a lot tougher than I think it looked. Scott Pruett was very strong at the end, and I was very relieved to see the checkered flag. I really didn’t have anything else there at the end.”
“As you know, we let a couple slip away, so Richard, Michael, great job today; team, great effort,” team owner Troy Flis told Speed TV, with a few tears of joy running down his cheeks.
“We deserved this and we are going to keep coming. We are a little behind in the points but we are going to keep coming to the front.”
A late-race caution erased Richard Westbrook’s nine-second lead and gave Scott Pruett in the #01 Telmex-Ganassi Riley-BMW a chance to end his eight-race winless streak, but Westbrook aced the restart and crossed the line .236 ahead.
Despite Westbrook’s SDR Coyote having a solid lead through much of the second half of the race, there was still plenty of action in the Daytona Prototype class, as a four-way battle for second place developed between Pruett, Joao Barbosa in the #9 Action Express Coyote-Corvette, David Donahue in the #9 Action Express car, and the man who held the position, Max Angelelli in the #10 SunTrust car.
Barbosa started the struggle by forcing his way past his teammate in a pass reminiscent of last weekend’s Detroit race; there was contact, but both cars continued undamaged (though likely Donahue was an angry as he was last week at Detroit.)
Donahue then decided to let the three ahead fight amongst themselves—a wise strategy as it proved. On lap 100 Scott Pruett, desperate to get a win, found a tiny opening and squeezed inside of Angelelli. The two cars leaned on each other, but didn’t collide; Pruett got through safely.
Barbosa tried to follow Pruett through, ending up on the outside entering the next turn. Angelelli wasn’t about to give up another spot without a fight; he sideswiped Barbosa hard enough to break the rear wheels on both cars. Barbosa spun to the right, with his left rear wheel a crumpled mess. Barbosa made it to the next corner where he too spun to the right with a flat tire.
Pruett, who made a forceful but clean (by Grand Am standards) pass, took off after Westbrook, with David Donahue in third, but the full-course caution called for crashed- car cleanup meant that the whole field would be bunched up for a final sprint.
Ryan Dalzeal and Lucas Luhr in the Starworks Riley fords had been complaining all season that the Riley bodywork didn’t generate as much downforce as the Corvette shell, and the Ford engine was down on power compared to the Corvette motor. Both drivers saw the caution and restart as their only chance to get a good finish.Richard Westbrook made a perfect restart and got a gap on Pruett; Ryan Dalzeal tried so hard to pass Donahue he nearly spun the Action Express driver. Dalzeal tried again and ended up running over the grass, giving his teammate Lucas Luhr a chance to get by. Barbosa finished next in line because the Gainsco car was a lap down after its power-steering failure.
Scott Pruett’s second place win elevated he and co-driver Memo Rojas into the points lead, a familiar spot for this four-time champion. The Ganassi boys aren’t safe in first; half-a-dozen drivers are only two or three points behind. The Daytona Prototype championship is totally open with eight races to go.
Next: The GT Battle