LEEDS, Ala.—In what is growing to be the accepted norm in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas brought their #01 Telmex Ganassi Riley BMW home in first place at the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park Saturday afternoon.
For once, the #01 wasn’t that fastest car on the track all day. That honor went to the pole-winning 90 Spirit of Daytona Coyote Chevrolet of Antonio Garcia and Paul Edwards.
But two-thirds of the way through the race, the Coyote developed engine trouble, and Scott Pruett, seeing his chance, turned up the wick, picked off his opponents one by one, and cruised home several seconds ahead of the field.
"The #90 team had me covered—no question about it,” Pruett said after the race.
“We were able to cut down the eight-second differential, but when I got up next to the guy, I was sliding around and he looked like he was pasted to the ground. I said, ‘You know what? These guys are stronger today.’
"You never know how it’s going to play out, but those guys were certainly in the cat-bird seat to sneak in a win.”
There is a big difference between having a chance and having a win—the Spirit of Daytona team has no wins, while the Telmex-Ganassi crew has a long and growing list.
Counting the final four races of 2010, when Pruett and Rojas won nine of twelve, this is the sixth Rolex win in a row for the Telmex-Ganassi drivers. The pair, two-in-a-row series champions, seems unbeatable—in fact, almost unchallengeable. When Scott Pruett turns up the intensity late in the race, no one can match him.
Pruett’s co-driver Memo Rojas turned in a creditable performance also. After an early yellow, Rojas advanced from fourth to first in six laps.
Two laps later, Rojas came together with Joe Nonnemaker in the #43 Sahlen Mazda. Rojas said later he thought the Nonnemaker must not have seen him.
Antonio Garcia passed Rojas for the lead on lap 33. The Telmex-Ganassi driver held on to second for the rest of his stint.
Luck and Scott Pruett—Unbeatable Pair
Rojas brought the car in for Scott Pruett on lap 54. When Pruett rejoined the race, the 01Telmex Ganassi car was eighth. Garcia pitted from the lead four laps later. After the cycle of driver changes, Paul Edwards in the #90 Coyote was back in front, 7.5 seconds ahead of Scott Pruett.
For the next ten laps Pruett at into Edwards’ lead. Apparently the Coyote was down on power because a spark plug wire had come loose. The car couldn’t accelerate with the 01 Riley BMW, but the handling was superior, so Pruett couldn’t make the pass.
Just bad luck for the 90’s team—after being fast all weekend, a loose wire robbed them of the win
A fortuitous yellow flag on lap 74 gave the Coyote crew a chance to repair the motor, but it cost them too much track position. The #90 finished a lap down in ninth.
After pit stops, Burt Frisselle in the #61 AIM Autosport Riley BMW lead by dint of not having pitted, followed by the 9 Action Express Riley Porsche of Joao Barbosa, who also stayed out.
Pruett smelled victory. It took him only four laps to regain the lead. For the next 20 laps, he stretched his lead to a margin of victory of nearly 30 seconds over the second-place #99 Gainsco Riley Chevrolet of Alex Gurney.
The press is already wondering about a possible third championship. “Too early in the season,” Pruett replied. “We’re only three races in. There is a lot of racing left in the season. We take it one race at a time.”
One at a time has added up to six in a row so far.
Gainsco, Starworks Get Needed Points
Gurney and co-driver Jon Fogarty looked racy early on but lat in the race dropped farther and farther back. “In the last stint Scott [Pruett] was four or five seconds ahead—it seemed to hold there for a while as it went back and forth in traffic,” Gurney said. “We thought, ‘This might work out—depending on whose tires go away first.’ Fifteen laps from the end I definitely lost the tires.”
Gurney’s had more travails to endure. With two laps left the Gainsco Riley-Chevrolet’s right rear pushrod snapped, leaving the car “wobbling all over the place,” as Gurney described it. The #99 car was lucky to hold on to second place and the much-needed points.
The team retired from the Rolex 24 and finished eighth in the Miami Grand Prix. While still far behind, the team now has some hope. A third poor showing might have erased any hope for a championship season.
Ryan Dalziel and Mike Forest in the #8 Starworks Riley Ford finished third—quite an achievement for a car that qualified at the back of the field.
“It was a great result for the team,” Dalziel said. “We had a difficult weekend—we had the second-slowest car on the grid. Mike and I give all credit to the team for this for race strategy and excellent pit stops.
We said going onto it, ‘Let’s keep our nose clean.’ It worked for us—we got the car home in one piece. This was the point last year where we turned our season around—despite not being very competitive in the first two races I feel very strongly this is the one where we’re going to turn our season around.”
The race will be broadcast starting at 5 p.m. ET, on SPEED TV.