After 24 hours of racing, the 49th Grand Am Rolex 24 came down to a one lap all-out sprint. And when the field reached the checkered flag on Sunday afternoon, it was the 01 Telmex Ganassi Riley BMW with its driving team of Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Graham Rahal, and Joey Hand that took the win.
This was the fourth Rolex 24 win for Pruett, the second for Memo Rojas, and the first for Rahal and Hand in their first Rolex 24 race.
To make the win sweeter for team owner Chip Ganassi, the 02 Telmex Ganassi car took second with its all-star driving team of Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Jamie McMurray, and Juan Pablo Montoya.
“Our car ran and ran and ran. It was a super job. To have a 1–2 finish like this is just incredible,” Pruett told SPEED TV. “I can’t say enough for the Ganassi guys. This 01 car has finished every lap of the last five years and won three [times].”
The Rolex win is the latest in a string of signal achievements for Ganassi Racing—including 2010 IndyCar and Grand Am Championships—plus what some are jokingly calling the “Chip Slam”: Winning the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, and the Rolex 24 all in a 12-month span.
Racing is a team sport, and endurance racing shows that most clearly. Chip Ganassi himself acknowledged this when he told ESPN, after the Rolex, “The team is what it’s all about; I’m just happy to be part of it.”
Ganassi certainly has one of the best teams in racing—period. But victory at the 2011 Rolex in a lot of ways came down to two people: Joey Hand and Scott Pruett.
Two Drivers Make the Difference
Hand, a one-time BMW factory driver who has been successful in ALMS and Grand Am, was leading the race when he pitted at 12:40 p.m. for fuel and tires.
Upon exiting he hit a tire, which had been left in his path. Stewards assessed him a drive-through-plus-30-second penalty, which dropped Hand from first to fourth, 52 seconds behind the leader.
Hand put on a driving display, gaining back 25 seconds in 50 minutes, after which he handed off to multiple Grand Am champion Scott Pruett.
Fifteen minutes later, the 45 Flying Lizard burst into flames and parked near Turn 5, bringing out the race’s 22nd caution. Pruett wanted to pit, but team manager Tim Keene refused. Pruett stood firm and finally convinced Keene to let him bring the car back in for fuel and rubber.
Pruett realized that everyone would need to stop again for fuel and tires before the end; by having fresher rubber and extra fuel, Pruett could drive hard until the final stop, then short-fill and get back on track faster than everyone else.
By pitting under yellow, Pruett lost less track position, and would lose less track position when pitting later under green.
This was impressive on-the-fly race strategizing, befitting a man who has learned his craft over several decades. And this one bit of strategizing effectively gave the 01 Telmex Ganassi the win.