DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP)
Humbled a year ago when both its cars failed to make the podium, Chip Ganassi Racing returned to the Rolex 24 at Daytona determined to pick up another victory watch.
An eyebrow-raising lineup change that involved Juan Pablo Montoya showed just how serious the team was about winning, and it delivered Sunday with its fifth win in 10 appearances in the prestigious sports car race. The victory was the fifth for lead driver Scott Pruett, tying Hurley Haywood’s record for wins in the twice-around-the-clock race at Daytona International Speedway.
The winning team of three-time defending Grand-Am drivers Pruett and Memo Rojas, along with Montoya and IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball, making his Rolex debut, beat the Max Angelelli-led VelocityWW team by almost 22 seconds for the victory.
It was Montoya who closed out the win, driving the final stint and waging a strong battle in the final hour with defending champion AJ Allmendinger. Ganassi’s No. 01 BMW Riley had a clear horsepower advantage, and once Montoya got past Allmendinger, the win was his for the taking.
But the Ganassi team figured it was four laps short on fuel, and Montoya needed to build a lead of at least 40-seconds to hold off Angelelli and Allmendinger when he was forced to stop for gas. The Colombian did it by turning laps close to qualifying pace, and breezed to his third Rolex victory.
Montoya’s other two wins were with Pruett on the No. 01 car in 2007 and 2008, but he spent the last three years driving for the No. 02 Ganassi ”star car” and came away empty-handed each time. When the Ganassi cars were left off the Rolex podium last season for the first time since 2005, team management went to work on the cars and setting up a lineup that gave them two chances to win.
Mark your calendars now and get ready to “reach up and pull those belts down tight one more time!” The Daytona 500 on FOX is set for Feb. 24.
Montoya admitted he thought the switch was ”a weird move,” but owner Chip Ganassi and team manager Mike Hull insisted it wasn’t a demotion for the driver who has been stuck in a lengthy slump in his full-time NASCAR job.
Clearly the pressure is on Montoya to perform this year, the final year of his contract with Ganassi, and he stepped up Saturday and Sunday as the No. 01 team had to balance out Kimball’s inexperience. It was the first time racing in a car with a roof on it for Kimball, who has diabetes and uses his fight with the disease as his platform.
The Chevrolet team of Angelelli, defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jordan Taylor finished second for team owner Wayne Taylor — redemption after an engine failure 22 minutes in last year’s event ended the team’s day.
Defending race winner Michael Shank Racing twice came back from seven laps down to finish third in a Ford. It was a disappointing finish for team owner Shank, but a moral victory considering the hole the team clawed out of to make it to the podium.
Allmendinger, racing at Daytona for the first time since NASCAR suspended him for failing a random drug test hours before the July race here, teamed with fellow NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose, IndyCar driver Justin Wilson and Grand-Am regulars John Pew and Ozz Negri for the finish.
Ambrose was added to last year’s winning lineup after Negri broke his leg a month ago during offseason training, but Negri was able to return to the car this weekend for limited driving duties a mere six days after his cast was removed.
Audi Sport Customer Racing won the GT class in an Audi R8 with drivers Filipe Albuquergue, Oliver Jarvis, Edoardo Mortara and Dion von Moltke.
Rolex 24: Pruett ties wins record
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