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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
17398The majority of Grand Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype races have a duration of 250 miles (or 2 hours and 45 minutes), with a couple of them lasting an even briefer 200 miles or 2 hours. Strategically interspersed into the schedule, however, are three longer races, at the very beginning of the season (the Rolex 24 At Daytona), right around the middle (Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen) and the season-ender (the SunChaser 1000k). This past Saturday 7 June saw the middle Grand-Am endurance race unfold at New York state's storied Watkins Glen racetrack. Lexus reliability, combined with Scott Pruett's remarkable stamina and driving talents, have generally made these longer races a Lexus forte, <A HREF="">last year's heartbreaking loss at the Utah finale</A> notwithstanding. But which history would repeat itself at Watkins Glen for 2008?

The Friday practice sessions were a mixed bag for the Lexus/Riley racers. The #01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés Lexus/Riley car wound up with the third-fastest time in the first Friday session and, with Scott Pruett at the helm, recorded the fastest time in the second Friday session (1:42.589; 119.311 mph). The #3 Southard Motorsports car, meanwhile, had an oil line come loose during the first Friday session. Qualifying, however, was an unmitigated disaster for all, when former Formula 1 driver Ricardo Zonta hit the tire barrier as he was driving the #76 Krohn Racing Pontiac/Lola. This cut qualifying short from 15 minutes to 5, which meant that several Daytona Prototype contenders, including the #01 TELMEX Lexus/Riley had yet to post a lap at speed. Scott Pruett and co-driver Memo Rojas would start the race from the 16th position on the grid, and the #3 Southard Motorsports car, co-driven by Shane Lewis and Bill Lester qualified, for the third race in a row, for 9th position on the starting grid.

In an inspirational and poignant story, pole position was earned by the #10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac/Riley driven by Max Angelelli and former Lexus driver Michael Valiante. While returning from <A HREF="">the previous race at Laguna Seca, California,</A> a fire in the transporter destroyed the SunTrust team's primary Dallara racing car plus its equipment and spares. Rather than just turn their backs to their misfortune, other Grand Am teams, the Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés chief among them, helped their fellow competitor in their time of need by lending them a hauler, equipment and spares.

The race would turn out to be yet another one slowed by numerous caution periods, nine in this case, not to mention intense heat and humidity which were at near-record levels for early June. The loose oil line that marred the first Friday practice session for the #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus/Riley was seemingly not well repaired, for, on Lap 2 of the race, Grand Am race officials noted that the car was leaking oil, just behind driver Shane Lewis' call on the pace lap noting low water pressure. Nevertheless, the team decided to press on while monitoring the situation. The Lexus V8 performed well, moving Lewis as high as third and comfortably within the top-10 through the early stages of the caution-filled event. The team's first driver change came one hour and twenty minutes into the race. Despite concerns over the water pressure, Bill Lester maintained the car's position until the red warning lights flashed again that the water pressure was dropping further. Just short of the two hour mark, Lester returned the red, white and blue machine to pit lane. The Southard Motorsports technicians were able to establish that the heat exchanger -a peripheral engine component used to maintain a consistent temperature between the engine's oil and water- was damaged and had been leaking water slowly since the start of the race. Working under the oppressive heat of both the summer conditions and the V8 racing engine, the Southard crew replaced the faulty piece and returned the car to competition in approximately 20 minutes, with Bill Lester driving, sometime between laps 63 and 65. By that time, unfortunately, the #3 Southard Motorsports racer was a full 12 laps down from the overall leader.

Meanwhile, the #01 TELMEX Lexus/Riley, with Scott Pruett at the wheel, had worked up to fifth place (from its start at 16th place) by Lap 20, and the following lap saw yet another move, into fourth. The #01 TELMEX team then took advantage of a full-course yellow on lap 37 to pull in and change drivers and, without missing a beat, Memo Rojas was back in fourth place on Lap 42, albeit falling slightly, to fifth place, a couple of laps later. On lap 92, after roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes at the wheel, 26-year old Memo Rojas, overcome by the heat, said, in his finest <A HREF="">Roberto Durán</A> fashion, "no más", and handed over the #01 TELMEX Lexus/Riley to 48-year old Scott Pruett, who drove for the nearly 3-hour remainder of the race. Pruett re-entered the race in 10th place. In his typical determined and methodical fashion, he worked his way up, and, on Lap 115, was in the overall lead. Pruett maintained this lead until Lap 130, when he entered the pits for tires and fuel. On Lap 156, Pruett regained the lead and held it until the checkered flag, on Lap 179, winning by 3.033 seconds over Darren Law, who co-drove the #58 Brumos Porsche/Riley with David Donohue. This latest victory by the #01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés Lexus/Riley racer, by the way, marks a full two years that the car has always finished within the top 10. The #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus/Riley, after all their adverse luck in this race, finished in 17th place.

At this point in the season, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas have 202 Drivers' Points apiece, giving them a 36-point lead over second-place Marc Goossens and Jim Matthews, co-drivers of the #91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac/Riley. Lexus, with 202 points, holds a 15-point advantage in the Manufacturer's Championship over runner-up Pontiac.

The next race for the Grand-Am Rolex Series will be the Saturday 21 June EMCO Gear's Classic at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington.

Post-Race Quotes:

17399Scott Pruett, #01 TELMEX Lexus: "Today was really a testament to how well the TELMEX team works together. Yesterday (qualifying) was very upsetting because we knew we had a car capable of sitting on pole, but we weren't able to achieve that. We all knew the race was going to be long and we had to be smart, yet aggressive enough to make our way to the front. The last stint wasn't that bad - I feel good right now. The heat has never been something that bothers me very much, so I knew what the job was at hand and we had a strong Lexus engine and Pirelli tires that held up well through the race. Today was a great win for the TELMEX Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates team and we couldn't be more proud of our current points situation.

The car ran really well. We unloaded the car and immediately it was really good. We didn't have to make many changes this weekend. We just did what we had to do. Even though you call this an endurance race, it was really a six-hour sprint race. There was no time to relax today with all the traffic. It's been a dream start to the season. In no small part, we owe a big piece of it to Lexus. They've really stepped up this year and have worked really hard. Memo has really stepped up as well this year to improve in his second season. It just seems like the team's been figuring it out a little bit quicker. We started from pit lane and still were able to come back and win this race today. The Ganassi guys did a great job on pit stops. The Lexus engine was great and the tires were very consistent."

Memo Rojas, #01 TELMEX Lexus: "We focused on what we needed to do - just stay out of trouble during my stint. We just tried to keep a good pace. Take care of the tires, take care of the car and make sure to hand off a good car to Scott for the finish. The conditions were difficult and very hot. I don't know how Scott stayed in the car for almost the last three hours (Pruett raced the final 2:45 in 90+ degree heat).

At times I got a bit warm, but the cautions allowed me to catch my breath and drive hard for the remainder of the race. I enjoy racing at Watkins Glen and was glad to be on top of the podium here. We definitely faced some difficult times early in the weekend, but the race result shows how well the TELMEX and Ganassi team works to give us the best car possible every race."

Shane Lewis, #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus: "The minute I went out there I had a water pressure warning. I had never seen that in all the time I have driven this car. We hoped it would adjust itself once we were running but we all knew that something was up. I went through my entire first stint and it wasn't getting any better. Bill was out there on his first stint and it just got worse and worse. The heat exchanger broke and was slowly leaking the water out. We had to replace that and that is what took us out of the running. When you get that far down you want to get the most out of it that you can but you are going to run a conservative deal. You want to make up as much ground as you can and make as many positions as you can but you have to be smart. There is nothing to be gained by racing the leaders or trying to turn qualifying-type lap times. This is just really frustrating. We were doing pretty well despite the problem. The Southard team did a great job. That is a hot piece to replace and the guys did it in record time. From then on Bill and I just wanted to stay out of trouble and get laps in. That is not the way we want to go racing but sometimes that is what you have to do. The phrase is 'make lemonade', right? We just tried to make lemonade."

Our thanks to <A HREF="">the official Grand-Am racing website</A>, <A HREF="">Travis Braun of AutoWeek</A> and John Procida for Lexus/Toyota Motorsports for this information.


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