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22805After a very close second-place finish at the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés team has endured a couple of atypically low, heartbreaking finishes at the two subsequent Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype races. As they headed west, to #01 TELMEX Lexus/Riley driver Scott Pruett's home track of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas, California to compete in the Verizon Festival of Speed on Sunday 17 May, the Lexus-powered team was certainly looking for their luck to change and, hopefully, achieve their first victory of the 2009 season.

During the practice sessions, cool temperatures (with a high of 57 degrees on Friday afternoon) led to lackluster results for the Ganassi/Sabatés Lexus team. Fortunately, temperatures warmed up considerably, to 85 degrees for Saturday's qualifying session. With a lap of 1:19.874 at 100.869 mph, the team's co-driver Memo Rojas, was able to claim the pole, his second in the 2009 season and the third of his career. As Memo summed things up, "I'm very happy with the team. We were really struggling yesterday, and our car was out of the window of where we wanted it to be. We took really strong decisions with the setup to begin this morning, and it worked. My hat's off to this team. Even though we struggled yesterday, we didn't panic, and we took the right direction pretty quick. Then we won the pole.

"Actually, it was the cold temperatures that messed us up yesterday. We didn't have the tire pressures set up for that kind of weather. We were lost with that. Now that it warmed up, we took the right direction and the car was great.

"For the race, we need to be smart and stay out of trouble. Keep the car on the road, and we need to make up some ground from the last few races to get some points."

Scott Pruett adds that, "We've been real pleased with the performance of the TELMEX car; fast at VIR, fast at New Jersey. We've just had some problems but Memo did a great job today, the car's running good and the crew's always does a fantastic job. So now we just have to keep our eye on the race and more so the weather. What we saw yesterday was overcast and cold and almost 58 degrees when we finished the last session as compared to - what's it supposed to be? Eighty five or 90 tomorrow - so that's going to play a big part in it and then luck, luck and strategy. We're looking to get things turned around this weekend."

Memo Rojas maintained the lead for the first 8 laps, only to be passed by Brian Frisselle in the #10 SunTrust Ford/Dallara. On Lap 26, however, the #01 TELMEX Lexus reclaimed the lead and held on to it until Lap 61, when Rojas entered the pits for the obligatory driver change. As he emerged from his driving stint, Memo said that, "Every lap out there was like a qualifying lap. The car was really good setup wise. It allowed us to compensate wherever we needed it...It was hot. We didn't have a single yellow in that last stop. We were on a full tank of gas. I increased my fitness program this winter. I think it really helped today."

During Lap 62, Romain Dumas in the #12 Penske Porsche/Riley held the lead, only to lose it during Laps 63 and 64 to Alex Gurney in the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac/Riley. On Lap 65, though, Scott Pruett charged back to reclaim the lead in the Ganassi/Sabatés Lexus racer. He managed to hold on to this lead until slower GT traffic held him up at Turn 6 on Lap 84, and, at the entry to the (in)famous Corkscrew, Jon Fogarty in the #99 GAINSCO car made the pass that would deliver the race win to the red Pontiac/Riley, by a margin of 7.22 seconds over the #01 TELMEX Lexus. That pass for the lead took place moments before the fourth and final caution of the race, and Fogarty then slowly pulled away after the final restart.

Jon Fogarty’s pass of Pruett was not without some of the usual fireworks and drama that seem to take place when GAINSCO and Ganassi meet on the race track. As Fogarty put it, “I took advantage of traffic and we were three wide there with a GT car and there is some sort of gravely surface off to the left that I took, too, but luckily I was able to come back on the tarmac and outbrake him going into the Corkscrew. I really, really, really almost didn’t make the corner and it almost ended up being a Zanardi-type move. I almost came to a stop, kind of boxed him out and he bumped me. I can’t really blame him, because – like I said – I was almost stopped. It worked out. It’s not a place where you want to have to pass people, but when the opportunity comes to pass the 01 car, I will always take it.” Alex Gurney also let on a bit of old rancor when he said that, "Jon made a great pass into the Corkscrew. Looked like Scott tried to immediately tried to hit him and you know, a little unsportsmanlike there but they don't like it when we beat them."

Overall, Memo Rojas led a race-high 44 laps, with Scott Pruett leading 20 laps in their close bid to achieve their first victory of the season.

Post-Race Quotes:

Scott Pruett, #01 TELMEX Lexus: "We got caught up behind a GT car and had our momentum broke...It is and you know, the 99 guys ran strong. Traffic didn't work our way today. The Ganassi guys we needed to get the momentum going, get back on the podium. Memo did a great job, so did the crew. We're real happy. My family is here. Hi to my family at home that is not here. We're real happy. Everybody did what we should be doing now we're back at the front and we can stay at the front and fight for a championship. Not an easy fight. The cars got some nicks, missing a couple of dive planes out front.

That is part of (Mazda Raceway) Laguna Seca. It's touch and go all the time literally. It's real close, real tight, even when you are not trying to get into guys, they may be checking for a guy in front of them. It's part of the track."

Memo Rojas, #01 TELMEX Lexus: "Luckily we were able to take a direction, pass him on the left. The car kept spinning in that direction; it didn't hurt anything. We really struggled Friday and we took a good direction on Saturday and made the car right. We struggled the last two races and hopefully we'll keep the ball rolling and keep on the podium the rest of the season."

For the fifth event of the Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype season, the teams will return east to New York's historic Watkins Glen on Saturday 6 June for the Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen, the sole remaining longer, "endurance" event for the 2009 season.

Our thanks to <A HREF="http://www.grand-am.com/rolex/">the official Grand-Am racing website</A> and Travis Braun of <A HREF="http://www.autoweek.com/article/20090517/GRAND_AM/905179985">AutoWeek</A> for this information.
 

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