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24046With the questionable (to some) penalty issued to the tied-atop-the-standings Bob Stallings Racing/GAINSCO and Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés/TELMEX teams for a refueling equipment rules violation, the two teams now had to deal with a resurgent SunTrust Racing team. Going into the season's ninth event, the Crown Royal 200 at The Glen return to Watkins Glen, New York on Friday 7 August, the Drivers' and Team Standings were 216 points apiece for the GAINSCO and Ganassi teams versus 215 points for the SunTrust team. As to that now-infamous penalty, the SPEED TV telecast showed that a fuel piece in use since 2007 allowed for 0.8 seconds-faster refueling and was ruled illegal, yet somehow remained in fairly common use until this furor after the <A HREF="http://my.is/forums/f47/porsche-250-barber-nailbiters-continue-394898/">Barber Motorsports Park race nearly 3 weeks earlier</A>.

As is the case at Daytona Beach, Florida, the 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype racing season visits Watkins Glen twice, once for a long race (six hours in this case) and once for a shorter race (in fact, the season's shortest at a scant two hours). The variations between the two events at The Glen go beyond mere length, however, as the June race was held on the full 3.4-mile long course, whereas the August contest was on the 2.45-mile short course. This short course is considered the fastest in Grand Am racing.

Thursday's pre-qualifying sessions brought out yet another common thread between the GAINSCO and Ganassi teams: brake issues. As Jon Fogarty, one of the drivers of the #99 Pontiac/Riley described it, "We spent the whole first morning practice trying to diagnose some brake problems...we eventually reached the conclusion that we should make a complete change, master cylinder, brakes and basically the entire braking system." While not as drastic as the GAINSCO team, #01 Lexus/Riley driver Scott Pruett said that, "We were fighting a brake problem. We're not sure what it is, but we're going to go into it a bit more. We don't know what was going on, but we're digging into it. Otherwise the car is quite good. The Ganassi guys are doing a good job as always. It's crunch time. There are four races left, and we need to get every point we can." In spite of the differences in course length, layout and configuration versus the earlier long race at the Glen, Pruett said that, "The setup is the same. The only difference is we had endurance brakes on for the six hour, and we have sprint brakes on for the two hour."

The actual qualifying session saw Jon Fogarty in the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac/Riley take the pole, with a track record time of 1:05.069 at 135.548 mph, closely followed by Memo Rojas in the #01 TELMEX Lexus/Riley with a time of 1:05.315 at 135.038 mph. Afterwards, Rojas said: "We're doing well. We did a few changes to it but we weren't really happy with it in the session, so we're going back with it. We have an OK car, but it could be better. We're going to do our best to fix it. We've been on the front row every race, and it seems the 99 car is almost always up there. It's going to be another real good race for Grand-Am."

Although Fogarty led for the first five laps, Memo Rojas passed him for the lead on Lap 6, and soon held a 1.249-second lead over the field. Rojas held this lead until just after the race's first full-course caution was called on Lap 22. As Rojas pulled into the pits, team manager Tim Keene made a strategic decision not to change tires at this point as other teams did. Keene figured that the tires should be changed later, at the same time as Scott Pruett relieved Memo Rojas of his driving duties, thus ensuring that the #01 would maintain its track position.

The return to green flag racing on Lap 28 was extremely short-lived, as a spin and accidental contact by the #2 Gentleman Jack Chevrolet/Crawford at the exit of Turn 1 led to a second full-course caution. For a brief time, Keene's strategy appeared to pay off, as Rojas regained the lead from Laps 29 through 32. With the inevitable tire and driver change on Lap 33, Scott Pruett battled up the field from eighth place, engaging in a furious battle with the #12 Penske Racing Porsche/Riley which culminated in the #01 TELMEX Lexus' taking third-place with approximately 30 minutes remaining in the race. Shortly afterward, yet another full-course caution came out and the Lexus-powered driver moved into second-place for a last run at the victory. The intense, multi-lap fight for the lead against the #76 Krohn Racing Ford/Lola driven by Ricardo Zonta included brief side-to-side contact between the two cars, but was ultimately won by Zonta by a margin of 3.325 seconds. Given that Zonta and teammate Nic Jönsson qualified eighth, this was the first Grand-Am Rolex Series race of this season where the winners started outside the first two rows.

24047As to Ganassi/Sabatés team archrivals GAINSCO Racing, their fourth-place finish gave the Lexus team a bit of breathing room, and the #10 SunTrust team's dismal 12th-place finish after contact with a GT-class car means that the Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés team and drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas lead the Drivers' and Team Standings with 248 points. The GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing teams and its drivers Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney are now four points behind, at 244; and the SunTrust Racing team and drivers Brian Frisselle and Max Angelelli have 234 points, effectively squandering the advantage they gained from the leaders' fuel piece penalties.

The Rolex Sports Car Series resumes on Saturday 29 August at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal, Québec, Canada. The race will be televised live on SPEED TV at 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

Driver Quotes:

Scott Pruett, #01 Telmex Lexus: “We had to be a little bit conservative there at the end, but I had a little run on Ricardo (Zonta) in traffic and was able to pull up side-by-side with him and we had a little bit of banging going on. That’s one of the great things about Grand-Am racing, it’s just so close and so hard. But we also had to remember where we were in the championship and right now, and how much every point counts. We can’t afford to give anything away. It takes a total team effort to win a championship and we had that tonight. Lexus gave us a great engine, the Ganassi guys did a great job in the pits and we couldn’t do any of it without the support of TELMEX.”

To read more from Scott Pruett, see his entries for his Champion's Corner blog on the official Grand-Am racing site, the pre-race <A HREF="http://community.grand-am.com/blogs/blogpost/8e3465b0-ca83-4f25-a647-918cc64892e4">Watkins Glen is Strong For Us</A> and the post-race <A HREF="http://community.grand-am.com/blogs/blogpost/837e938c-4066-4415-abd5-c9d6873f35bd">Bizarre Race at The Glen</A>.

Memo Rojas, #01 Telmex Lexus: “It really became a race of pit strategy. There were so many different pit strategies being used today that it was hard to tell exactly who was doing what. Teams could be very aggressive with their strategy to go for the win, but with the championship being so close, we couldn’t afford to be overly aggressive, especially when we were already in front of our two rivals for the championship.”

Our thanks to <A HREF="http://www.grand-am.com/rolex/">the official Grand-Am racing website</A>, the <A HREF="http://www.chipganassiracing.com/news/index.cfm?cat_id=381&cid=23388&tag_id=21">Chip Ganassi Racing website Media Center</A> and <A HREF="http://www.autoweek.com/article/20090807/GRAND_AM/908089998">Travis Braun of AutoWeek for this information.
 

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