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19174After a three-week break, the 2008 Grand Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype season enters its final event, the SunRichGourmet.com 1000 at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah just outside Salt Lake City. At the 1000-kilometer (or 7-hour) duration, it is the second-longest race of the series' calendar, surpassed only by the season-opener Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Almost two months ago, in <A HREF="http://my.is/forums/f47/armed-forces-250-forces-were-armed-against-lexus-369381/">our article on the Grand Am Daytona Prototype race at California's Infineon Raceway in Sonoma</A> we wrote about how the #47 Doran Racing Ford/Dallara would be sitting out the two remaining races of the 2008 Grand Am Daytona Prototype season because they had simply run out of money, and went on to comment how these tough economic tidings are specially ominous for Grand-Am teams like Southard Motorsports that lack a major title sponsor. Unfortunately the Southards decided that their #3 Lexus/Riley would sit out the season finale, citing not only the aforementioned lack of a major marketing partner but the untimely series of costly accidents the car went through. Even more ominously, they released drivers Shane Lewis and Bill Lester to drive for other teams at the Sunchaser, although no other team hired them on. For more on this sad development, read <A HREF="http://southardmotorsports.com/news_utahwithdrawl.asp">the article on the Southard Motorsports website.</A>

It's too early to tell, however, if this marks the end of the Southard Motorsports team's involvement in Grand Am Daytona Prototype racing. Southard is one of only two teams (the other being Brumos) to compete in every Daytona Prototype race since 2003. The program has overcome numerous hurdles to field a car in 74 consecutive Rolex Series races first with a BMW/Fabcar, then BMW/Riley and finally Lexus/Riley. Then comes the big story of the three-week break before the Utah season finale race: The <A HREF="http://www.grand-am.com/rolex/news/index.cfm?cid=19123">Thursday 4 September announcement that NASCAR would further tighten its ties with Grand Am racing</A>. Will this somehow make it easier for the Southards to obtain the sponsorship they so desperately need?

Another early "silly season" rumo(u)r involves Roger Penske's plans to enter Grand Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype racing for the 2009 season. Will the co-owner of Longo Lexus, the world's second-largest Lexus dealer use Lexus power for that car? While there's some logic to this, current rumo(u)rs have him tipped to use a Porsche engine instead.

The fortunes of the other Lexus-powered Daytona Prototype team, the Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés #01 TELMEX Lexus/Riley are much brighter entering this race. At the previous Supercar Life 250 race in New Jersey, the team clinched the 2008 Grand Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype Team Championship, and drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas need to drive just 30 minutes each to win the Driver’s Championship title.

Given the Utah race's duration, the vast majority of the competing teams are using a third driver, and the Ganassi/Sabatés team is no exception, bringing back Alex Lloyd, the 2007 Indy Pro Series Champion who co-drove the #02 Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés Lexus/Riley at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Speaking of encores, the #02's bodywork marked its first return to racing action since the day-long Daytona race, albeit atop the old #01 chassis that won that race and returned to competition at last month's Supercar Life 250 race. Confused? The cause of all this old body and chassis shuffling was <A HREF="http://my.is/forums/f47/supercar-life-250-grand-am-race-369908/">the horrific crash by Scott Pruett at the Promoter Test Day for the Supercar Life 250 race.</A>

Scott Pruett described how he feels in the aftermath of that accident as, "I'm still a bit sore, but not too bad. The toughest days were the day of the accident and the next day, just getting back in the car. Getting back in the car was a bit of a struggle, but we did what we had to do and won the championship. It's great for the team, and now we look forward to finishing in a big way." He then went on to openly describe the team's strategy for the SunRichGourmet.com 1000, "I'm going to qualifying and run the first half-hour, 45 minutes, see how things work out and then Memo will get in for his 30 minutes. Then we'll put Alex in and see if we can bring home a victory."

The strategy worked quite well with Scott Pruett leading qualifying until the very last lap, when Ricardo Zonta in the #76 Krohn Racing Pontiac/Lola won the pole by a margin of 0.155 seconds and 0.103 mph. On Lap 3, however, Max Angelelli in the #10 SunTrust Pontiac/Dallara passed Pruett for second place overall in the final turns of the circuit. By Lap 15, Pruett had dropped further, to fifth place.

On Lap 36, Scott Pruett entered the pits with enough driving time under his belt to have earned the 2008 Grand Am Daytona Prototype season's Driver’s Championship, and Memo Rojas stepped in to drive the next leg of the race. By Lap 45, Rojas had the #01 TELMEX Lexus back in fifth place and, 2 laps later, he had meet and exceeded his 30-minute stint necessary to co-win the 2008 Rolex Series driver championship title with teammate Pruett.

On Lap 54, Eric van de Poele in the #75 Krohn Racing Pontiac/Lola passed Memo Rojas in the #01 TELMEX Lexus for fifth position overall. Two laps later, the two made slight contact with one another, sending Rojas spinning off course. By Lap 75, Alex Lloyd had taken over from Memo Rojas and moved to seventh place overall. Then heavy rain falling on the track led about a dozen cars to go off course and, in some cases, get stuck in the mud at Turn 5. This, naturally, brought out a full-course yellow caution flag. On Lap 78, the #01 TELMEX Lexus was among the numerous Daytona Prototypes entering the pits and, on the following lap, Alex Lloyd re-entered the track in fifth place. On lap 82, the green flag waved again, and Lloyd all-too-briefly took the lead, only to return to the pits for a tire change and refueling, as well as for a driver change, with Memo Rojas now returning to drive the #01 Lexus.

On Lap 103, Rojas was passed by the two Brumos Racing Porsche/Rileys (the #58 driven by Darren Law and the #59 driven by João Barbosa). Five laps later, yet another full-course yellow is waved, and, on Lap 110, the #01 TELMEX/Ganassi/Sabatés Lexus is among several Daytona Prototypes entering the pits. Scott Pruett re-emerges behind the wheel. On Lap 114, Pruett and Barbosa make contact. The #01 machine spins on course but continues on. In the end, Pruett brought the Lexus in for a ninth place finish (but still in the lead lap) at Utah's SunRichGourmet.com 1000.

To sum up the overall 2008 season Grand Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype standings, Scott Pruett's Driver’s Championship title makes him the only Rolex Series repeat winner of that title (the previous one was in 2004 along with Max Papis) and a record eighth American sports car championship, breaking the mark he previously held along with the late Peter Gregg. It's his second Rolex Series title to go along with previous championships in IMSA GTO (1986, 1988), Trans-Am (1987, 1994, 2003) and IMSA GT Endurance (1986). As for Memo Rojas, his is the first major U.S. championship ever won by a Mexican driver. The Team Championship won by Chip Ganassi Racing is their third since 2004, having previously won in 2004 and 2006 - all coming with Lexus power. Scott Pruett co-drove to each of those championships while teaming with three different drivers, Max Papis in 2004, Luis Diaz in 2006 and Memo Rojas this season.

19175DRIVER CHAMPIONSHIP
1) Scott Pruett - 408 points
Memo Rojas - 408 points

3) Jon Fogarty - 378 points
Alex Gurney - 378 points
5) João Barbosa - 340 points
J.C. France - 340 points
31) Bill Lester - 217 points
32) Shane Lewis - 215 points

TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
1) Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés - 408 points

2) GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing - 378 points
3) Brumos Racing (#59) - 340 points
16) Southard Motorsports - 231 points

ENGINE MANUFACTURER CHAMPIONSHIP
1) Pontiac - 442 points
2) Ford - 415 points
3) Lexus - 408 points

Not a clean sweep, but, in the immortal words of Meatloaf, <A HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Out_of_Three_Ain%27t_Bad">Two out of Three Ain't Bad.</A> Actually, there's a fourth Championship to consider:

CHASSIS MANUFACTURER CHAMPIONSHIP
1) Riley Technologies - 487 points

2) Dallara - 351 points
3) Lola - 304 points

19176Post-Race Quotes:

Scott Pruett, #01 TELMEX Lexus: "We hoped to finish a little higher today, but we were turned around late in race, but we did what we had to do. After three straight seasons finishing second in this championship, it's great to be back on top. To accomplish what we have all season is just a testament to everyone involved - the entire Chip Ganassi Racing team, everyone at Lexus and TRD and we couldn't have done it without the support of a great partner in TELMEX. The record is great, but I'll look back on that more at the end of my career. Right now, it's all about winning this championship and all the guys that have worked so hard. Nobody puts together a better effort than Chip Ganassi."

Memo Rojas, #01 TELMEX Lexus: "It's been a great season, from winning the Rolex 24 all the way to wrapping up the championship today. It's just been a privilege to drive for the Chip Ganassi Racing team with such great support from Lexus, Telmex, and of course, my teammate, Scott. It's also a great honor to become the first driver from my country to win a major racing championship - and this is really for all the people back in Mexico. They love racing and they really support the Rolex Series."

Alex Lloyd, #01 TELMEX Lexus Riley: "My stint went well. The first few laps were tough, still figuring out the track with the lack of time, but it went really well at the end. I think we would have liked a better result for the day, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm very happy to see Scott and Memo come in with the championship, which was the first priority for the day.

Chip Ganassi, Team Owner: "I'm just blessed to work with great sponsorship and great partners, engine manufacturers with Lexus, and obviously TELMEX. I've got great guys that work on the car. I'm lucky to have those people around me."

Our thanks to <A HREF="http://www.grand-am.com/rolex/">the official Grand-Am racing website</A>, <A HREF="http://www.southardmotorsports.com/">the Southard Motorsports website</A>, <A HREF="">Travis Braun of AutoWeek</A> and John Procida for Lexus/Toyota Motorsports for this information.
 

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