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Discussion Starter #1 some competitors literally ran out of gas. Yes, the Grand Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal, Québec, Canada on Friday 1 August at 4:15 PM was atypical compared to other races this season, in ways that have nothing to do with the fact that it took place outside the United States.

In a twist from the Chip Ganassi Racing with Félix Sabatés team's usual modus operandi, it was Scott Pruett and not co-driver Memo Rojas that qualified the #01 TELMEX Lexus/Riley racer. And he certainly did a great job of it, breaking the Grand-Am Rolex Series track record with a lap of 1:33.199 (104.641 mph) to lead the field to the green flag of the Montreal 200 74-lap / two-hour race. It was the first pole position of the season for Pruett and the 11th of his career. Implicit in all of this, of course, is that Pruett would start the race, leaving the less-experienced Rojas to finish. Why the 180-degree change in strategy? Days after the race, Scott Pruett replied, "Memo runs fast at Montreal, so last week was his first chance to finish. He did a great job. That was our plan all along. Since it was one of the tracks Memo runs best at, we wanted to give him the chance to finish." Another factor may have been the fact that, on this weekend, Pruett was pulling yet another of his legendary double-headers, competing in the following day's NAPA Auto Parts Nationwide Series 200 (second-string NASCAR) race at the same track, and Scott's getting his Grand-Am drive out of the way early would give him more time to be rested and ready for the Saturday race. (For the curious, Pruett led 13 of the latter race's rain-shortened 48 laps, but went on to finish in 22nd place in the #40 Dodge Avenger).

Meanwhile, Shane Lewis qualified the #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus/Riley racer in 10th place on the starting grid. As the race got under way, on the very first lap, on Turn 3, Scott Pruett in the #01 TELMEX car made contact with the #61 AIM Autosport Ford/Riley driven by Brian Frisselle, causing the latter to spin. Pruett locked up the wheels going into Turn 6 but was able to retain the lead until Lap 18, when, after contact with archrival Jon Fogarty in the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac/Riley, dropped down to third place behind Fogarty and the #58 Brumos Racing Porsche/Riley driven by David Donohue. Fogarty was black-flagged for avoidable contact and, two laps later, served a drive through penalty, which returned Scott Pruett to second place.

18331That first lap also saw, in a highly unusual bit of strategy, the #3 Southard Lexus head for the pits. The reasoning behind this was that, by meeting Grand-Am's mandate of a pit stop within the first 45 minutes of the race very early, they could later focus on moving through the field and gain track position while everyone else was pitting. This strategy also assumed that all the teams would make two pit stops (as the Southard team would do), but, surprisingly, a number of teams made only a single pit stop, which threw their plans into disarray and would produce wildly varying results at the end of the race.

On Lap 22, the first of (thankfully) only two Full Course Cautions in the race was flown, to clear debris from the track. The majority of the field pitted, but the #3 Southard Motorsports car stayed out, and became the race leader on the following lap, in accordance with their strategy. Driver Shane Lewis held on to that lead for the next five laps, but, at that point, was overtaken by the pesky #99 GAINSCO Pontiac/Riley, now driven by Alex Gurney, and by the #16 Cheever Racing Pontiac/Coyote of Antonio García and fellow Lexus-powered driver Memo Rojas in the #01 TELMEX car. On Lap 29, Rojas passed García for second place in a tight battle at Turn 2. Lap 32 saw the #3 Southard Lexus drop further, to fifth place, after being overtaken by Darren Law in the #58 Brumos Racing Porsche/Riley.

18332Lap 36 brought out the second and final Full Course Caution for debris. The Southard Motorsports team brought the #3 car into the pits for a driver change, with Bill Lester taking over and reentering in 17th place. The timing of this second caution period was also a major factor in the downfall of the Southard team strategy. Throughout all this, Memo Rojas in the #01 TELMEX Lexus/Riley held on to second place, but, on Lap 47, he deftly managed to avoid a four-car collision and took the lead. Ten laps, later, unfortunately, his luck changed as Darren Law in the #58 Brumos Porsche made side-to-side contact with Rojas and took the lead. Joey Hand in the #23 Ruby Tuesday Porsche/Riley and Antonio García in the #16 Cheever Racing Pontiac/Coyote also passed Rojas. On Lap 67, Rojas lost yet another position, to the #59 Brumos Racing Porsche/Riley driven by João Barbosa.

Then, as the white flag flew to signal the 69th and final lap of the race, several Porsche-powered sputtered to a halt as they ran out of gas. First was the #09 Spirit of Daytona Racing Porsche/Coyote on the straight. Then it was the #23 Ruby Tuesday Porsche/Riley at Turn 5. Most dramatically and heartbreakingly, the #58 Brumos Porsche/Riley, with Darren Law at the wheel and within about 10 feet of the finish line and their first win in five years, stopped cold dead. The #61 AIM Autosport Ford/Riley driven by Mark Wilkins and the #16 Cheever Racing Pontiac/Coyote of Antonio García each went around the Brumos car through a different side, and Wilkins crossed the finish line a scant .064 seconds in front of García, for (again) the closest finish in Grand-Am Daytona Prototype history, and the first one in recent memory that didn't involve Scott Pruett. The run-out-of-gas-at-the-end affliction even spread to the lower GT class Grand-Am Rolex Series racers, with three of them suffering from the same malady.

As to the Lexus-powered racers, the #01 TELMEX car finished in fifth place, not exactly a ringing endorsement of the driver strategy they tried for this race. The stalled out-of-gas Porsches helped the #3 Southard car a bit, as Bill Lester was able to regain the lap he had lost, and was the last car to come in on the lead lap, in 14th place. Nevertheless, the Ganassi/Sabatés team extends their championship lead to 63 points with just four races remaining. On the other hand, Lexus' manufacturer's championship lead was trimmed to just 10 points.

Post-Race Quotes:

Bill Lester, #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus: We figured that if we pitted on Lap 1 to satisfy the Grand-Am mandated pit stop within the first 45 minutes of the race rule, we would gain track position if others did not follow suit. We definitely thought this would be a two-stop race for everyone. Well, that didn't turn out to be the case. Most teams somehow managed to get sufficient fuel mileage to forego a second stop. Since we committed to a two-stop race, we initially got great track position once everyone else pitted, but that went away as soon as we made our second stop.

So, while we actually led the race for awhile, it was not to last. Shane began losing spots on track and we further fell down the running order when he pitted to hand the car over to me. However, it was interesting to see how some of the teams gambled on their fuel mileage and came up short. Over the last couple of race laps, the track was starting to look like a parking lot with cars stranded on the sidelines out of fuel. However, enough teams made it and that sunk us deep into the finishing order.

Shane Lewis, #3 Southard Motorsports Lexus: "Steve and Martha looked at this event and decided to really gamble on the strategy. This was real Las Vegas-type stuff and it almost came-up aces. Really, I was surprised more teams didn't try the same strategy but we thought the gamble was worth it. It almost paid off. The last caution kept it from paying off but it was great to get more laps at the front of the Daytona Prototype field. There is some luck that has helped us and some that has hurt us. This weekend it hurt us but we are getting there."

Steve Southard, Team Owner: "Our strategy was a gamble. It was based on our calculations that our Lexus-powered car could not run one hour and 15 minutes without a stop for fuel. Every team has to make a mandatory stop in the first 45 minutes of the race. That would require a second stop before the end of the race. We stopped on the first lap which meant we could make our second stop around the halfway point. We would give up track position but it would come back to us when everyone else made their mandatory stop. That part worked. We then pitted from the fifth position at the second caution, just over one hour into the race. That caution did us in. It obviously allowed most of the rest of the cars enough of a fuel savings to make it to the end. The race stayed green and several cars ran out of fuel starting two laps from the end. If the race had gone one or two laps more our strategy would have worked perfectly. We were happy with the result even though it wasn't what we expected. The crew deserves a lot of credit for a flawless pit stop and the drivers did everything required of them. We can't wait for Watkins Glen."

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.

The next race for the Grand-Am Rolex Series will be the Daytona Prototype-only return to Watkins Glen, New York for the 2-hour Crown Royal 200 on Friday 8 August at 6:30 PM Eastern Time, but will be televised on a tape-delayed, same-day basis by SPEED TV at 5 PM Pacific Time / 6 PM Mountain Time / 7 PM Central Time / 8 PM Eastern Time.


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